I have planted 100’s of containers over the 33 years at the greenhouse. Here are some good points to use when you are planting them or replanting to make them look good. FERTILZIING ….
The ABCs of fertilizing containers by Doreen G. Howard
For flower and vegetable containers that look great all summer long, a continuous supply of nutrients is an absolute must. Here are tips for feeding plants in pots, including a simple 3-step process that ensures your pots are getting what they need.
The Importance of Nutrients
My containers filled with petunias, salvia, lettuces, and tomatoes looked awful, especially when compared to those I planted in the ground later. I was accidentally starving the container plants because I didn’t replace nutrients that were leached out of the potting mix every time I watered. Unlike plants in the ground, which have roots to seek out additional nutrients, container plants are effectively quarantined from the nutrients, fungi, and bacteria naturally found in soil.
If you’re going to grow plants in containers, you’re also going to need to lend a helping hand. Plants exhaust the available nutrients in containers within about six weeks, even if you’re using a high-quality potting soil or compost.
Sure, you can sprinkle in some fertilizer pellets, as you might do with vegetables grown in the ground. But even that won’t be enough for some container plants, especially tomatoes and other big feeders! A regular liquid feed is best. You can buy liquid fertilizers or make your own. Diluted with water, they provide a shot of extra nutrients that ensures plants continue to grow well and be productive.
My 3-Step Container Fertilizer Program
Now I use this three-step fertilizer program, and my container gardens flourish. Be sure to fertilize…
1. …when you are filling your containers with potting mix.
When you are starting your containers, incorporate fertilizer pellets into your potting mix. (If the potting mix contains fertilizer, skip this step.) You want “slow-release” fertilizer pellets that are coated with a polymer that lets them dissolve at varied rates; the thicker the coating, the long it takes for the fertilizer in pellets to be released into the potting mix. Most brands feed plants for at least 60 days, but some supply a steady stream of nutrients for up to 120 days. Check the label on any product you buy for this information.
Slow-release food is also available in organic form. Fish meal pellets are formulated similarly to synthetic fertilizers. Cotton seed meal, feather meal, and alfalfa pellets are other slow-release, organic choices. All feed plants for about 60 days. The alfalfa also contains a hormone, triacontanol, which promotes plant growth.
2. …as your plants grow.
Apply a water-soluble (liquid) fertilizer to supplement the slow-release fertilizer. Water-soluble ones deliver nutrients directly to plant roots and are easy to apply. Just dissolve them in water and pour the liquid into the container for a nutritional boost. Follow package directions for dilution rates and the amount of fertilizer to use on each container.
If you are buying liquid fertilizer, there are many types on the market. You want an equal ratio of “N-P-K” (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium), which are the three nutrients that plants need the most of. A fertilizer with an equal amount of each nutrient is commonly called a “balanced” fertilizer, which you’ll see reflected in the label (e.g., 10-10-10). However, for plants such as tomatoes and peppers and other fruiting plants, choose a liquid fertilizer with a higher K number.
Organic choices such as fish meal emulsion and liquid kelp work very well, too. In fact, some plants, like ferns and lettuce, respond better to organic products than to synthetic fertilizers.
I like to use a liquid feed made from seaweed. I water all my vegetables with a dilute seaweed feed about once a month. Fruiting vegetables will need a tomato feed weekly (alternating with the seaweed feed once a month). Fertilize throughout the growing season from spring until late summer.
Note: There are some container plants that really do not need to be fed as they grow. Cut-and-come-again lettuces or other salad leaves don’t typically need a regular feed, as they are usually harvested before they use up their supply. Herbs shouldn’t need to be fed at all, particularly lavender, thyme, or rosemary; they do best in nutrient-poor, drier conditions.
3. …if plants appear stressed or need a pick-me up.
If plants need a quick pick-me-up due to stressors (such as extreme temperatures or drought) or heavy production of flowers or fruit, apply fertilizer directly to plants’ leaves. Deadhead old blooms, cut back damaged foliage, and then spray water-soluble fertilizer on leaf tops and undersides. The foliar spray delivers nutrients directly to where photosynthesis takes place. Results are dramatic—you’ll see growth or renewal almost overnight.
If plants are looking a bit under the weather, I water with my diluted seaweed solution or even spray the seaweed solution directly onto the leaves and that will often sort them out.
Use any spray bottle or garden sprayer and follow dilution rates given on the fertilizer package.
A word of caution about foliar feeding: Don’t do it when temperatures are above 90ºF or when the sun is beating on plants directly. The fertilizer could burn leaves. The best time to foliar feed is in the morning or early evening.
Make Your Own Liquid Fertilizer
Liquid fertilizer can get pricy, depending on the size of your container garden, so consider making your own by steeping “weeds” or other nutrient-packed plants in water.
Comfrey is commonly used in homemade liquid fertilizer. It’s great for fruiting vegetables because it contains a good dose of potassium. Nettles or borage can be used in the same way for a higher-nitrogen alternative, which is beneficial for leafy vegetables.
Taken from https://www.almanac.com/abcs-fertilizing-containers
You could also make a “Compost Tea,” which is a good overall plant health booster (a little like vitamins for people) and helps plants be better able to resist pests and diseases.
What is Compost Tea?
Compost tea is a liquid produced by extracting beneficial microorganisms (microbes)—bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, and micro arthropods—from compost using a brewing process. A true compost tea contains all of the organisms that were present in the compost before brewing. The brewed water extract should also have soluble nutrients from the compost.
Benefits of Compost Tea
Compost tea is a good overall plant health booster (a little like vitamins for people), and healthy plants are better able to resist pests and diseases.
Good tea improves soil health. A healthy soil is less likely to leach nutrients down beyond plant root zones. If soil is nutrient-rich, the need for fertilizer is minimized.
Compost tea improves the water retention capacity of soil, which reduces the need for frequent watering.
Soil structure is improved with regular applications of compost tea. (Good soil structure is important for nutrient and water retention and accessibility.) The biological components in a soil are what create its structure. For good structure, all organism groups in the food web—bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, and micro arthropods—need to be present. When you add tea, you add these microbes.
Compost tea helps loosen clay soils for air and water to move, and helps sandy soils retain water and nutrients.
Plant root growth is stimulated by compost tea applications. Deeper roots retain moisture better and help to reduce runoff.
When sprayed onto plants, compost tea adds beneficial microbes to foliage. By occupying leaf surfaces, these organisms prevent potential disease organisms from gaining a foothold.
Compost tea combats the negative impact chemical-based pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers have on beneficial microorganisms.
Unlike store-bought fertilizers, tea recipes can be developed and fine-tuned to target specific conditions and plant needs.
How to Make Compost Tea
You can buy compost tea in stores in powder form (though be sure to test it out first).
Or, you can make your own! Compost tea can be made with or without aeration, and with or without adding supplemental nutrient sources like molasses that feed microbes. For best results, aeration and supplements are recommended, and the right compost is critical.
This sample compost tea recipe is good for vegetable crops:
5-gallon bucket, filled with water (let it sit for 24 hours to allow chlorine to evaporate)
1 fish tank aerator
1 compost tea brewing bag (either purchase one online or make one from a scrap of meshed material such as row covering, tied with twine—it should be large enough to hold 5 to 6 pounds of dry ingredients)
1 aquarium thermometer
1 large handful of compost
1 handful of garden soil
2 handfuls of straw
3–5 leaves from a healthy plant
1 cup fish hydrolysate (pulverized fish, available at most garden centers)
1 cup seaweed extract (available at most garden centers)
Put the first five ingredients ingredients into the tea bag, tie the bag tightly and submerge it in the bucket of water. Add the fish hydrolysate and seaweed extract liquids directly to the water. Place the aerator in the bucket and turn it on. Brew the tea for about 36 hours, monitoring temperature—the optimal temperature is between 68° and 72°F. Dilute it to a 3 parts tea to 1part water ratio before spraying. Fill a backpack sprayer. Spray early in the morning or late in the evening to avoid burning leaves in the midday sun.
Tip: If you do not have a backpack sprayer, apply tea to the soil using a gallon jug, and a spray bottle to mist the foliage.
Monitor your brewing conditions. With each new batch, take note of the following:
Temperature of water during brewing; if you are unable to reach the optimal temperature range, consider buying a small submersible aquarium heater, available at most pet stores.
Any microbial foods added to the brew (and quantities); this is helpful information to have should you need to tweak the recipe later.
Length of time tea is brewed; if you find your tea is not having the desired effects, you may want to increase the brewing time.
The more information you have, the better equipped you will be to make changes to your recipe and/or brewing conditions, if need be.
Tip: Use the tea immediately after brewing; the longer it sits, the less active and effective it will be.
Be sure to clean your equipment and spray tank well between each brew (dirty equipment can breed harmful bacteria). Hydrogen peroxide or ammonia are appropriate cleaning agents.
Taken from https://www.almanac.com/content/how-make-compost-tea
Till next time this is Becky Litterer, Becky’s Greenhouse, Dougherty Iowa email@example.com 641-794-3337 cell 641-903-9365