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Garden Life: Fertilizer makes a big difference in plants’ health

By Robb Rosser
Published: May 27, 2015, 5:00pm

If you have not done so already, it’s time to feed all of your summer roses and emerging perennial plants. Keep in mind that the best plants are those that grow in the best soil, so the top fertilizers will be those that add nutrients to the soil. I recommend organic fertilizers. This early in the season, you can use a fertilizer that adds nutrients to benefit all levels of plant growth. Every fertilizer label states the percentage, by weight, of the three macronutrients used in mineral form: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). These nutrients are always listed in the order N-P-K. Some manufacturers combine several natural fertilizers in a single package to produce a complete fertilizer. Look for three of the same numbers on the package, such as 5-5-5 for a mix that will supply your plants nutritional needs.

Filling voids

If you find that you have blank spaces in your flower borders as summer approaches, plant pots of long-blooming annuals and place them directly in the garden to fill the void. Lightweight pots and planters are easy to move around the garden and they add focus and highlights where they are most needed. You can light up a dark corner with pots of white- or light pink-flowering shade lovers. A mix of impatiens, coleus and ivy geraniums add subtle drama. Try salvia, lobelia and helichrysum to add depth to a sunny flower border.

Some perennial plants with a short blooming period, such as lilies or foxgloves, look magnificent in containers and grow well in such temporary quarters. Transplant them to the garden when they are finished blooming. Grouped in strategic positions, they break the monotony of a terrace or a patio and add ambience to the scene. Build a simple theme garden around a color or an idea. A collection of yellow and blue bloomers, such as brachyscome, annual phlox and golden-hued nasturtiums makes a cheerful display.

Use annuals in your garden like you would use a fresh coat of paint. All white impatiens and creamy, scented nicotiana make a garden area elegant and enticing. Multicolored Iceland poppies, followed by a bright mix of common zinnias liven up the garden from spring through summer. A grouping of pots by the backdoor of your house is all you need for the perfect starter vegetable or herb garden. Many vegetables do well in large pots. The closer vegetables are to the house, the more likely they will be well tended and harvested as needed.

Protecting plants

I’m always on the lookout for decorative wire containers or open-weaved baskets to use as plant protectors for new or delicate plantings in my garden. I simply flip the basket upside down and place it over a young plant or newly emerging spring perennial. I discovered this idea many years ago and started collecting attractive pieces that would not only protect tender plants, but look good in the garden even before a plant has come out of winter dormancy. Decorative plant protectors are perfect for covering a hellebore or hosta that is growing in a spot where the neighbor’s dog insists on cutting through a garden bed. They give all sorts of plants the chance to develop a full set of leaves. They might otherwise succumb to nibbling by cats, deer or rabbits.

Take measurements

Before you go to the nursery to shop for plants, take the measurement of each area you are planting. Multiply the length of the area by the width to find the complete size of the space. A five by ten foot bed is fifty square feet. If you are adding to an established border, count the gaps you need to fill. Measure the individual spaces to decide whether or not there is room for more than one plant in each space.

Rather than buying one or two plants at a time and coming up with a hodge-podge of colors and shapes, buy the majority of your annual plants at one time. Shop at more than one nursery if necessary but keep this year’s planting plan consistent. While shopping, keep in mind the conditions of different areas of the garden, whether sunny, shady, dry or wet. Later, when you see a bargain or spot a plant you simply have to have, buy it and add it as a highlight to your established garden picture.

Robb Rosser is a WSU-certified master gardener. Reach him at Write2Robb@aol.com