Wild Things…
Houseplant Fertilizers
By Karen Vizzi
     Now’s a good time to stock up on potting soil, fertilizer and other items that you’ll need to do spring houseplant maintenance. I like to use these last few weeks of winter to get those chores out of the way, so that I have plenty of time to concentrate on the outdoor garden. In just another week or 
two, I will begin to start seeds. And should the weather break early, I also want to be ready to get outside for clean-up and early season pruning. 
     This week, I thought we’d do a brief primer on houseplant fertilizers. Plants are like us … they get hungry. But remember that fertilizer is food, not medicine. You don’t want to use fertilizer only as first aid for ailing plants. A regular feeding program for healthy plants is the most beneficial. 
     I like to keep my wild garden as wild as possible, both inside and out, so I tend to favor organic fertilizers and soil amendments. However, organic fertilizers may not contain balanced proportions of essential nutrients or trace elements, so I do occasionally use chemical fertilizers as a supplement. 
     All chemical fertilizers have a triple-number formula. Some of the most common formulas are 5-10-5 and 15-30-15. These numbers indicate the percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus and potash (in that order) contained within the product. Nitrogen is essential for the production of chlorophyll and strong leaf growth. Phosphorus is essential for strong root development 
and fruit (or flower) production. Potash aids in strong overall growth and disease resistance. So consequently, if you are feeding flowering plants you’ll want to choose a formula where the second number is the highest of the three. If you have primarily foliage plants, then you would choose a formula 
where the first number is the highest. If you’re not sure, or have a combination of plants, a balanced formula with all three numbers being equal is the best choice. 
     Most houseplant fertilizers are water-soluble, so there are two ways to feed. ALWAYS follow the label directions for dilution rate and either water the soil directly, or use the mixture as a foliar spray. Over-fertilizing can damage plant roots and is often evidenced by brown tips or edges on the 
leaves, or a white crust on the outside of clay pots. 
     I mentioned that my preference is for organic fertilizers and I have two favorites: fish emulsion and seaweed extracts. Fish emulsion is … uh,well … it’s fish excrement and smells like it. It isn’t pretty, but my plants love it. These types of products tend to have lower concentrations of the essential 
nutrients like a 1-1-1 or a 3-2-2. But with a regular schedule of feeding, my plants get exactly what they need to thrive. 
     Finally, most potting soil mixes contain about 3 months worth of nutrients, so never fertilize a newly potted plant. Newly purchased plants have almost always recently been re-potted, so wait awhile to feed those too.
     Next week, we’ll talk about the process of re-potting, so stay tuned! 
    Bird Brainers: Birds really appreciate fruit on the menu. Instead of throwing out those aging apples, oranges and pears, why not offer them to your feathered friends? 
    Butterfly Bullets: The Great Spangled Fritillary is a beautiful butterfly native to our area. The caterpillar feeds on wild violets - another good reason (besides the pretty, sweet-scented flowers) not to mow them down.
    Plant Pointers: You may begin to see the tips of bulb foliage poking through the ground at any time now. Although these first leaves are vulnerable to damage from the cold, the flowers will be fine. They are still tucked safely away in the bulb of the plant.

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