Fertilizers supply plants with a steady supply of nutrients.  They are the equivalent of the nutrition that we humans get from our foods and supplements.  Fortunately, plant nutrition is not as complicated as human’s nutrition and a little knowledge can help keep your plants actively growing and producing.  Natural gardeners will use organic fertilizers made from the remains of by-products and compost but most fertilizer is purchased as an inorganic(chemical) supplement for your plants.  Knowing what your plants require and understanding the fertilizer product label will help you decide what product to purchase. 

 Understanding the Label
Fertilizers are generally a composite of three nutrients.  Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K).  Other filler components, secondary components and/or micronutrients may also be included and will be listed on the label.  When reading a fertilizer label, the blend combination of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium will be listed in that order i.e. 10-10-10, for example.  A complete fertilizer will contain a combination of all three nutrients.  A simple fertilizer will include only one or two of the nutrients.  A nitrogen only fertilizer example is 21-0-0.  A fertilizer with phosphorus and potassium example is 0-10-10 and will not include any nitrogen.  A general-purpose or all-purpose fertilizer will contain nearly equal or equal amounts of all three nutrients and is intended to meet most plant’s requirements during the growing season.  A high nitrogen blend helps keep lawns green and growing quickly.  A high phosphorus blend is used to promote flowering and production.  There are also specific fertilizers blended for specific flowers and their maximum performance. 

The Three Nutrients
Nitrogen (N) is used to synthesize the proteins, chlorophyll and enzymes that plant cells require.  Nitrogen is generally the most needed nutrient in a garden and is easily leached (washed) out of the soil.  Nitrogen will generally need to be added to the soil throughout the growing season as a result of this leaching.  Excessive nitrogen can make plants overly lush and leafy.  This can create a beautiful plant but can also attract unwanted pests that can harm the plant.  A deficiency of nitrogen will be evident in yellow or smaller that normal leaves and the plant may appear stunted or dwarfed.  In some plants the leaves may turn red or purple.     

Phosphorus (P) promotes strong root growth, flowering and fruiting by transferring energy from one point of the plant to another.  It works best when placed close to the root system of the plant so application to the soil before planting is preferable to applying to the surface afterward.  A deficiency of phosphorus will be evident in leaves with small, scorched, purplish or blue-green leaves.  The leaves may also fall off early.  An excess of phosphorus will interfere with the plants absorption of other nutrients and create a multitude of problems.

Potassium (K) is used by the plant to regulate the synthesis of proteins and starches that make plants strong and sturdy and to increase resistance to diseases, heat and cold.  Like phosphorus, it works best next to the root system and so is best to apply before planting and not to the surface of a growing plant.  Also like phosphorus, excess potassium will interfere with the absorption of other micronutrients.  A deficiency of potassium is evident in the tips and edges of leaves that become yellow and scorched looking with brownish-purple spotting underneath.

Deficiencies of Secondary and Micronutrients
A quick preview of deficiencies of the secondary and micronutrients is also helpful.  A shortage of calcium will turn leaves dark from the base outward and then die.  A shortage of iron will show in leaves with yellow between the veins which remain green or slightly yellow. (Iron deficiency may likely be a result of alkaline soil preventing absorption of the iron.) A shortage of magnesium will show in leaf centers that turn reddish or yellow and dead spots will appear between the veins.  A shortage of manganese will show in the upper leaves turning yellow in the center between the veins but with no sign of red.  A shortage of sulfur will show in leaves with veins that are lighter in color than the tissue in between the veins.  Treatment of these shortages may require help from your nursery or a plant expert.

How to Apply Fertilizers
When planting a bed, incorporate the fertilizer evenly throughout the soil.  This is the best time to apply phosphorus and potassium.  Dry fertilizers such as powders, granules or pellets are the easiest to apply and can be of the controlled-release type.

During the growing season, a liquid fertilizer can be applied with an injector device, through an irrigation system, through a watering can or a hose-end sprayer.  Liquid fertilizers need to be reapplied often as their nutrients leach rapidly. A dry fertilizer can be applied as a side dressing if scratched into the soil a few inches away from the base of the plant and moistened.  Rinse any leaves to prevent burning from the fertilizer.

 With the proper nutrition, plants will grow, produce and reward you for your love and attention to them.  The information provided here is only a general review of plant nutrition, but will hopefully give you have enough information to purchase the fertilizer your plants need.

Free Help with Your Gardening Questions -The Cooperative Extension Service

There can be so many technical questions to ask about your yard and garden, your plants and trees, and your soil and water, but you don’t know who to go to for the answers or your budget can’t afford a private horticulturist or technician.  Fortunately, you can find answers available through the Cooperative Extension Service.  The Cooperative Extension system is associated with every state land-grant university and is a network of local or regional offices which are staffed by one or more experts-Extension Agents-who can provide answers to lawn and garden technical questions.  Their expertise can provide practical, useful and research-based information. 

Cooperative Extension Agents provide teaching, research and informational services to the public regarding many aspects of plant horticulture, plant physiology, entomology, soil science, botany, and fertilizer and pesticides.  They are available to answer questions, provide diagnosis, and provide training and information based on the local area based on years of experience and research.  Best of all, they are accessible either in your local or regional area and generally provide their services for free or for a minimal fee.

Areas of technical expertise provided by the Cooperative Extension Service include gardening, fruits and vegetables, trees, bees, lawns, plant health, insects and pesticides, soil sampling and fertilizer, water quality and plant disease.  A few examples of the services that are provided include: 

  • Every lawn and garden has different care requirements to grow the healthiest and most productive plants.  Generally, this begins with a soil sample to determine the type of soil, the fertilizer requirements, and the water usage needed.  An Extension Agent can instruct in how to properly collect a soil sample and then assist in getting the sample tested.  From the information received, they can further advise on the types of soil nutrients needed and the best type of application to use.   
  • Plants and trees can be susceptible to insects and diseases which can be difficult to diagnose.  The result of infection or infestation is a plant that does not produce, does not look healthy or dies.  An Extension Agent is trained to analyze the insect or disease and give instruction for the best type of treatment.  The Cooperative Extension Service’s is especially helpful when insects or diseases are new to an area because of their continuing study and research in this area.
  • For gardening enthusiasts, many Cooperative Extension Services have a Master Gardener Program.  This program provides extensive classroom training in horticulture, entomology, soil science, botany, plant pathology and pesticide safety.  In exchange for this training, the Master Gardener agrees to further volunteer their time to
    the community using the knowledge they have gained.  This program provides valuable training and is very rewarding.  

To grow a yard and garden that is beautiful and enjoyable requires the gardener to have a wide range of technical knowledge.  This knowledge would cover all aspects of plants and plant growth, plant nutrition, insects and disease and general plant care.  To gain this knowledge can require dedication and time.  We are fortunate to have experts to assist us who are trained and available to the public without requiring a costly investment on our part.  Generally, the only charge is for materials and outside services, i.e. sampling or lab fees.  If you have questions about your yard or garden, consider contacting your local or regional Cooperative Extension Service-they are available to help you.

 10 Basics of Container Planter Design 

You see beautiful potted plant designs in yards, at businesses and along city streets and wish that you had that kind of green thumb.  Wouldn’t such a pot with those colors and that texture be beautiful in your yard or on your deck?  How do those gardeners create such wonderful potted plant designs?  They follow the ten basics of container planter creativity and then they let their imaginations run wild.  As you begin to dream about you container planter design, it is good for you to know the basics of container planting so that your decision produces the effects you desire.  

Style
Generally you will see two styles of design with some variations among those styles.  The most common style for upright containers uses the focal point, the filler and the trailer.  A focal point plant stands out above the rest by being taller and/or more colorful.  The focal point is the first to attract your attention.  The filler plants are use to compliment the focal plant.  They are good for providing the color and texture and are used to cover the bare parts of the pot.  The trailer plants hang over the edge of the pot and add softness to the design.  A second style of design is to use the same type of plant, in bulk, with variations to create the difference in look.  It is best to use plants that are dense and will cover or fill the entire pot.

Type of Pot
Your design choice will be greatly affected by the size and type of pot that you are working with.  Almost anything can be used for a container planter.  First choose your plants with the size of pot in mind.  A simple pot may use more exciting plants as an emphasis while simple plants may leave the emphasis on an ornate pot.  Another consideration is whether your pot is an upright planter or a hanging planter.  The hanging planter will require plants that have genetics for hanging rather than growing upright.  

Size
Determine the size of pot that you are planting and from that choose plants that will fit the pot.  A beginning rule is to choose plants that will be two times the height for the focal plant and one and one half times the width of the pot for the filler plants.  This is not a rule set in stone, but a guideline.  For a quicker, complete look of your planter design, choose plants that are not too young (immature) but may be closer to the size desired for the design.

Desired Effect
Decide if your container planter will be a focal point of your landscape design or a compliment to the rest of your landscaping and choose accordingly.  This may affect your choice of size and desire to blend or stand out.  

Color
The color selection is wide open.  A good starting point is to choose colors to either match or compliment a landscape or home.  For a mixture of colors, pick colors that are opposite of each other on the color wheel.  For a more monochromatic design, pick one color and use different variations of the same color.

Texture
Some plants are chosen for their texture rather than their color.  Texture is generally a factor of the plant leaves and can add an alternative option to creating a different style.  Choose plants with a variety of texture and sizes of leaves for added effect to your design.

Sun vs Shade
It is important to choose plants that are adapted to the area that the container will be located.  Plants are generally labeled as to whether they are able to thrive in full sun, light sun or shade.  If you have a container that you can move with the seasons, you can be more flexible with your choices.

Wet vs Dry
It is also important to know whether a plant needs a lot of moisture or is adapted to a more dry soil.  Do not combine plants that have considerable differences in moisture needs or your plant design will suffer from loss of plants.  

Season
Choosing plant designs can also be influenced by the season.  If you are choosing a planter design with flowers, you will need to determine when the plants flower and how long.  Also, some plants thrive better in cooler weather and others prefer warm or hot weather.  This will determine how long your design will perform for you.

Plants
Lastly, choose plants that are available in your area or that you have access to.  Also, choose plants that, from your experience, you will be able to take care of.  Some are easy to grow and others may require a more a green thumb with more expertise.   

The ten basics of container planting can help you get started in creating beautiful container plant designs.  Fortunately for us, many master container gardeners are willing to share their ideas and recipes and with a little searching, you may find just the one to suit you. A good place to look is at www.ProvenWinners.com/combinations/.  Keep the above basics in mind when choosing a pre-designed pattern for your pot or planter so that you will obtain your desired results.  Even if you don’t use a pre-designed pattern, you have the tools to let your imagination create a piece of enjoyment and beauty.   Plant away.

Watch as I experiment with creating side planting hanging flower combinations. 

niagarafalls-ontario1 What Color!!

I started with four Bloom Master hanging baskets. These baskets have holes in the sides. The first thing I had to do was research which plants will take a lot of sunlight since I don’t have shade and also which plants do well in hanging baskets. Using this information, I have tried to create four different combinations of flowers to see what thrives the best and which ones create the most fantastic producing, eye-catching hanging baskets. This picture shows an example of what my end goal should turn out like-breathtaking.

The planting process.

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 This picture shows the first result of planting. I started with potting mix that already has nutrients added and is moisture controlling. I had to moisten the potting mix before putting in the pot. My biggest problem was getting too excited and having too many plants to choose from. Not having made these combinations before, it was hard to imagine the end results after the plants have matured-but I tried.
In this planter I have planted alyssum, gazanias, and dusty miller in the top. The top side row is a mix of begonias and alyssum. The middle row is a mix of coleus.
The bottom row is a mix of vinca vine, calibrochoa and pansies.
It is still too cold to put the planters outside, but as soon as it warms up, these plants will be ready to grow.

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We did have a few days of sun which really helped but—-
Update-cold and rainy again. I am having a terrible time with the coleus-partially because they are too small(young) and partially because of 7 little kittens.

Stay tuned as I add updates and watch this pot grow!

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The weather has gotten better, but not ideal.  We have had a few warm days, but not many.  It is amazing how fast plants will grow when they get some warmth-but the cool weather has really slowed them down.  I thought that this planter would be my most interesting, but as it turns out, it is one of the slowest growing.  The coleus, wax begonias and allysum have been especially slow.  Sometimes that can just be the year.

 I will show you some of the other planters that are doing better. 

IMG_2006resized This planter is a combination of fiber optic grass and petunias on top.  The top outside row consists of dusty miller and petunias and the bottom rows are pansies and petunias.

 

 

IMG_2014resized This planter has been my favorite so far.  It is a variety of gazenias, pansies and petunias on top.  The sides are a combination of double petunias, geraniums and vinca vine.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2010resizedThis planter box has a combination of petunias, double petunias, a few pansies, and on top is a sunbine.  When the weather gets warmer and this box has a chance to grow, it will cascade beautifully.

 

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And last, these strawberries were planted less than two weeks ago from winter storage plants.  They have really taken off.  Once they get bigger, I will lift the box up and let the strawberries cascade down. 

 

 

I will update these pictures as the weather gets warmer and the pots grow.  How much fun can flower gardening be??  Alot!!

 

  How Much Should You Water Your Plants

 A garden or flower bed can begin with beautiful plants, but their continuing growth and beauty will depend on whether they are receiving the proper amount of water. This is especially important since over 90% of a plant consists of water. Your plants’ water requirements are dependant on the type of plant, the plant environment, the type of soil and the amount of time and energy that you have to spend in watering. The results of a proper watering schedule can produce a healthy plant with a good root system, the ability to resist disease and the capability to grow, flower and multiply.

Choose plants for your landscape and your lifestyle.
It is beneficial to choose plants that are adapted to the location that you plant them in. Determine if they prefer sun versus partial shade or shade. A sunny area will require more water because of evaporation. You also need to consider whether the plant is drought tolerant or requires more water, whether it prefers a well drained soil or will do well in a clay soil, and whether the plant will be a large plant with a great amount of foliage or remain small. Your climate may be a large influence on the types of plants you choose. Plants that are naturally adapted to your area will thrive better.

If you buy plants from a nursery, ask questions about the amount of fertilizer and type of watering they have received. If a plant is pampered with frequent fertilizing and/or shallow watering, they will initially require that same attention and it may take time to adapt them to a water schedule better suited to your flower garden

Water deeply and less frequently.
It is best to adapt the plant to a schedule that provides deep watering on a more infrequent time schedule than to water shallow and everyday. This will influence the plant to grow deeper roots which is healthier for the plant. When plants are small and first transplanted, they will require water often during the first week or two. Gradually retrain them by watering deeper and less often during the next several weeks. It is especially beneficial to do this in the early part of the season before the heat of summer will be working against you. Eventually, you should be able to do a deep watering a few times a week, unless extreme heat or a dry wind create circumstances that prevent this schedule.

For plants that do not require well drained soil or very dry conditions, place a mulch on top of the soil will help preserve the soil moisture and aid in preventing evaporation. On sloping landscapes, mulch will also help hold the soil in place and slow run-off.

Depending on the soil type, do not over water your plants. Plants require a healthy relationship of soil, water and air. If the soil is kept too damp, it will not allow for enough air around the roots and the plant will suffer suffocation. This will be evident if you notice wilting, yellowing, dry foliage and leaf drop. The soil should be damp and not “muddy”. Likewise, under watering can also damage the plant because the roots will not have enough moisture to send up the plant to the foliage. Generally the roots of an under watered plant will dry up.

Test your soil to determine its water holding capacity, infiltration rate and drainage.
Before you plant, test your soil for its watering properties. Water will penetrate sandy soil faster and deeper but will also evaporate faster. Loam soil will accept water at a slower rate but not as slow as clay soil. Clay soil has a tendancy to retain water longer. Water a small spot and using a trowel, make an opening that allows you to reach down between 3-5″. When watering the spot, use a small container or can to measure how much water was applied. When well watered, the soil at the bottom of the hole should feel cool and damp. If the soil holds too much water and does not drain well, it will create of problem of root rotting. Test the soil, with a new hole each time, for several days to determine how fast the soil dries to the point of needing re-watering. Keep in mind that weather conditions can quickly change the watering schedule and adjust accordingly.

Conditions that will affect the soil infiltration rate and drainage are the soil properties, the slope of the land and compaction. The soil properties of sand or clay can be changed with the addition of organic matter. Adding organic matter can make clay soils accept water quicker and will help sandy soils hold water longer. Plant beds that are on a slope will have greater run-off and can be aided by mulch or by building up raised areas on the downward side of the slope to slow run-off and allow for a better infiltration rate. Soils that are compacted will have a poor infiltration rate and will not provide enough air to the soil, water ratio for the plant roots to grow properly. Aerating, mulching, adding organic matter or wetting agents can be used to loosen the compacted soil. Organic matter should be added to a depth of 6-8″ deep for the best results.

Watering container plants.
Since a container planter has a limited volume of soil and water capacity, the watering schedule will be more frequent. A good rule of thumb is to water when the surface feels dry to the touch. Plastic or solid containers will retain the water better than porous or clay pots. Too much water or poor drainage in a container planter will not allow enough air to the roots and drown the plants. The bigger the pot, the more drainage holes it will require. Even though container planters require a more frequent watering schedule, it is not advisable to water too excessively during hot weather to avoid the sauna effect resulting in cooking the roots of your plants.

It is worthwhile to consider the watering requirements of your plants, the environment, and your soil quality when planning a watering schedule for your plants. Grouping plants that have similar watering requirements and knowing your soils properties will allow for the best use of your water and your time. Training your plants to accept deep watering, less often will adapt the plant to grow a good, deep root system. Being informed before you plant and using that knowledge can help you have a beautiful and productive flower garden.