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Fertilisers

Using fertilisers to improve the soil

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What type of fertiliser?
If plants are to grow well, you must add nutrients – nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in particular – to replace those they draw from the soil. Such nutrients can be provided to some extent by organic matter, such as manure or compost, or in the concentrated form of dry or liquid fertilisers, which can be either organic or inorganic chemical compounds. Organic fertilisers come from the decay of living organisms – as in manure, compost, or blood, fish and bone – and ‘feed’ the soil, which, in turn, feeds the plants. Inorganic compounds, which occur naturally in mineral deposits or are produced synthetically in the form of chemical fertilisers, are not derived from living organisms, and feed the plants directly. They do not replace organic matter in the soil; unless used in moderation and with organic matter, the organisms within the soil die, the structure of the soil breaks down, and the ground becomes impoverished.

HOW TO USE FERTILISERS.
Nitrogen encourages leaf growth, phosphorus helps plants to form good root systems and potassium will benefit flowers. Fertiliser containers are marked with the letters N for nitrogen, P for phosphorus and K for potassium, and each is followed by a number indicating the percentage of the nutrient in the fertiliser. Fertilisers are available with the emphasis on the relevant nutrient needed for the specific encouragement of foliage, roots or flowers and fruit. For example, N-6%, P-6%, K-10% indicates a high potassium content and is used for flowering or berried plants.
Base fertilisers are high in phosphorus and potassium and are added to the soil before planting to encourage root formation and sturdy growth. General fertilisers used as a top dressing are applied around growing plants and lightly forked into the surface as a stimulant during the growing season. One of the most popular fertiliser formulas, Growmore, containing equal percentages (7% by weight) of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, will encourage balanced growth.
Liquid fertilisers can be applied to the soil, or sprayed on the leaves of plants. They have varying amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, and are absorbed more quickly than dry fertilisers. They are useful during rainless periods, as dry fertilisers need moisture in the soil to dissolve.
To fertilise ornamental borders organically, mulch annually with well-rotted manure or compost, top dress with blood, fish or bone fertiliser in early spring, and apply a dressing of composted seaweed every three years.

MULCHING – adding a final touch.
Mulching adds a top dressing of organic material to conserve moisture and condition the soil. Pulverised and composted bark, fully decomposed garden compost or any other organic material can be used. Spread a layer 2-3in deep for the best results. Apply mulches only when the ground is moist, otherwise the soil beneath will stay dry unless there are long periods of heavy rain. Don’t mulch too early in the year or you will prevent the soil from warming up.


 




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