How To Fertilize Perennial Plants

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This article provides information and tips for how to fertilize perennial plants.
by Brett · All Zones · Fertilizing · 0 Comments · October 07, 2010 · 29,582 views

Perennials plants are those that come back year after year in the landscape or garden, bringing joy to all who plant and watch them grow. Perennials are most often planted outdoors in prepared beds or containers (container gardens).

Investing in perennials is an investment in tomorrow. Provided they are planted in the right location, and with proper care and fertilization, perennials will spread as they grow from year to year. They will increase in size and in the number of blooms produced each season. In a few short years, you will be rewarded with an array of plants ranging from one end of the color spectrum to the other.

Why Fertilize Perennial Plants?

The two primary reasons for fertilizing perennials are to encourage growth, and create a healthy, vigorous, attractive plant that will produce an abundance of flowers. But be careful! There is often a temptation to over-fertilize in the hopes of producing more blooms, faster. If you force a perennial plant beyond its natural growth rate by over-fertilizing, you might end up with mostly foliage and no blooms. Too, over-fertilization can predispose the plant to insect or disease infestation, and reduce tolerance to drought or temperature extremes.

Evaluate Soil Conditions First

There's usually not a need to perform a soil test before planting or fertilizing perennials; however, it may be a good idea to research the various types of perennial plants you have growing in your garden to see if there are any specific nutritional needs for specific types of perennial plants. Some perennials like an acid soil while others like an alkaline soil. You can use the Gardenality Search to find Perennial Plant Files that will indicate soil pH requirements and other details. Simply type one word in the name of a plant into the search at the top of this page and a list of plants files will appear. For example: If you are looking for Stella De Oro Daylily type the word "Stella" or "Daylily" in the search to find the plant.

To test soil you can purchase a test kit at your local nursery and garden center or buy a soil test kit online here. Your local extension service might also provide soil testing services.

What Fertilizer Is Best For Perennials?

Most perennials would be happy with a good, all-purpose flower food or organic fertilizer; however, others may have specific preferences or needs. In general, using a natural, organic fertilizer is the preferred method because there is very little chance for burning your perennial plants. Other flower foods, such as the "Bloom Boosters" can be useful for development of stronger root systems and promoting more and larger flowers. Slow- or timed-release, capsule-type fertilizers can be applied once a year for season-long feeding. When ever in doubt about the nutritional needs of a specific plant consult with your local nursery and garden center professional or ask the experts here in Gardenality!

How Often Should Perennial Plants Be Fertilized?

How often you feed your perennials might be up to you, or the recommendations you might find in a specific Perennial Plant File here in Gardenality. However, as a general rule of thumb, you will usually fertilize them at least twice a year: in the early spring when new growth begins to emerge, and again in early fall. Too, any time you cut a perennial back during the active growing season, a feeding is usually beneficial. This feeding will provide the plant with an extra boost to produce new foliage and possibly another flush of blooms.

Important Extra Tips

  • Be careful not to apply fertilizer too heavily. Doing so may cause the plant tissue to burn, or even result in plant death. Read product labels carefully and follow directions to avoid toxicity problems.
  • If over-fertlilization your plants is too much a worry for you, consider easing your mind by using a mild, natural or organic fertilizer. Organic fertilizers are made with natural ingredients such as composted manures or other organic matter. As a result these mild plant foods are much less-likely to burn your plants.
  • Perennial plants may grow quicker with excessive nitrogen, however this might decrease bloom production or lead to the onset of damaging or deadly diseases.
  • As a general rule, the slower the plants habit of growth, the less fertilizer it needs. Some plants, such as sedum and other succulents, require little if any fertilization.
  • Plants that are producing an abundance of blooms or fruit generally need more fertilizer.
  • If a perennial plant(s) in your garden appears unhealthy, or is not actively growing, clip off a stem with leaves or a flower and take it to your local nursery and garden center. An experienced professional can often help to identify any problems or deficiencies and provide remedies.
  • When ever in doubt about the nutritional needs of a specific perennial plant consult with your local nursery and garden center professional or ask the experts here in Gardenality!


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