Fertilizing Your Container Plants

file0001947198072Select a fertilizer that is appropriate for the plant you are growing to get optimal performance in the container. Use citrus fertilizer for citrus plants, and blueberry/rhododendron fertilizer for vacciniums (blueberry, huckleberry, lingonberry and cranberry). For Bananas, encourage lots of vigorous growth initially with a foliage supportive formula that has a high nitrogen content, then switch to a formula that is higher in phosphorous (a bloom fertilizer) to encourage flower and fruit development. Bamboo, lemon grass, and sugar leaf all benefit from higher nitrogen fertilizers once they are actively growing. Many fertilizers either list what kinds of plants they are formulated for, or what kind of growth they support (such as foliage vs. fruiting).

Start fertilizing your outdoor container plants as their buds begin to swell. If you are using a liquid fertilizer, at first use ½ strength doses, once a week or so. As your outdoor temperatures increase and roots are better able to absorb nutrients, you can increase to a standard dose.

Slow release fertilizers: If you prefer not to mix liquid fertilizer in when you are watering, consider spreading a long lasting slow release granular or pelleted fertilizer on the soil surface (or you could have mixed some in when you re-potted last winter).  Most slow release fertilizers depend on temperature to regulate nutrient release. Don’t expect much performance from the fertilizer until the weather has warmed up. Choose a long release period (such as 6-9 month) to ensure your plants continue to grow well through the summer. Use an appropriate formulation for what you are growing. Fruiting plants need a different balance of nutrients than foliage plants.

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Re-potting fruiting plants in containers

3960343553_59a256d749_mBecause of shorter day length, most houseplants, even those which don’t lose their leaves, will not be actively growing now, even citrus with ripening fruit. So this is the time to re-pot if it’s been a couple of years since the last time. Move your plant into a slightly larger container; or trim roots ½- 2” around the sides, 1-4” across the bottom, and put back in the same container with fresh potting mix to maintain size (the larger amount to trim is for a 20” diameter container, or larger, the smaller amount is for a 6-8” diameter container).

After re-potting, your indoor plants will also benefit from pruning and shaping; delay pruning citrus branches which still have some fruit on them until after harvest. Pruning potted fruit trees or shrubs is similar to pruning plants in the ground; make heading cuts where you want more branching, thin out branches that are getting too crowded. Citrus can be maintained in an open center or central leader tree form and be sure to remove rootstock suckers. Pineapple guava and pomegranate are multi-stemmed shrubs, both benefit from thinning out older shoots to make room for new ones. Pomegranate bears fruit on new growth, and is best pruned just before new growth begins; pineapple guava bears fruit on last year’s wood.

Lemon trees may start to look a little ragged in January. So long as they are not over-watered, they will burst out with new growth next month and replace the previous year’s old tired leaves. Keep plants away from windows that can be rather chilly over night in colder climates. Provide supplemental lighting if plants are looking leggy or more yellow. Begin feeding when new growth starts to show.

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Prepare your container garden plants for winter

As your first frost date approaches, it is time to prepare plants you are growing outdoors in containers for winter.

Plant roots are generally not as hardy as the top of the plant, so they need to be protected from freezing during severe winter weather. Sink containers in the ground, or surround containers with sawdust or other insulating material. Another option is to move hardy dormant plants to a cool (35°- 45° F) location during severe weather episodes, otherwise, leave them outside if temperatures are staying above 26° F overnight and above freezing during the day.

When moving frost-tender plants indoors for the winter, be sure to harden them off (Plant Owners manual, pg 11) and inspect for insect infestations. Ideally they should be moved indoors as night temperatures start going below 50° F consistently.

Wait until plants are fully dormant to repot or pot up to a larger container.

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Container garden care in May

The Bountiful Container By Rose Marie Nichols McGee & Maggie Stucky,432 pages. Subtitled 'Create container gardens of vegetables, herbs, fruits and edible flowers', the authors explain choosing the proper pot, planting, fertilizing, disease control, pollination and appropriate cultivars.
The Bountiful Container
Create container gardens of vegetables, herbs, fruits and edible flowers.’ Choosing the proper pot, planting, fertilizing, disease control, pollination and appropriate cultivars.

Water and fertilize regularly to keep up with the needs of actively growing plants.

Allow citrus to dry out somewhat between each watering, but keep figs and bamboo evenly moist.

If a plant regularly wilts in the afternoon but the container always seems to have enough moisture in it move the container so it is protected from the late afternoon sun. Remember plants may also wilt if the soil is kept constantly saturated and the roots are starting to rot, in which case allow the soil to dry out before watering again.

It can be misleading to judge the soil surface for water content in the container. Instead, lift the container (it will be heavier when the soil is saturated); or stick your finger deep into the soil, if it feels cool there is probably enough water, if it feels closer to air temperature then it probably needs water.

Keep a vigilant eye out for insect pests starting to emerge from over wintering eggs, or aphids flying in and giving birth to copious numbers of live young. Three applications of insecticidal soap spray, applied at 7 day intervals, will quickly knock down these young insects before they have time to mature and lay more eggs.

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Re-potting fruiting plants in containers

Because of shorter day length, most houseplants, even those which don’t lose their leaves, will not be actively growing now, even citrus with ripening fruit. So this is the time to re-pot if it’s been a couple of years since the last time. Move your plant into a slightly larger container; or trim roots ½- 2” around the sides, 1-4” across the bottom, and put back in the same container with fresh potting mix to maintain size (the larger amount to trim is for a 20” diameter container, or larger, the smaller amount is for a 6-8” diameter container).

After re-potting, your indoor plants will also benefit from pruning and shaping; delay pruning citrus branches which still have some fruit on them until after harvest. Pruning potted fruit trees or shrubs is similar to pruning plants in the ground; make heading cuts where you want more branching, thin out branches that are getting too crowded.

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