Good Gardening with Mark Curtis: March 2018

01/03/18 News

Just before the season turns the corner from winter into spring, it is perhaps a good time to consider our nutrient maintenance regime for keeping our plots and containerised plants healthy. Getting that soil structure right is a major consideration, to allow roots the access and movement they need to reach those nutrients. 

Plants take up most of their nutrients from soil solution, so if you can find space for a compost heap or bin, you will be in with a head start to good soil fertility. A green manure crop or bagged farmyard/stable manure will also be beneficial. 

There are 14 mineral nutrients essential for plant growth, 6 major nutrients and the rest minor or trace elements. Like a balanced diet, these are believed to be most beneficial in a balanced proportion and can be toxic when there is an imbalance. You will see the balance of 3 major nutrients displayed on the side of packaging as N (Nitrogen), P (Phosphorus) and K (Potassium), as percentage concentration. A good slow release fertiliser for top dressing is Fish, Blood and Bone (N-5, P-5, K-6) or Vitax Q4 (N-5, P-2, K-5). In basic general terms, Nitrogen helps the growth of the green leaf, Phosphorus helps cell division and root growth and Potassium (Potash), flower and fruit formation. 

If you have symptoms of deficiencies, it may well be worth seeking expert advice first as it can vary between species; a yellowing of the newer lower leaves could be nitrogen deficiency, but a yellowing of older leaves and pale new growth could be iron deficiency (chlorosis) on ericaceous (chalk hating) plants. If you have yellowing and mottling between the veins of the leaves, you might also want to give your plants a splash of Epsom salts (Magnesium sulphate) too.

Mark Curtis, Plant Area Manager, Tates of Sussex Garden Centres

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