Garden and landscape design

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A good square meal


As a follow-up to my last blog about composts, mulches and soil conditioners, this month’s blog is about fertilisers – providing a good vitamin-rich square meal for your plants.

I am not a proponent of over-fertilising soil, or trying to change it’s basic nature, as this simply won’t work. It is much better to work with the soil you have, and choose plants suited to the local conditions. For example, for a hot, sunny area, with nutrient-poor soil, Mediterranean plants will do well, or consider choosing plants from a heathland habitat which are used to poor, sandy soil. In this way, your planting schemes should establish well, and have longevity, without the need for ongoing intervention and watering.

Over-fertilising soil can also lead to too much flabby, green growth, at the expense of fruit and flowers. However, at the other end of the scale, many soils are so deficient that symptoms arise such as pests and diseases, and cultural disorders such as discoloured leaves. So there is a balance to be reached.

In a natural environment, where plants are not regularly harvested, leaves are left to rot in, and dead animals decompose, Mother Nature provides her own fertilisers, and only plants suitable for the local conditions will colonise. However, in our gardens, where we grow demanding non-native ornamental species, harvest vegetables, grow temporary plants such as annuals, and clear away debris, the addition of nutrients often becomes necessary. This can often be achieved through the application of a well-rotted manure alone, but in certain situations this is not enough.

I tend to supplement with natural fertilisers if the soil is very sandy, long-neglected or plants are showing signs of deficiency. The best way is to sprinkle over the soil at the recommended dose, seal in with a layer of compost or mulch and then wait for it to rain or water it in.

Fertilisers can be either organic or inorganic. ‘Organic’ fertilisers are those of animal or vegetable origin, and are generally slow acting over a long period; ‘inorganic’ fertilisers can be minerals extracted from the earth, or synthetically manufactured, and are often faster-acting.

One of my favourites is dried poultry manure pellets, as they are organic, they have a reasonably balanced mix of the three key nutrients (nitrogen, phosphates and potash), have a reasonably fast but long-lasting action, are easy to apply by the handful, can be dug-in or used as a top-dressing, and are not too expensive. I’m also a fan of sequestrine plant tonic sachets which can be watered onto sickly, yellow looking plants and permanent plants in containers. Specific rose fertilisers have a use, and ericaceous fertilisers can give acid-loving shrubs such as rhododendrons a boost. Beyond this, I tend to replace an ill plant with something more suitable.

Find our blog on composts, mulches and soil conditioners here

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Images: Harmony Green