Fertilizing routine

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Good morning! Happy spring – and especially Happy Mother’s Day to all.

When I sit down to write the first column of the season, it is always with great joy. It means the snow is gone, the days are longer, the sun is warm and green things are popping out everywhere. Yeah, spring!

This season, I hope to bring some new ideas, both mine and others, into your gardening experience. I have a few visits planned to some exceptional gardens hidden behind people’s houses. I am hoping with this kind of inspiration, some of you may be motivated to dream a little bigger. There will also be some fun day trips we can explore together as well as a roundup of regional resources. I am continually asked questions about where to find things like organic products, new kinds of plants and interesting shrubs. This provides me with the perfect excuse to plan more gardening adventures. It’s good for everyone.

I am also planning to talk about all those new flower colors like yellow coneflowers, really, I am not kidding – yellow? And a roundup of the gardening experiments I have been trying the last few years, like using perennials and tropicals in containers. All and all, some fun stuff. If you have specific questions you would like answered or topics you would like to hear more about, please let me know.

As usual with my first column, I will send some new helpful hints your way based on questions I received over the winter, new plants being introduced and new products being touted.

To begin, some of you may find holes in your perennial gardens this spring. Plants have gone-a-missing. We didn’t have drastically cold temperatures but we had no snow cover, several periods of extreme warming and cooling, and a lack of moisture. Many plants that were put in last season did not necessarily have the extensive root structure to survive the warming and cooling process. Many established plants that are borderline for our zone had no snow cover to protect them on those few occasions when the temperatures really dropped for a week or so, and those woody plants that require moisture first thing in the spring are suffering.

Hopefully, Mother Nature will take care of the moisture, but if not, you may need those hoses earlier than normal because it is very dry. Some things, like woody shrubs, might do well with a good and thorough pruning and a deep watering. Don’t forget to prune the forsythia as soon as it is done blooming, which is about now. For those of you who had early bulbs start back during the January and February warming spell, be patient and leave them alone. If they put up foliage but don’t bloom, let the foliage brown and give them until next year.

For those with daffodils, hyacinths, crocus and tulips popping out all over, remember to let their foliage brown and die. It is during this browning that the bulb stores energy to bloom next year. If it is ugly, bend it to the ground and put a rock on it or hide it under another plant. Bulbs are great around day lilies because by the time the bulb foliage is browning, the day lilies have gotten large enough to cover it up. Don’t forget to take a few minutes and ride up past Web Harris’ daffodil extravaganza in east Auburn. This is the perfect time to enjoy the beauty of his thousands of daffodils.

Get the cages up on the peonies to support those beautiful blossoms that will be here soon. Get the weeding done while you are cleaning up because it will make June a lot easier, and divide and transplant those perennials that bloom in late summer and early fall. Now is the time to be harsh. If something was too big for the garden last year, deal with it now and the other plants around it will have a much better season. Get out your containers, clean them up and get ready to plant. If you didn’t disinfect them last fall, this is a good job for a rainy day. Fill the kitchen sink with water and a cup of bleach. After the pots are scrubbed, submerge them in the bleach water. This should take care of any viruses or bacteria that might have been present in last year’s plants.

This is also the time to plant new bulbs like Oriental or Asian lilies, dahlias you wintered over as well as callas and cannas, or fall blooming bulbs like colchicum. These are interesting bulbs that put up leaves in the spring that go until perhaps the middle of summer and then die away. In the late summer or early fall, stems emerge and produce blooms. The only trick is having their space marked well so you don’t dig into them by mistake.

Fertilizing routine

I have been asked by many what my fertilizing schedule is, so here goes. Early in the spring after the gardens are cleaned up, usually when the daffodils are blooming, I spread a slow-release organic fertilizer on the perennial beds. It is a 5-10-5 mixture with the middle number being the phosphorous content. Phosphorous encourages root growth and that is what you want in spring. It is best to do this just before a rainy day is expected. When the peonies bloom is the time to use a liquid or water soluble fertilizer. I usually use liquid fish or one of the new organic fish-based ones. Longfellow’s in Manchester has a variety of choices. It can go on the leaves as well as around the plant, but do it in the early morning on a dry day.

In early summer, it is time to bring on the big guns, with a high first number like in the 20s and a high third number in the teens. The first number indicates nitrogen which produces lush foliage and the third number is potassium which promotes flowering. You should use this every two weeks on your perennials beds.

At the end of summer, think Labor Day picnics, stop using the strong mixture and do another application of 5-10-5 to give those roots an extra boost to get through winter, especially for peonies, hellabores and early clematis. This feeding schedule does NOT apply to roses. Annuals simply need a constant and regular feeding with Miracle-Gro or whatever. Their root structures are not an issue like perennials. Once a week is a good plan and remember begonias, passionflowers (these winter over well from year to year) and geraniums are heavy feeders. I always spread a 10-10-10 on my dahlia bed and till it in about two weeks before the bulbs get planted. Do not use Miracle-Gro or like products on dahlias, or you will have wonderful foliage but not wonderful flowers. They don’t like a lot of fertilizer. Other plants that do not like much fertilizer are sedums of all kinds, daylilies (once in spring should do it), shrubs more than five years old, cactus or succulents.

If you missed the article earlier this spring, be warned that when you buy mulch, try to make sure it is produced locally or instate. This will help you avoid any unscrupulous companies that are using wood refuse from the hurricanes down South and transporting termites, bacteria, mold and viruses.

Any of you gardeners who want to encourage a new young gardener, here’s your chance. A 10-year-old homeschooler in Poland wants to begin gardening and is looking for any plants, flowers or shrubs that someone is willing to share. This young person has even offered to come dig them up. So, if you want to share, call Jordan Choiniere in Poland at 998-3416. Good luck, Jordan.

And to Anna, who is looking for garden plants that won’t succumb to afternoon wilting in a hot, dry garden area, here you go: medium height, go for ‘autumn joy’ or ‘black jack’ sedum; tall plants would include agastache, ‘tutti fruiti’ (bright pink), ‘blue fortune’ or ‘red fortune.’ Also baptisia and go for ‘b.australis’ which is blue or ‘twilight prairie blues,’ which is purple.

Until next time, enjoy this day which is dedicated to all the mothers, sisters and grandmothers for their love and wisdom through the generations, cut some early daffodils and enjoy their sunny presence on your table. Watch for the hummers and get out there and get your hands in that dirt – time is a wasting.

Happy gardening!

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Jody Goodwin has been gardening for more than 20 years. She lives in Turner with her husband, Ike, her two dogs and two cats. She may be reached by writing to her in care of the Sun Journal, 104 Park St., Lewiston, Maine, 04243-4400 or by e-mail at jodyike@megalink.net

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