PLANT NUTRITION

  • To achieve reasonable results, a basic understanding of plant nutrition and composts is essential. The type of composts most commonly used by fuchsia growers are soil, soil less, and peat based multipurpose.      Multipurpose soil less compost being the most popular. It is pre-packed, clean and easy to use. The nutrients contained in multipurpose compost are invariably mineral and do not deteriorate as rapidly as organic material. On the other hand a soil based compost, made to the John Innes formula, seven parts loam, three parts peat and two parts sand is laced with mineral and organic fertilisers.      This has a limited shelf life in comparison and can't be stored for long periods. If a soil based compost is preferred, try making your own. It is not too difficult. Use the John Innes formula described above then add the requisite quantity of nutrients for the specific type of plant it is going to be used for.   a) cuttings, b) small to medium pot plants, c) large plants, standards and baskets. This and other types of compost are described in greater detail under the heading 'Composts'.Grown in a soil based compost, plants will not become root bound as quickly as those grown in a soil less multipurpose compost and will not require watering as often. For the expert and dedicated enthusiast this is the ideal medium. The essential factor of soil based compost, which is rarely discussed or understood, is its ability to maintain a more balanced temperature conducive to steady controlled growth. It is not subjected to the rapid rise and fall in temperature or drying out associated with multipurpose compost, thus allowing the steady and controlled breakdown of organic material by micro organisms into plant food. This is then dissolved in water to be taken up and used by the plant. The breakdown and conversion of these materials into plant food is absolutely temperature controlled. During the day as light and temperature increase so does the temperature of the compost. This excites the micro organisms and food production increases. Adversely, as light and temperature fall food production is suppressed. This is a unique process and maintains steady growth through to flowering. To see the true effect of this process look at the plants and trees in your garden or the countryside and watch their development. It is only when we interfere with nature that we need to understand what we are doing. By removing plants from their natural environment and containing them in pots or baskets we take on the responsibility for their well being. This is where we need to have a modicum of understanding of both nutrition and composts . In a well balanced compost containing both mineral and organic materials, supplementary feeding  should only be necessary when the plants are root bound in their final pots. This may be required to sustain a long period of flowering. Use a general liquid fertiliser with a balanced N.P.K. The biggest misnomer in fuchsia growing is the theory propounded by many authors and speakers encouraging growers, especially exhibitors, to feed their plants with a high potash fertiliser. Whilst potash is an essential ingredient, used to excess will actually impair growth and over ripen the wood to such an extent as to make it virtually useless for the following year. In addition, high potash feeding will result in small dark green foliage that will inhibit or suppress the process of photosynthesis, the essential process of converting fertilisers into sugars and starches required for balanced healthy growth. The element most useful, both for growth and flower production, is nitrogen.     This will increase leaf size and the plants ability to produce flowers continuously and in greater numbers. Moderation in all things. An excess or imbalance of essential minerals N.P.K., or trace elements, (micro nutrients such as iron, sulphur, manganese, magnesium, boron to name just a few, are only requires in parts per million) can spell disaster. An imbalance will result in distorted, malformed stunted plants with small and sometimes disfigured flowers. I have only touched the surface of this very complex and interesting subject which warrants further study by the ardent enthusiast.    Unnecessary feeding with soluble nutrients will undoubtedly turn the compost extremely acid  resulting in burnt feeding roots and the slow demise of the plant.   If a programme of supplementary feeding is embarked upon, at least once a week dissolve a teaspoon of chalk, garden lime, into five litres of water, stir well and water each plant.   Ensure the lime is in suspension whilst doing so.    This will help correct any acidity from soluble feeding. See below for more details.       Plants grown in multipurpose peat or soil less composts will require potting on and feeding much earlier. The soluble nutrients can be depleted very quickly, especially in the summer, when the nutrients are used more quickly or washed out with continuous watering. Supplementary feeding needs to be considered much earlier unless additional organic fertilisers are added. See Composts.       Several points raised in this article are reiterated or cross referenced under the heading of Composts to stress their importance.       A point worth noting about the pH. (potential hydrogen) of both soil and multipurpose composts when used in pots and containers is that it fluctuates with temperature and is rarely a problem. Fuchsias, like the majority of pot grown plants thrive best at a pH of 6.5 to 7 on a scale of 1 to 14. 7 being neutral. When supplementary feeding, occasionally, maybe once a week dilute a level teaspoon of ground chalk in five litres of water and water the plants being fed. This will correct the acidity and the plants ability to use the fertilisers. This will not apply where your natural water supply is already alkaline.       The following is a synopsis of fertilisers which can be used for growing fuchsias. Some, as indicated, can only be used on plants growing in the garden.

  • ORGANIC NITROGEN [ N ]

    HOOF & HORN MEAL:
    Used in soil based composts and can be added to multipurpose composts. Medium to slow release and contain additional trace elements. Safe and easy to use both for pot plants and in the garden. For pot plants it must be passed through a flour sieve. Any grist that doesn't pass through the sieve is ideal for use in the garden. If this is not adhered to it will render an imbalance in the breakdown and release of useful nitrogen. This rule applies to all organic and mineral fertilisers used for pot culture.

    FISH MEAL:
    Fast acting, not really suitable for pot plants. It can burn the foliage and surface roots. A good garden fertiliser which also contains trace elements.

    DRIED BLOOD:
    Another fast acting nitrogenous fertiliser. Can be used for pot plants but handle with caution. Can be dangerous especially if handling without protective gloves. Read the instructions for use on the packet. Under no circumstances buy this material loose. Treat with caution.

    HEN & FOWL MANURE:
    For use only as a garden fertiliser. Use gloves when handling. It can contain Salmonella virus. Contains calcium and trace elements. It needs to be stored for at least three months before use. Use sparingly.


    INORGANIC NITROGEN [ N ]


    UREA: Forty per cent pure nitrogen. Little or no trace elements. Is a fast acting fertiliser for use with pot plants and in the garden. It leaves no toxic residues and if diluted correctly will not burn foliage or roots. Ideal for pot plants especially fuchsia. Feed one level teaspoon to one gallon of water no more than twice weekly when plants are in their final pots and root bound.
    SULPHATE OF AMMONIA:
    This is forty six per cent nitrogen. Best used in the garden. It will burn foliage and must be watered in if used in dry weather. Very quick acting.
    NITRATE OF SODA:
    A fast acting fertiliser, not suitable for pot plants. It can burn foliage and roots. Water in well after use. Follow the manufacturers instructions and recommendations.

    NITRO CHALK:
    Another fast acting fertiliser mainly used for ground crops. Occasionally used by specialist nurserymen for pot plants. Not one for the amateur.

    NB: Nitrogen is an essential plant food. It is mainly used by the plant for the production of foliage. The leaves of the plant can loosely be described as the plants stomach. It is here with the aid of light, photosynthesis takes place, changing the minerals taken up in solution by the roots, into the sugars and starches the plant can use for growth. Signs that a plant is short of nitrogen are small leaves and slow growth coupled with the lower leaves turning yellow prematurely. The plant is withdrawing the nitrogen from these lower leaves in order to sustain growth higher up the plant, more especially the apical meristem, the tiny growing tip in each branch. Once these leaves have turned yellow feeding will not restore their colour. They eventually die and drop off. It is worth noting that lack of nitrogen is not the only cause of leaves turning yellow. Before feeding, ascertain that the plant has a good healthy root system. Sour compost through over watering, an infestation of red spider mite, or lack of trace elements are other causes. Try to diagnose the problem before attempting a cure.

    PHOSPHORUS [ P ]

    This is another fertiliser essential for good, well balanced growth mainly associated with root growth formation. There are two main sources. Organic and mineral.
    BONE MEAL & BONE FLOUR (Organic)
    Both organic in origin and are essentially used in the production of roots and stems. Bone meal is not ideally suited for pot plants, it is too slow to break down and is more suited for the garden where it provides nutrition over a long period. Use bone flour for pot plants. It must be passed through a fine flour sieve before use. If unobtainable sieve bone meal. It must be very fine to be of any use during the growing season.
    Contains a variety of trace elements. Any grist too large to pass through a flour sieve is excellent for the garden.
    SUPER PHOSPHATE: (Inorganic)
    An easily obtainable mineral form of phosphorus. It is quick acting and can be used both in the garden and for pot plants. Very clean and easy to use.

    POTASSIUM [ K ]

    SULPHATE OF POTASH:
    This is another essential element used by plants and is generally associated with the production of fruit and flowers. It can be used for pot plants or in the garden. Care must be taken not to over feed with potash. Used to excess, it will impair growth by locking up other essential nutrients. Obvious signs of potash poisoning are small very dark green leaves, small and often deformed flowers. Use in moderation.

    CHARCOAL:
    An organic form of potash derived from burnt wood. It does not contain measurable amounts of potash therefore it is difficult to assess the quantity required for use in composts. When ground and added to composts it helps deter soil insects and keeps the compost sweet and aerated. It contains a number of trace elements. Its use in composts is questionable.

    CALCIUM [Ca]

    LIME / GROUND CHALK:
    Is not a plant nutrient but, like humus must be present in compost to ensure fertility. Peat composts especially can become very acid and turn sour. It is required by the bacteria, micro organisms, in the process of breaking down organic and mineral fertilisers. If any additional fertilisers are added to composts then lime must be added to correct the pH. For fuchsia's, a pH of 6.5 to 7. is best although they will tolerate and survive at levels below and above these levels. It is difficult to test the pH in pot plants it will vary with the rise and fall of the temperature of the compost. If supplementary feeding, it is advisable to water in a weak solution of calcium occasionally. For pot plants always use ground chalk. It is preferable to garden lime.

    SEAGOLD:
    The trade name for calcified seaweed which is extremely alkaline and used to correct the acidity pH of added fertilisers. It is extremely rich in trace elements which include iron, sulphur, boron, manganese and molybdenum. It has been proven that Seagold promotes vigour and enhances the colour of flowers. If Seagold is unobtainable, the same material maybe marketed under a different brand name. Ask your nurseryman.

    Farmyard Animal Manure. 
    This is not really recommended for use with pot plants.    It is better composted and used in the garden.   Contrary to belief, it contains very little in the way of plant nutrients, but is well laced with trace elements, which are only required by the plants in parts per million.      Its greatest asset is its humus value in lightening heavy soils and water retention in sandy ones.    It can be used for large pot culture, but multipurpose compost is so complete, so cheap and so clean.

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