New Garden Beds

The production of stems, leaves, roots and flowers is a drain on the soil's reserves of nitrogen, phosphate, potash and a number of trace elements. It is simply not true that all plants do best under starvation conditions. If one or more of the vital elements runs short, then hunger signs appear on the leaves or flowers and both vigour and display are affected.

Feeding Plants Feeding the growing plants in your new garden is essential. It is helpful to apply a liquid feed in midsummer. If flowering is satisfactory you can use a balanced N;P;K; product, if there is vigorous growth with a disappointing floral display than you must use a high potash/low nitrogen one. Repeat at approximately monthly intervals. There are a few rules. The soil should be moist before feeding. Water first if the ground is dry. Keep solid fertilizers off the leaves and flowers and water in after application. Finally, make sure that you use no more than the amount recommended on the package.

As a general rule plants do not need a regular feeding program, but the situation is quite different with plants growing in containers. The nutrients in soilless composts are designed to last for about eight weeks. After this time period a regular feeding with a liquid feed is essential, follow the label instructions.

As an alternative to liquid feeding you can use a slow-release fertilizer for containers, the feeding effect lasts all season long.

Fertilizer Types

Soluble or Liquid Fertilizer: is the most popular but not a long lasting method. Containers will need feeding approximately every fourteen days.

Powder or Granular Fertilizer: is sprinkled over moist soil or compost. This is longer lasting but slower acting than liquid fertilizers.

Fertilizer Sticks: are pellets or sticks of compressed fertilizer that you push into the soil or compost in containers. The feeding effect lasts for two to three months.

Slow-Release Fertilizer: are granules, blocks or cones of resin-coated fertilizer. They are sprinkled over or pushed into the soil and last for approximately six months.

Foliar Fertilizer: is sprayed on leaves as instructed. The nutrients quickly enter the sap stream. This is used for supplying trace elements when deficiencies are seen.

Cutting For Indoors Cutting flowers and decorative leaves to take indoors for arranging is, of course, one of the pleasures of gardening. This will do no harm if it is not overdone, as you want plentiful floral displays in the garden.

If you have space and are a keen flower arranger it is worthwhile having a separate bed where plants for cutting can be grown. Here you can cultivate varieties which are not particularly decorative as garden flowers but are much admired as dried flowers for indoor arrangements. Examples are Scabiosa stellata and Limonium sinuatum. Some other plants are equally at home in the cutting garden such as Sweet Pea, Aster, Helichrysum and Gypsophila. There are many additional ones and several books on the topic of dried flower arrangements.

I have been using the trial and error method with a variety of species to determine which plants will be best suited for year round display in the home. There are several techniques involved but the easiest is hanging the bloom upside down in a cool, dark place for a few days.

Hardening Off

Plants raised indoors or in a greenhouse have tender tissues, suddenly moving them outdoors in spring means a transition to colder conditions and drying winds for which they are not prepared. The result of this shock is either a severe check to growth or the death of the specimen, depending on the tenderness of the variety and the temperature of the air outdoors.

To avoid this problem there must be a gradual acclimatization to the harsher conditions to be faced outdoors. This process is known as hardening off. There are no short cuts. The ventilation is increased during the day in the greenhouse after which the plants are moved to a cold frame. The lights are kept closed for a week or two and the ventilation is steadily increased until the plants are continually exposed to the outside air for about seven days before planting out.

Of course most plants are bought rather than being home-raised and that means you must take it on trust that they have been properly hardened off. This is one of the important reasons why you should always buy the more tender varieties from a supplier who you know is reliable and knowledgeable. If in doubt keep the plants in a sheltered and protected spot for a few days before planting out.

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