Gardening with James Vaughan: Feed plants to help them thrive

Gardening with James Vaughan: Feed plants to help them thrive

An interesting fact I heard recently was regarding the power in the Sun. Each hour enough sunshine hits the globe to provide enough energy to power the entire planet for a year! All the plants in the world need some amount of this light.

Plants need three things to survive - heat, light and water. Plants get enough water from rain - especially in this country! The heat and the light both come from the same source – the sun. Obviously, the amount of sunshine in Ireland differs at different times of the year.

The maximum daylight occurs on June 21 and the shortest is December 21. This is why you will have noticed all the growth in the last four weeks. As we get closer to June 21 the days are getting longer, meaning more sunlight and therefore more heat from the Sun. So, with this rain and some sunshine, plants have everything they need to survive - right?

As a rule, adding feed to plants in this country’s climate is not strictly necessary. The plant's energy needs are met by photosynthesising. This is how plants turn sunshine into energy. But adding plant food does have its advantages.

It can help plants build up energy and sugars to see them through the winter. It can help weak or distressed plants to build up strength and recover. It can also mean that we can grow a broader range of plants. For example, to grow heathers or rhododendrons you need acid soil. However, if you do not have acid soil you can add food for acid- loving plants and this will help to cope and even thrive.

These types of plant food are known as ericaceous plant food. Plant food can be broadly split into two groups - organic plant food and in-organic.

In-organic plant food

These are, perhaps, the most likely types of plant food you are to encounter for sale or in your daily lives. If you happen to pass fields that are used to gather silage then more than likely the fertilizer 10-10-20 fertilizer has been added to the grass. In-organic plant food acts quickly to provide nutrients to plant roots.

Other examples of this type of plant food would be liquid tomato food and miracle grow. These plant foods release nutrients to plants almost immediately and thus the plants put out more leaves/flowers. One drawback to this type of food is that it can cause the plants to put on excess plush growth. This can make the plant more susceptible to pests such as greenfly.

Organic plant food

You are more likely to see these types of plant food in garden centres. Some people believe that these types of plant foods are more old-fashioned.

The major difference with this type of fertilizer is that the nutrients are released over a longer period. No food is released initially and only over time the food is released. Examples would be dried chicken manure, bone-meal and seaweed extract.

Personally, I use some plant food on young plants I have grown from seed in the spring to help them bulk up before winter. Other than that I don’t really use it.

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