The Gardening Life: Time to Feed Your Plants

Time to Feed Your Plants

By Dianne Venetta

Now that your sprouts have become plants and are growing with absolute abandon, you want to keep them happy, so they’ll continue in this glorious fashion. And how do you accomplish this task? Plants need to eat. However, the important thing to keep in mind is how much. Like us, plants have limits. They won’t benefit from that extra spoonful of nitrogen any more than we will from that extra bite of luscious hummus. Too much of anything can pose a problem.

Take nitrogen, for instance. Nitrogen equals green leaves. However, give your tomato plant too much and you’ll end up with a bounty of gorgeous leaves, but little fruit. Why? Because those ruby-red beauties need phosphorous to produce. They also need potassium, calcium—the list goes on!

But what’s good for one plant, isn’t necessarily good for another. Remind anyone of the dinner table at home? Plants are as individual as humans and require different amounts of different elements for strong, healthy growth. Before we get too complicated—let’s begin with a basic recipe for success—the proper distribution of the “macro” nutrients N-P-K; nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.

These are those large numbers you see listed on your fertilizer package, separated by dashes. For example, the fish emulsion label will display 5-1-1 which means heavy on the nitrogen, less of phosphorous and potassium. A package of bone meal would list numbers like 3-15-0, equating to a heavy dose of phosphorous, less nitrogen and zero potassium. You follow?

Now that you know how to read the label, how do you apply it to your plants? Easy. Nitrogen = green leaves. Phosphorous = strong roots and fruits. Potassium = overall health and well-being for your plants. Natural sources for these nutrients include worm poop (nitrogen), bat poop (phosphorous), and bananas (potassium).

As you would imagine, plants that consist mostly of leaves like spinach, lettuce, and cabbage would need a good supply of nitrogen. Fruits like zucchini, tomatoes, and melons require a dose of phosphorous to pump up their production. Carrots and potatoes are roots and will also benefit from a shot of phosphorous. When any plant is looking a bit “haggard and thin-skinned,” think potassium. It’s sort of like us taking Vitamin C, because it covers a wide range of health benefits.

As previously mentioned, there are “micro” nutrients like calcium, sulfur, magnesium, and others that can improve plant growth, but most plants are able to absorb these secondary nutrients from the soil—especially if you’ve amended it with a compost rich in organic matter.

Speaking of organic, you know how after a good rainfall your plants and flowers seem brighter and more alive with color? It’s not your imagination. Rain contains nitrogen and when lightning strikes, it releases nutrients in the soil making them easier for the plant to absorb. Thank you, Mother Nature!

About the Author

Award-winning author D.S. Venetta lives in Central Florida with her husband and two children. It was volunteering in her children’s Montessori school garden that gave rise to her new series Wild Tales & Garden Thrills, stories bursting with the real-life experiences of young gardeners. Children see the world from a totally different perspective than adults and Venetta knows their adventures will surely inspire a new generation to get outside, and get digging.

When not crafting her next novel, D.S. Venetta hosts a garden blog,, where she demonstrates just how easy and fun gardening can be! Additionally, Venetta has been featured for her gardening advice on various websites, including GalTime, EarthEats, eHow, IdealHomeGarden, Huffington Post, and the cookbook Earth Eats: Real Food Green Living. Passionate about organic gardening, her dream is to see a garden in every school, library, and community.

Connect with Dianne on Twitter, her garden blog, website, Facebook BloominThyme, and Facebook DSVenetta.

You can read Dianne's column on the 2nd Wednesday each month here at Pandora's Box Gazette.

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