How does Your Garden Grow

Louise Grabell

The key to successful gardening lies in how well you take care of your plants. They need your attention when it comes to fertilization. When the question is posed “How Does Your Garden Grow?” you should have a good answer! My garden grows just fine. The flowers are happy, the citrus trees are green, and the tomatoes are delicious. The key is proper fertilization.

Fertilizers come in many varieties and it all can be a bit perplexing. The three main nutrients in a bag of fertilizer are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, in that order. A bag of 5 – 10 – 5 fertilizer contains 5% useful nitrogen or, in a 20 pound bag, that would equal 1 pound. 10% of that same bag would be 2 pounds of useful phosphorus, and finally, 1 pound of useful potassium. Add it all up and that’s 4 pounds out of 20 pounds of useful fertilizer. The rest is the stuff the fertilizer is embedded in which is called “filler.” Any bag of fertilizer that has a “0” in place of one of the three numbers already mentioned is missing that particular nutrient. So, a bag of 20 – 0 – 20 is missing phosphorus as a nutrient. I’ve done my share of “Google-ing,” to find the correct proportions of each nutrient for the different kinds of plants I have, but I have just used what is available locally and all seems to be fine in my Garden of Eden. This means that your trees, shrubs, flowers and tomatoes will do well with fertilizers labeled for citrus, palm, roses and veggies. Don’t drive yourself crazy – just drive yourself to the garden center and get some fertilizer! Follow the package directions and all will be green and happy. NOTE: fertilizer lovingly spread around your estate is useless unless you water it into the ground. Roots cannot absorb fertilizer laying on the gravel! If your plants can wait for a rainy day, spread the fertilizer the day before and let Mother Nature do the rest!

Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are called “macronutrients;” they are the “big 3” needed by all plants. However, there are also micronutrients essential for healthy plant growth like iron, zinc, magnesium, etc. So make sure that you always purchase a “complete” fertilizer. This will contain the “big 3” along with many micronutrients all listed on the bag’s contents. Iron is one of those nutrients that you may have to apply separately in greater quantity. A sure sign of iron deficiency is yellowing new growth with green veins. This is called chlorosis and is a common problem for citrus and photinia. Finally, trees and shrubs that produce pods [mesquite, cassia, cat claw, Mexican bird of paradise, etc.] do not require regular fertilization as they are legumes. Google it!