Questions and Answers on How to Feed Perennial Flowers

One of the interesting questions the seminar folks had was how to feed perennial flowers?

Here’s the deal in plain and simple terms.

I feed perennial flowers compost.

I also give them a single feeding in the early spring of fish emulsion applied through a hose-end sprayer. I “might” give them a second feeding in early summer of the fish emulsion if I’m not happy with their growth or if the garden soil is new.

That’s it. End of story

Perennials (in my experience) in the garden do quite nicely if simply mulched and given a shot of compost (or compost tea) to get them going.

The decomposition of the mulch is pretty much all the food they really need. It might take me a few years to get the mulch decomposing and the soil alive in new gardens but once this process is underway, there’s really very little reason to feed.

But I’ve read that you should feed some perennials more than others?

I’ve read that some perennials should be fed high-nitrogen plant foods and some low-nitrogen foods – which are which?

Darned if I know. As I said above, I don’t take this into account at all.

And between you and me – the claims and advertising of plant food manufacturers that this fertilizer is “perennial” food and this one is “tomato” food and this one is “annual flower” food is just so much marketing. If they can get you to buy several bags instead of one – they’re happy. If you’re buying chemical fertilizers, get one “fairly” balanced fertilizer – something like a 0-10-10 or similar – and call it quits. Otherwise see above for my technique.

I grow my plants really close together – how do I ensure they’re all well fed?

Separate them to the correct distance apart.

The deal here is that it’s not about the feeding, it’s about the air circulation and disease management.

Grow too-crowded and you’re asking for disease problems no matter how well you feed your plants.

But I want to get as many perennials into my flower beds as possible

Take a deep breath – gardening isn’t a body-contact, competitive sport.

Either dig more beds (get rid of lawn) or upgrade the varieties you do grow to only include the very best and compost (or give away) the lesser-performers.

How Accurate Does the Fertilizer Application Need to Be?

It isn’t rocket science. It’s gardening.
If your plants get all stretched out and grow like a rocket – you’re overfeeding or you’ve got them planted too close together.

What if I overfeed?

If you overfeed nitrogen and plants start growing like stink or worse yet, burning because of the mistake – then start the water sprinklers.

Leaving them run for several hours will flood the soil, dissolve the excess nitrogen and carry it down and out of the root zone. Not recommended as a regular gardening practice but in an emergency, this works.

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