How do you fertilize your perennial garden?

Albany, ME(Zone 4b)

Ours has been in place about 30 years. We've never dug it up and replenished the soil and started over. I'd like to know if folks have suggestions for me and I'd just like to know what other folks are doing. Here's what I do.

Top dress around perennials every fall with compost. Recently Coast of Maine Lobster Compost.
Every time I plant a perennial I add lobster compost, greensand and rock phosphate.
Every time I plant an annual I put some Osmocote in the hole.
I've applied Miracle Gro to the perennials and Bloom Booster to the annuals (and to the cranesbill) randomly. But this year I was more disciplined. About every 10 days. It seemed to have helped, but I feel guilty. I feel like I shouldn't need chemical fertilizers.
When I think of it I add Seaweed/Fish emulsion to my every 10 day fungicidal spray.

Let me know what you think.


Somewhere in, MD(Zone 7b)

My first thought was the first thing you mentioned: I also top-dress with compost and use it often as mulch too. With every new plant I install I add compost to the back-fill.. but here is where we differ a bit. I never ever use any chemical 'fertilizer', I only use organic stuff; Dr. Earth, to be specific. I only end up having to use it about once or twice per season 'cause its effects are so long-lasting, not to mention Eco-friendly. =)

Haven't used MG or Osmocote for several years. I'm going with the approach of improving the soil first. Especially important with perennials since they remain in the ground unlike annuals. With either, I really only fertilize when putting plants in the ground, using Dr. Earth usually and watering them in with fish/seaweed. With most veggies, I use only seaweed. This year I'm trying mulching with fall leaves and compost as on-going soil improvement. I had heard that it's not necessary to fertilize repeatedly with phosphorus as it remains in the soil longer than nitrogen.

Somewhere in, MD(Zone 7b)

Quote from CindyMzone5 :
With either, I really only fertilize when putting plants in the ground, using Dr. Earth usually and watering them in with fish/seaweed. With most veggies, I use only seaweed. This year I'm trying mulching with fall leaves and compost as on-going soil improvement. I had heard that it's not necessary to fertilize repeatedly with phosphorus as it remains in the soil longer than nitrogen.

Another Dr. Earth user, Yaayyy!! They really do have wonderful products, I love them.

Cindy, I'd never heard that about phosphorus. Can you tell us more about it, please? I'm totally with you; if we take care of, and feed, the soil well, then it will feed our plants, as it was created to do.

If using rock phosphorus, it takes 3 to 5 years for the nutrient to release into the soil according to Mike McGrath. I probably should have worded the previous statement differently. Too much phos buildup in soil can tie up other micronutrients.
And, gosh, for the veggies I meant that I don't use fish emulsion when watering them in but do use an organic veg fertilizer. I must have had one mixed-up brain day.

Silver Spring, MD(Zone 7a)

Speedie, something else I've read about phosphorus is that rock phosphorus does not become available for plant uptake in alkaline soils. If your soil is above 7.0, then manure is a better source of P.

Albany, ME(Zone 4b)

I was struck by the comment about phosphorous and micro-nutrients. I don't use super phosphate, but have always remembered the beautiful blooms I saw on a garden tour where the owner said she dug up the bed every year (setting aside the perennials) and dug in super-phosphate. The article below may explain the idea that phosphorous can tie up micro-nutrients.

Silver Spring, MD(Zone 7a)

LAS, I find it curious that the writer of that article didn't try to lower his ph first. Phosphorus gets tied up when the soil is so alkaline.

But I did read in a scientific article somewhere that even in alkaline soils, phosphorous *can* become available if there are mycorrhizal fungi in the soil.

That's why compost is best, right? :)

The only non-organic fertilizer I use is FoliagePro for containers, which was recommended by Tapla. I like it because it has the micronutrients and minerals, not just NPK.

For the perennials gardens, I've tried to fertilize as little as possible and see which ones absolutely need it. I've found that even roses bloom very well with just compost, rabbit manure, and the occasional fish emulsion. It may be that my slightly acidic clay soil is good at holding onto nutrients.

(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

A garden designer friend swears by Plantone (Hollytone for acid lovers). She digs way more than the recommended amounts into the beds before planting, then broadcasts at least once a year, spring or fall, afterwards. She uses fish emulsion where necessary, which isn't often. Her clients are on the sandy east end of Long Island, some very up-scale Hamptons estates.

I pretty much do what she says, only adding manure (granulated) and compost (home made) occasionally. I also have acid soil, but it's richer, not sandy.

Very interesting to read everyone's methods and thoughts. More than one way to skin a cat...

Somewhere in, MD(Zone 7b)

LAS, very interesting article you linked, thank you! Yes, I definitely am going to have to do a bit more research on the phosphate stuff... the different types etc. I did do a little reading about it this morning and I also ran across something that talked about how big an effect the Ph has on the solubility of phosphate.

Pfg, has your garden designer friend ever explained why she loves PlantTone so much? What is it about that product that's got her so devoted?

(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

She says it's not exactly a fertilizer but an organic soil conditioner. It breaks down slowly over time, doesn't shock the plants. She also mulches everything for moisture retention, weed suppression and adding organic matter. Forgot to mention, in the pots of annuals she uses Osmacote.

(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)

I also love the Espoma products - they are 100% natural, no fillers.

Without mulch (lots of it - over 100 bags a year) I'd be weeding forever!

Yes, Osmocote for potted plants, window boxes, etc.

Somewhere in, MD(Zone 7b)

Espoma products (including Plant Tone) really are yummy, they contain many good bacteria that will make the soil happy. I'm not sure how Plant Tone would be considered a "soil conditioner", as opposed to a "fertilizer", but I do know that I'd MUCH rather use that than any MG product. Ya know, Espoma does make a 'Soil Perfecter" that I use... I'd totally forgotten about that! I sprinkle a handful or so into the bottom of each hole with new installations, to keep any errant moles from nibbling on tender roots. IT WORKS GREAT! =)

Williamstown, NJ(Zone 6b)

Is that soil perfecter the stuff that looks like small stone? If so, I have some of that. wasn't sure if it really worked. I have only used it once or twice in the past year when planting. Of course I have not planted much these two years.

(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

My friend isn't one for scientific discussions, just what works and what doesn't. For her designs, she uses a lot of tried-and-true 'workhorses' for the main elements, then adds the new, finicky or otherwise possibly not as reliable in a way that they won't mess up the whole thing if they don't perform. Of course weather is always a factor so nothing is a sure thing, but that's the basis of her method. I try to do that too, but I'm much less disciplined, lol...

Somewhere in, MD(Zone 7b)

They do seem to have very similar components, and perform in much the same way, but I think the "rocks" of the Soil Perfector are much larger than those of Turface. Looking at pics online, (and comparing to what's in my bag downstairs), I'd say each "rock" of the S.P. are probably about 3-4 times as big as those of Turface. The basic premise is the same though: Provide better drainage. The S.P. works well for me for deterring voles though as well... they just don't like those sharp bits on their tender little hands. Sharp for them, but not for us humans. =)

Stroudsburg, PA(Zone 6a)

Oh my, I feel like a bad gardener. Sort of like a parent who neglects their children. I have never added fertilizer! I put down pretty well composted mulch each year and I have sprayed some of the plants with fish emulsion fertilizer a handful of times in 15 years. That's it. I started out with good soil (this was a corn field) and I've basically tried not to screw it up by attempting to change it. So far the mulch/compost has done everything I need.

(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)

Aside from the infrequent use of tomato food, and Osmocote for potted plants, I am with rteets and don't use much fertilizer. I do plant with compost (when my back can handle the weight) but it's mulch and Preen that save me.

The one volunteer tomato I found in May got planted in one of the six compost bins and has given us more excellent tomatoes than all the potted tomatoes: lesson learned.

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(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

I've never used Preen. Is it safe in the environment? We have streams and wetlands in the area, lots of wildlife, I don't want to hurt anything...

Roundup is my fall-back for nasty situations, but I'd rather not need it. I'm not 100% sure it's as safe as they say.

(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)

I really never researched it. Most products that are harmful to water are not sold on Long Island but it's wrong to assume they are as safe as we might like to believe.

Williamstown, NJ(Zone 6b)

I choose to not use the Preen because i read on the container that it can be harm full to pets. My 3 cats will hang out in the flower beds. So that was not an option. When I redo a bed this fall I am going to put down the cloth and hope for the best, even though I have had weeds growing on top of it

Somewhere in, MD(Zone 7b)

Rteets and Pirl; you know how that saying goes: If it ain't broke, don't fix it! < =D Rteets, I'd say you're more of a Good Parent, who lavishly gives her children all they NEED, and does not spoil them with a bunch of garbage that they don't. < =)

As for Roundup... Firstly, it's made by Monsanto. That right there tells me that I never want to spend my money on it. But of course, that's just me.

Then there are articles about, not only the effects of Glyphosate (the main ingredient in RU), but the side-effects of plants treated with the product. Here's one article from Reuters:

Monsanto has touted their "studies" that have proven their product to be safe. However, this article here: explains how these "studies" were fraudulent, including citations on how they took specimens from the uteri of MALE RABBITS for testing. (no, not kidding).

Then another article talks about the so-called "inert" ingredients of RU, which are anything but.
One component by itself may be technically "safe"... take vinegar, for example. Pour a little puddle on your kitchen counter and all you have is... a little puddle. Take baking soda, for example. Pour a little pile on your kitchen counter and all you'll have is... a little clean spot once you wipe it up. :) Pour a little vinegar on top of that pile of baking soda, however, and you'll have a WHA-BAAAMM!! Volatile foamy mess!! Taken by itself, Glyphosate may be relatively ok... but add all those other "inert" ingredients to it and you've got a recipe for disaster.

...Hmmm... OOOPS!! The question was about PREEN, not Roundup. SORRY!! < =/
OK, well... let's read the back of the Preen label...

"Environmental Hazards:
This pesticide is extremely toxic to freshwater marine, and estuarine fish and aquatic invertebrates, including shrimp and oysters. Do not apply directly to water. Do not apply in a manner which will directly expose canals, lakes, streams, ponds, marshes, or estuaries to drift or run off. Do not contaminate water when disposing of equipment, waterwashes, or rinsate. To protect the environment, do not allow pesticide to enter or run off into storm drains, drainage ditches, gutters, or surface waters. Applying this product in calm weather will help to ensure that wind does not blow pesticide off the treatment area. Sweeping any product that lands on a driveway, sidewalk, or street back into the treated area of the garden will help to prevent runoff to water bodies or drainage systems."

That's just part of the label, but it doesn't sound very friendly to me.
Its active ingredient is Trifluralin. Here's what the EPA has to say about Trifluralin:
What the "Other Ingredients" are, I have no idea. They are not required by law to list them, so your guess is as good as mine.

(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

Yikes!!! I guess I'll stick with layers of newspaper under mulch, that's been a huge help in keeping the weeds down.

Stroudsburg, PA(Zone 6a)

Me too. I wont even be tempted. I can pick weeds by hand. If I keep on top of it it's really not hard. I pride myself on having loads of bees and birds and butterflies. I'll just keep making it as safe as I can.

(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)

I'll continue to use Preen as responsibly as I've always used it. It's either that or give up my 30 gardens so there is no choice for me.

Stroudsburg, PA(Zone 6a)

30 gardens??!? Wow. I think I would use it too....

(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)

Yes, 30 gardens, a husband (83) who has arthritic knees/back/neck, and I'm 72 and already have degenerative disc disease (which isn't a "disease" at all but still annoying), and tremors which help me spread the Preen!

Here's a few of them.

Giving up is not an option.

Thumbnail by pirl
Stroudsburg, PA(Zone 6a)

Wow. Those are stunning. And you are in your 70's? I would come and help you spread preen myself just to get a look at those gardens. I bow to the master...

(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)

How sweet of you! I doubt I spend an hour a week weeding* and haven't used a full container of Preen this year. Most of the credit goes to the constant mulching, which I enjoy.

*in summer. In spring I'm on my hands and knees for many hours each week removing weeds or overgrown plants.

Chevy Chase, MD(Zone 7a)

I agree, pirl's gardens are lovely.

I don't use Preen either. I worry a lot about the environment and in particular about bee colony collapse. So I spend a lot of time weeding -- and don't worry too much about the extra weed....

(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)

Thanks, Happy.

We are overloaded with bees and I'm always moving to let them enjoy the asters, hardy mums, lavender, dahlias, poppies, foxgloves, nepeta, roses and so many other plants they adore.

Sierra Foothills, CA(Zone 8a)

Wow, pirl! Those are awesome gardens. I am also 72, but I do not have 40 gardens and lovely at that! I only have about 10 or so....a novice for sure!!

(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)

Thanks, Evelyn. It's only 30 gardens, not 40! Some are tiny, others small and others are very large.

It's more important that we handle what we have than count the number of gardens. When we do it well we can enjoy the compliments. When I was employed I had one garden, about 10' x 15' and that was ideal for that time in my life.

Albany, ME(Zone 4b)

There is a corn based organic alternative to Preen. I lasts 6 weeks instead of 3 months. Sorry, don't remember the name.

(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)

Would that be the corn gluten meal?

Sierra Foothills, CA(Zone 8a)

Quote from pirl :
Thanks, Evelyn. It's only 30 gardens, not 40! Some are tiny, others small and others are very large.

It's more important that we handle what we have than count the number of gardens. When we do it well we can enjoy the compliments. When I was employed I had one garden, about 10' x 15' and that was ideal for that time in my life.

When I was working, I had all the gardens that I have now, well except for two more...yeah. They never really looked their best. They are looking a lot better these days.

I have actually never counted my garden beds before...

The Dark Side Garden
The White Flower Border
The (New) Shady Nook
9 Square Foot Gardens (mostly for veggies and now I am starting some seeds in 2 of them) The tomatoes have done pretty well this year, and no BER on the Romas or San Marzanos (for the first time..)
The "Peach of a Garden" (for my "Peach of a Husband") featuring peach-colored flowers.
Two driveway "landscaped areas" plus one that wraps around to the side of the road
"Foundation Plantings" on 3 sides of the house
The Cottage Garden Border (mixed bed)
The Hot Bed (new)

Well, that's about it. The deer eat whatever they can. The veggies, cottage garden, white flower border, dark side garden and new shady nook are all inside the fenced area. I spray constantly with Liquid Fence and shake on Critter Ridder. Sometimes they will leave some areas alone and chow down on others. This time it has been the Hot Bed.

Somewhere in, MD(Zone 7b)

My GOODNESS Pirl, your gardens are extraordinary!!!!! Heeheeeheee, you crack me up!!

and tremors which help me spread the Preen!
It helps to always see the brighter side of things, eh? < =D

Aaaawww Evelyn, how sweet, your peach garden to honor your Peach of a husband,

Sierra Foothills, CA(Zone 8a)

At first, I did not even like peach-colored flowers...and then, where in the heck do you find them??? I think I did not like them since they were not part of my perennial border color scheme - pink, lavender, purple, blue, white and pale yellow.....a couple of reds for accent.

Well, I did find a few....tulips, hyacinth, daylilies, lilies, diascia, primula, flowering quince, brugmansia (it has not yet bloomed), alstromeria, iris, eremurus (desert candles), hellebore, campsis, honeysuckle, salvia....anyone have any more ideas on this? The only things right now that are blooming are the diascia, honeysuckle and the salvia. I have mostly daylilies.

The desert candles are actually farther away from the bed since they are so tall. I dug them up a few days ago and found more than I planted. They are in pots temporarily.

And of course, I would not have a bed full of hot colors at all...."He made me do it!"

(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

Rose What a Peach would probably like it better in your zone than mine, lol

Thumbnail by Pfg

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