Now that your babies are growing with absolute abandon, you want to keep them happy so they'll continue in this glorious fashion. As we discussed before, plants need to eat. Don't we all? The important thing to keep in mine is how much. Like us, plants have limits on their intake.
Of course they do.
Which means plants won't benefit from that extra spoonful of nitrogen anymore than you will from that extra bite of luscious pudding. Moderation, ladies. Works the same for plants as it does for us. Too much nitrogen will give your tomato plant gorgeous green leaves, but won't help it produce fruit. You know, those shiny red things we work so hard to grow! They need phosphorous and potassium, calcium and magnesium, the latter two handily found in eggshells and Epsom salts. After all, we are organic and prefer to use ingredients from Mother Nature's pantry.
But while that's the secret for one plant, each vegetable or flower you grow wants something different. Remind you of the dinner table at home? Yet it's true. For strong, healthy growth, each plant requires different amounts of different elements.
Before we get too complicated—let's begin with a basic recipe for success. This entails the proper distribution of the main "macro" nutrients which are N-P-K; nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, with a dash of the "minor" nutrients such as sulfur, calcium and magnesium. (Anyone else transported back to their high school chemistry class and that awesome-looking lab partner?)
Back to our subject matter. (I had a problem with focus back then, too.) When you purchase fertilizer, you'll notice three large numbers on the label. These represent your N-P-K. These are your powerhouse nutrients. Sulfur, calcium and magnesium will be listed in smaller detail. While they're important, most plants are able to absorb these secondary nutrients from the soil—especially if you've amended it with compost which is rich in organic matter.
Speaking of organic, a good rainstorm will do wonders for your plants and flowers. You know how after a good rainfall, your plants and flowers seem brighter and more alive with color? It's not your imagination. Rain contains nitrogen and lightning releases nutrients in the soil making them easier for the plant to absorb!
When should you feed?
Your plants will clue you in by showing signs of distress, like fading green leaves, purplish tints, spindly growth or become plain old ill-looking. But don't let it come to that! You don't wait until you're sick before you eat healthy, do you? No. So don't allow it to happen to your babies—er, I mean—plants.
The simplest way is to think of N-P-K in terms of what they do for your plant. Nitrogen helps to keep the leaves green. Phosphorous helps your plant to develop and produce, including strong roots and delectable fruits. Potassium promotes the overall health and well-being of your plants.
So, plants like spinach and cabbage should need a good supply of nitrogen, right? Because they're all "green and leaves." Zucchini is green and produces fruits, so give these guys lots of nitrogen and phosphorous. When you notice your plants looking a bit "haggard and thin-skinned," think: potassium
When you "need to feed," organic fertilizer is preferred because it's all natural and releases nutrients at a slower rate as opposed to chemical fertilizers which can sometimes cause plants to burn; a term used when plants are dehydrated by excessive fertilizer salt.
Organic basically means "derived from natural sources" and poses no real danger for over-absorption of nutrients by your plants. As Mother Nature intended. Sources for nitrogen include composted cow manure, worm poop, blood meal and fish emulsion. Yuck, I know. Seaweed extract is an excellent source of potassium while bone meal and rock phosphate provide your phosphorous. And don't forget the eggshells! Tomatoes love them.
While these are not your only sources, they are solid organic choices with easily absorbed nutrients. Whichever fertilizer you choose, as always, read the label for proper application. When it comes to the health of your plants, too much of a nutrient can be just as bad as too little.
Feeding your plants once a week is a good rule of thumb, though go easy on the wee ones. For the first several weeks of their life, give them a half measure of the recommended fertilizer. Using a liquid form of all-purpose fertilizer which can be easily diluted would be a good idea.
And don't forget the compost! Adding compost improves soil structure and provides organic material to your plant beds, rich in all the essential nutrients your plants need. Cheaper than buying the stuff! Have you seen the price of groceries, lately?
For more tips on keeping your garden healthy, check out my website at BloominThyme.com.