Give a planter a stellar start, fertilizer and smart clips
Watch it shine through to fall
My flowering baskets and planters look great in spring
but by August they're leggy and I end up replanting. Can I do
anything to keep the same plants going all summer? - W.M.
When people say leggy the first thing we think is, "Might need
to become better at deadheading." It's also important to use a good
potting mix, water well
First, as each flower fades, remove it. Be sure to take the
structure that might otherwise become seed.
Below: Don't just pull the petals off a pansy or a petunia.
Nip that part that will become seed, and the flower stalk,
too. There's help in learning to recognize the seed pod and
why to clip it, in What's
Coming Up 94,
Second: As flowering stems age, take them out of production by
clipping back whole stems rather than flower heads alone. People
hesitate to do this as it may remove the majority of foliage and
some unopened flower buds. However, young growth from the base will
come back fast and strong. In addition, it will seem less drastic
as the season progresses and the plant grows from just a few
flowering stems. By mid season there will be several stems
untouched for every one you clip. Then, removing flowering stems
won't leave a gap but a denser, more floriferous outline.
Ilustrations and much more about removing flowering stems as you
deadhead, if you download our Ensemble issues
Coming Up 148, for pages 9-12.
What's Coming Up 151 for the help on page 15.
Potting mix and water for
The best growing medium for container gardens is light and airy.
It holds some moisture for the plants but has enough larger pores
that excess water falls right through.
Most growing mixes are made from bark, peat or compost and
aeration additives such as perlite. Being soilless, they lack
minerals, so they're not rich in nutrients. You can add slow release fertilizer
when you first fill the pot with the growing mix.
If the growing mix has no added fertilizer, or once it's past
midsummer for pots that had fertilizer mixed in from the start, use
fertilizer at one-half or one-quarter strength in the
irrigation water every few days. (This supplement is needed for any
soilless mix and even for fertilizer-added mixes since what's in a
pot will almost always be diminished by leaching as we water
thoroughly. Watering thoroughly means to add water until some drips
out the drain holes. In hotter weather and for containers more
exposed to drying wind and sun, we must water more frequently and
more nutrient falls out the drain.)
Fertilizer tips for
- Fertilize throughout the season or supplement from mid-season
by adding fertilizer solution to the irrigation water. If possible,
choose an organic product so there is less likelihood of salt build
up that could dehydrate plant root tips.
- Use a fertilizer
solution that contains the standard nitrogen, phosphorus and
potassium plus micronutrients -- also known as trace elements.
Soilless mix has no minerals so plants can become wan or less
floriferous from micronutrient deficiencies. These minerals are
listed on the fertilizer label: sulfur, magnesium, iron, boron,
Dr. Earth Organic liquid 3-3-3 (One quart is enough for twenty 10"
baskets for the season)
Fish Emulsion 2-4-0 plus an equal amount of Seaweed 0-0-4.5 (Use
one quart of each product, mixing both into every application.
Enough nutrients for fourteen 10" baskets for the season.)
Miracid 30-10-10 (One pound box is enough for 200 ten-inch baskets
for the season, or 100 square feet of garden, such as a 4' x 25'
(More about calculating proper fertilizer amounts, in Grow
- Make a compost tea from compost
or organic granular fertilizer: Driconure, Groganic, Espoma "Tone",
Milorganite, etc. Or cool the water in which vegetables were
cooked. Use a tea for every watering. (Regarding amount: It's
difficult to say how much nutrient a tea or cookwater delivers. It
will not burn plants even in excess but could be insufficient to
plant needs. So watch for pale color or poor growth and supplement
- Slow-release organic fertilizers and pelleted
slow-release processed fertilizers can be added to a pot at
planting time. Mix them throughout the potting mix since what
dissolves from them must be available to as many roots as
- Examples of slow release
organic fertilizer: Driconure, Groganic poultry manure, Milorganite
composted sewage sludge, mixtures of animal- and vegetable meal by
Fertrell, Espoma and other companies, etc. Alternatives are
slow release processed pellets such as Osmocote and Once. More
about organic slow release fertilizer in Grow 559.
- Never add fertilizer to water for a very dry plant. If a plant
is wilting, use clear water. Add fertilizer to the next
compost tea: 1 part fertilizer to 4 parts water in a glass jar, put
in the sun 2-3 days, shake it occasionally. More on compost tea http://www.dep.state.pa.us/dep/deputate/airwaste/wm/recycle/tea/tea1.htm