The Ultimate Guide to Plant Feeding | Love The Garden

Guide to Plant Feeding

Paul Walshe's picture
By Paul Walshe, Gardening Enthusiast
Bloom of Exotic Flowers

There isn’t one universal guide for feeding plants, and knowing when and what to feed plants, is crucial to plant growth in your garden.

You may believe that the majority of plants can gain all the nutrients they need from the sunlight they capture, although this is true to a certain degree, your plants will still need additional nutrients to ensure that they are as healthy as can be.

If you have a range of plants in your garden, you will have to make sure you are feeding each plant correctly

For instance, a potted plant will, of course, need more food than a plant that is planted in the soil, as the potted plant would be dependent on the nutrients that you provide.

Check out these pointers to what your plants need, to ensure you have the healthiest looking garden in town.

Blossoming Bacopa
Image Credit: Summerhill Garden Centre

What Do Your Plants Need?

All plants have a basic need for three nutrients in particular; Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P) and Potassium (K).

Nitrogen encourages leaf growth, Phosphorous helps with the roots, whilst Potassium is key to flowering and fruit development. The nutrients are commonly known as NPK, by the values in the periodic table.

If you are using a fertiliser, note that most will contain varying amounts of each of these basic nutrients. For instance, if the ratios are very similar in number, then this would be a basic general purpose fertiliser such as Growmore. As opposed to a tomato feed such as Tomorite that would have a differing ratio of say 4 parts Nitrogen, 5 parts Phosphorous, and 8 parts Potassium, to supplement growth of flavourful fruit.  

To remain healthy, plants also need other nutrients, such as calcium (Ca), sulphur (S) and magnesium (Mg), as well as zinc (Zn), iron (Fe), copper (Cu), boron (B) and manganese (Mn). Smaller amounts of these will be contained in general purpose fertilisers.

There are many different varieties of soil in the UK. Meaning that soils also will vary in their nutritional value to plants. 

Watering Can with Plants

Soils that are dry, waterlogged, very acid or very alkaline may not allow plants to access existing nutrients. Sandy and chalky soils will not offer as many nutrients as a clay based soil. 

You can look to address the pH balance in your soil before adding fertiliser and, to be honest, you may want to do that to increase the effect of the fertiliser that you apply. If you want to improve your soil, you can apply an additional top soil or organic matter to improve the soils fertility. 

Keep in mind that over feeding your plants may be damaging as you may scorch the roots. So follow the on-pack instructions and avoid adding that little extra 'for luck'. 

Frikatti Monch Bloom
Image Credit: Saga

How and What to Feed Your Plants

There are a number of different feeding methods that you can use for your plants. Ensure that you are picking the right method for your plant variety.

General Purpose Fertiliser

Look to add fertiliser around the base of the plant hole to encourage the roots of the plant to build strength and grow throughout the first season. The versatility of this all-purpose fertiliser will help with a wide range of plant health.

Farmyard Manure

This can be utilised for mulch, but primarily this type of manure can be a great nutritional source for your plants. Ensure that the manure is well rotted.

Granular Fertiliser

Uncoated granules are quick release fertilisers, they will start to break down and release as soon as they get damp. Coated prills/granules are controlled release plant fertiliser. This continuous release solution works well when mixed into the compost or garden soil, the fertilisers release is cleverly controlled by the membrane of the prill and will provide nutrients over a duration of up to 6 months, but only when plants need it. Should the soil become cold and/or dry, the prills will lock up and stop releasing until the conditions improve..... Clever! 

Ericaceous Fertiliser / For Acid Loving Plants

Some plants need a different feed, they require nutrients which are found in more acidic soils. Specialist feeds are created for these plants so they can survive in soils with a less suitable pH. 

Fast Acting Liquid Fertilisers

These generally come as either a soluble powder or a liquid concentrate. As nutrients need to be in liquid form for the plants to absorb them into the roots, these feeds are great for quick results and fixing nutrient deficiencies, however, they are not as long lasting as the controlled/continuous release fertilisers. 

Potted Mint
Image Credit: Garden of Eaden

A Few Tips…

- Make sure you check the manufacturer’s guidelines to using the fertiliser.

- Do not overfeed your plants.

- Apply the fertiliser that is high in potash to moist soil for the most effective results in flowering and growing of fruit.

- Make a gardening calendar to include the feeding of your plants, as well as other seasonal chores for your garden. 

If you have any tips or advice, we would love to hear from you via our social media sites. In the meantime, happy gardening!

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