British Columbia: Fertilizing a native garden?

Discussion in 'Outdoor Gardening in the Pacific Northwest' started by sabaf, Jun 10, 2012.

  1. sabaf

    sabaf Active Member

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    Hi all, If you had a newly installed garden with mostly sword ferns, deer ferns, dwarf Oregon grapes, and evergreen huckleberries, but many of the plants are too small (all came in #1 size pots) and you really want them growing as fast as possible because it is in a high profile part of the garden...what kind of fertilizers or manures or other methods might you use?

    Any advice or stories of experience with fertilizing these kind of plants would me much appreciated.
     
  2. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    Not really a viable idea. Fertilize if it looks like some of them need it anyway, or replace with larger specimens. Nutrient requirement varies with each type. Probably all, including the ferns could be treated with an evergreen tree and shrub (rhododendron) fertilizer.

    If they need it.
     
  3. sabaf

    sabaf Active Member

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    Hi Ron, thank you for your advice...but i am confused as to why it is not viable? Is it because the nutrient requirement varies with each plant species? But then why do you say that "Probably all, including the ferns could be treated with an evergreen ... fertilizer. ? Thanks!
     
  4. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    If they need fertilization to maintain normal growth that type is one that might be suitable. Pushing a huge explosion in growth through fertilization is not something you should expect to be able to do, with these types of plants in this situation. If they really are too small for your purposes you need to get bigger specimens, if those are available.
     
  5. Tree Nut

    Tree Nut Active Member

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    Fertilizing them may cause the leaves to outgrow what the roots can sustain, unless you use water soluble( since they are already transplanted) transplant fertilizer such as a 10-52-10 which will also stimulate root growth. Give them a thick mulch of woodchips (preferably not cedar as it breaks down too slowly) as well to simulate the forest floor and to stimulate biological activity..
     
  6. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    Never apply a giant amount of phosphorus as would be contained in such a formulation, unless a soil test report indicates a tremendous phosphorus deficiency - not an expected outcome in this region. And do not use transplant fertilizers anyway, whether strong or not. The persistence of cedar chips is one of their superior features, the main purpose of a mulch is to form a protective covering over the soil. Mulches that break down rapidly and disappear into the soil are less useful that those that do not.

    http://www.puyallup.wsu.edu/~linda chalker-scott/Horticultural Myths_files/Myths/Phosphate.pdf
     
  7. Tree Nut

    Tree Nut Active Member

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    I'll have to disagree heartily here. The purpose of the mulch would be to encourage biological activity in the soil, not act as a sterile ground covering. That's why I recommended not using cedar as it takes many years to break down and doesn't provide immediate soil benefits. And non-cedar wood chips do not "break down rapidly and disappear" as you suggest. They persist for years, especially when applied thickly like I recommended. And what do you mean by less useful? The purpose is to break down slowly, provide organic matter and nutrients, protect the soil, retain water, etc.

    In regards to high phosphorous "transplant" fertilizers, they were developed for a reason, stimulate root growth, and provide immediate benefit which the OP asked for. There are hundreds of other "experts" that recommend using a high phosphorous transplant fertilizer. You keep providing the same old tired puyallup link...
     
  8. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    Quantity does not automatically equate to quality. McDonald's is a very popular restaurant, applied to dining your above argument would indicate they provide the best food.

    Multiple award winning methodology pioneer and educator Carl E. Whitcomb was warning against phosphorus applications many years before the WSU Chalker-Scott pages (and books) began to appear.
     
  9. Tree Nut

    Tree Nut Active Member

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    I see you ignored my comment on mulches.

    In regards to phosphorous fertilizers, many "award winning" scientists contributed to their development as well. There also may be lots of phosphorous in the soil, but is it bio-available to the plants? Many times it is not

    As to McDonalds, I'll have to rely on your experience and expertise with their menu. I wouldn't know as I don't dine there.
     
  10. Sundrop

    Sundrop Well-Known Member

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    Couldn't agree more. In organic gardening mulching with organic materials is a method of making the soil fertile by supplying food and favourable living conditions for the soil organisms. See http://kootenaygardening.com/soil_organisms.htm

    By the way: shouldn't be "fertilizing" and "native garden" mutually exclusive?
     
  11. Daniel Mosquin

    Daniel Mosquin Paragon of Plants UBC Botanical Garden Forums Administrator Forums Moderator 10 Years

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    Off-topic, but I'll bite re: phosphorus in transplant fertilizers. I looked on Google Scholar and found...not much.

    1) Growth of containerized lettuce transplants supplemented with varying concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus : "Increased P concentrations reduced the rate of leaf growth and promoted better development of root mass."

    2) Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium effects on pre- and post-transplant growth of salvia and vinca seedlings : "Increasing P and K concentrations in the pre-transplant fertilizer increased tissue P level of salvia and P and K levels of vinca, but had little effect on seedling growth. Leaf area and root dry mass at transplanting decreased slightly with increasing P and K concentration in the fertilizer." and "These results indicate that salvia and vinca seedlings can benefit from high concentrations of N (up to 32 mM) in the fertilizer, while only low concentrations of P and K (0.25 mM) are needed."

    3) Evaluation of Transplant Fertility of Short-day Onions in Southeast Georgia : "Based on this study, we conclude that additional applications of high phosphorus fertilizers applied post seeding are not required due to the relatively warm conditions found in southeast Georgia in September. There were differences between cultivars, but cultivar x high phosphorus fertilizer interactions were nonsignificant."

    4) Effects of Starter Fertilizer, Granular Phosphorus Fertilizer, Time of Fertilization, and Seedling Phosphorus Concentration on Flue-Cured Tobacco Growth and Nutrition (PDF) : "These experiments indicate that there is little advantage to using starter fertilizer on flue-cured tobacco grown on high-P sandy soils and that delayed fertilization is not detrimental to final yield and quality."

    To my understanding, 3 out of the 4 studies I found indicated phosphorus transplant fertilizers had no or insignificant effects. Unless I'm not searching on the right terms, it seems to me that at best one can call phosphorus transplant fertilizers useful in certain situations, but not to be applied when not necessary.

    On the other hand, the detrimental environmental effects of too much phosphorus on aquatic ecosystems are well-known.

    And, for good measure, one more link from same "tired" Puyallup source: Phosphate toxicity and iron deficiency
     
  12. Tree Nut

    Tree Nut Active Member

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    Fertilizing is a very complex subject. Increasing the level of one major nutrient without maintaining a ratio with the other major nutrients will lead to unsatisfactory results. That's why high quality transplant fertilizers contain not just phosphorous but nitrogen, potassium and micronutrients. Soil conditions play a major role as well. Also, the OP is not planting vegetables but perennials which would benefit over the long term with a well developed root system.

    The Pollyup article Daniel mentioned used a 5-5-3 fertilizer and isn't very scholary as there is no mention of the controls used in the test. There is no mention of how well the plants grew, the longer term effects, but did show that 9 out of the 10 plants fertilized at the recommended dose displayed no issues. Even the author is unsure of the results ("might be??")

    In regards to the detrimental environmental effects of phosphorous, the small amounts used in transplanting would have no negative environmental effect. Hundreds of millions of plants have been planted and fertilized with transplant fertilizer. If there was no benefit to using it and plants showed negative tendencies after having it applied to them, I don't think there would be much of a market for it which isn't the case.

    I recommend the OP fertilize part the garden, and leave the other part unfertilized and report back with their results.
     
  13. Lysichiton

    Lysichiton Active Member

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    In the hope of keeping things simple (to match my intellectual abilities), these days I use only compost on almost everything. Compost for me is just softer grades (mainly) of plant material stacked & rotted till the source material is no longer recognizable. For the herbaceous plants, including a fair number of natives, I put an inch or two around the plants whose growth I wish to promote. For veggies & roses I add chicken manure to the compost, but NOT for native plants unless you want to supersize them.

    Why mess around making things complicated? Personally, I want a garden not a science project & I am not a commercial grower. Your "natives" obviously grow in the environment that is local to you. Pick the right exposure & drainage when you site them. Chuck a bit of compost on, weed around them, water a few times in dry spells to keep them green for your enjoyment & they should grow even if they start-out small - after all that's what plants do :)
     
  14. Daniel Mosquin

    Daniel Mosquin Paragon of Plants UBC Botanical Garden Forums Administrator Forums Moderator 10 Years

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    Agreed, which is why high phosphorous transplant fertilizers seem to be a bit of a simplistic measure to me.

    Sure, but I specifically looked at high phosphorus transplant fertilizers.

    Well, there is the paper about Salvia and Vinca seedlings I mentioned. I also found a new vein of information in the journal HortTechnology.

    In Root and Shoot Growth Responses to Phosphate Fertilization in Container-grown Plants, they looked at a diverse range of plants:

    Unfortunately, if you don't have access to the full article, the authors also review the scientific literature about the use of high phosphorus transplant fertilizers, and come up with this:

    To me, the body of literature seems to support the source that Ron B quotes frequently.

    Sure, it was a blog post and not a peer-reviewed journal. "Might be" is the language of science when there is some evidence. I probably shouldn't have included it.

    A few people using it over a broad area would have no negative effect. But it's the sum total of people across a broad range using it (seemingly needlessly). How to decrease the amount being used, if that is indeed the case ... start with one instance of preventing needless use and go from there.

    I think that argument was made in the seventies, too... (and apologies for doing this, but I think it is illustrative) "Hundreds of millions of people have smoked nicotine-laden cigarettes. If there was no benefit to using it and people showed negative effects after having smoked, I don't think there would be much of a market for it which isn't the case."

    If the same principles that are followed for integrated pest management were applied in this case, the recommendation should be: 1) patience (there is a benefit here to doing nothing, as the problem will resolve itself within a couple years without the input of more cash); 2) if there is a nutrient deficiency, identify it with a soil-testing kit; 3) target and remedy the specific deficiency.
     
  15. woodschmoe

    woodschmoe Active Member 10 Years

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    Sensible follow up from Daniel, save the smoking analogy: physical addiction is the root of that, and I doubt such applies to phosphorous (unless, TreeNut, you want to go off the P for a week and see if you get the shakes...).

    Better analogy might be routine amendment of planting holes (generally not advised or beneficial, but still found as instructions on the back of most nursery tags): gardening exceeds all other endeavours in the sheer volume of heresay and habit masquerading as essential practice. Still have to battle with clients who demand I put a handful of bonemeal in ever planting hole; some even demand transplanting only occur on certain moon phases. Erroneous practices persist, and ongoing use doesn't always equal certain effect. Suppose that at a commercial level, you have an argument: expensive and unnecessary practices tend to be put aside over time, so the routine use of certain formulations ought to be indicative of effect. I think, though, that in these situations prophylactic application might be done simply to err on the side of caution, whether or not it is necessary, and in most cases, they are working with sterile media. Regardless, it's no revelation that entrenched practices lag behind the science to a degree...the studies are fairly compelling, as outlined above. Most big changes in the way industry does things come some time (sometimes years) after the science is 'in'. Combined with the fact that at a domestic level, gardeners seem to be suckers for potions and gizmos, and the fact of thousands or millions of users becomes less compelling in terms of effectiveness.

    I'm growing a lot of what you are, TreeNut: the full spectrum of hardy nut trees, 5 kinds of mulberries, persimmons, pawpaws, jujubes, raisin trees, figs, toona, tea, yada-yada-yada. I fertilize rarely, never use a transplant mix, and all my stock is growing fine. Doubtless our soil conditions are different, and you might well require these things. But the point stands, that the rote application of extra nutrient can't be justified without the justification of a soil test, and as Chalker-Scott and others point out (Sure, Ron B. cites her a lot; but why re-invent the wheel every time a pertinent question arises?) is often unnecessary, and sometimes harmful.

    Keep an open-mind on this stuff: might save you a lot of time and money, both of which (as you will know as a grower) are in short supply.
     
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2012
  16. Daniel Mosquin

    Daniel Mosquin Paragon of Plants UBC Botanical Garden Forums Administrator Forums Moderator 10 Years

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    Yes, I was a bit uncomfortable with it. I wanted to present an example of how some businesses can benefit from misinformation or consumer lack of knowledge, and it seemed like an obvious one.

    Thanks also for the comments on potions and gizmos.
     
  17. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    Lack of benefit from amending of planting hole backfill was being noticed by researchers by the 1960s. Yet this mistaken practice is still being promoted today.
     
  18. Tree Nut

    Tree Nut Active Member

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    Some of you folks assume every one has great soil, or if they don't they will take the professional approach and perform exacting soil and tissue tests to determine and apply the exact ratio of fertilizers and nutrients just like the multiple awarded scholars you frequently cite. You give the average homeowner with crappy soil too much credit.

    There are reasons that most nurseries and professional growers recommend transplant fertilizer and amending the soil around transplanted trees and shrubs. Most have to do with plant survival and and people returning dead plants. Amending the soil and using transplant fertilizers won't hurt the plant, but may give it the extra boost to survive past the warranty period. If the soil doesn't need it, no harm done in the small amounts recommended. If the soil does require the nutrients, well that just benefitted the plant and may keep it alive until it is established.

    BTW I have hundreds of trees growing in my orchard, and have amended the soil in most of my transplant holes. The non amended holes in a test area proved to have less than satisfactory initial growth and mortality in my deep but sandy soil with the bare root plants that I planted. I have healthy thriving trees with roots that have grown well out of the original 2 foot diameter transplant holes in a few years. I even mulched them with the non recommended, quick to break down, non-cedar wood chips.

    Not counting bear damage, I've only had two tree mortalities in the amended holes and they were both peaches that suffered from my less than conducive peach growing climate. In my non amended holes I lost 10 hazelnuts most likely due to too dry soil. The peat moss I put in the amended soil most likely held moisture better and kept the roots moist on the bare root hazelnuts until they grew enough roots to maintain the trees. I thought I was irrigating enough, but was like an average homeowner who forgot to adequately water the newly planted trees when they went on vacation for 2 or 3 weeks...
     

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