02 August 2011

Plant Maintenance

I thought it would be a good idea to go over some basic plant maintenance for this issue, being that many of you have your plants already planted and are in the process of maintaining them.  Fear not, if you haven’t planted yet, you still can.  It’s not too late and many growers still have great plants to choose from.  It’s sale time too….we don’t want to maintain spring plants in the greenhouses any longer than we have to and many growers are looking to get rid of them as quickly as possible.

I cannot stress enough….and my husband tells me to mention it in every article….plants need to be fed on a regular basis for best performance in your gardens and pots.  There are many people that still do not realize that very important but simple concept.  Plants need their nutrients just like people do, especially if they are expending all that energy flowering or producing a quality crop to harvest.  I have mentioned before, during the heat of the summer, with all that watering going on, nutrients not only get used up by the plants, but can also be leached out of the soil simply by having to water frequently.  It is best to feed your plants at least once a week, possibly more often if you are having to water frequently.  Many plants flower on new growth and in order to keep them growing, you have to feed them. 
Once again, there are three main elements that you will see concentrations for on the fertilizer bag. Those are N-P-K, or Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium, respectively and the numbers (i.e. 15-15-15)    tell what percentages those macronutrients are in.  Nitrogen is mainly responsible for vegetative plant growth and strong roots, phosphorous for root expansion and flowering, and potassium for metabolism, leaf expansion and the quality and size of the fruit or vegetative parts of the plants that are harvested. Potassium is also responsible for the intensity and development of pigments and color in flowers.   Try to find a well balanced fertilizer that also contains some micronutrients as well.  The process by which these elements work together and are taken up by the plant all rely on each other. 

Many of you prefer organic nutrients, and that’s O.K. as long as you know what you are doing because nutrients depend on each other for proper absorption.  You have to be certain you are providing everything the plants need.   Have you ever seen so called “organic” apples with dimpling in the skin?  That happened because of a lack of nutrition. If the fruit or vegetable lacked proper nutrition during the growing season, then it definitely lacked nutrition at harvest time and therefore, you are not getting the proper nutrition when you eat that organic produce. 
Watering will encourage root growth as the roots will follow the water into the soil.  The stronger the root system, the stronger the plant will be.  Water accordingly with the weather; less frequently when cool and more when hot.  Be careful not to overwater or keep the soil wet and soggy.  Too much water will deprive the roots of oxygen.  It’s O.K. to dig down with your hands to check the moisture level if you are not sure.  If you prepared your garden plot well you should have adequate drainage and aeration for the roots. 

Some plants, such as bedding petunias (not “wave” petunias) will need to be dead-headed regularly to encourage more blooms and keep the plants full and bushy.  Do not simply remove the spent flower, but rather pinch off the entire flower stem back to the main stem.  This will allow the plant to spend its energy producing more blooms and more plant growth and keep it from getting long and leggy.

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