How to water and feed plants

You don’t need an expert to tell you that we all need food and water to survive. Plants, trees and fruits are no different. And they need more than just a little water now and again. They also need a good mixture of plant food such as:

  • Nitrogen: promotes leaf growth
  • Phosphates: help roots develop
  • Potash: increases production of flowers and fruits and improves fruit flavour. It also increases winter hardness.

Plants also require small amounts of calcium, boron, iron, magnesium and manganese. If you want a healthy garden with an abundance of flowers, watering and feeding are an essential part of gardening.

A complete fertiliser and nutrients programme are required for your specific plants and fruits.

When should you water and feed your plants?

When to water plants

During long, hot summer spells, your plants will definitely need watering. So, when to water the garden? The best time to do this is early evening or when the sun has moved from your garden. If you water your garden while the sun is shining, the sun will just soak your water up and the plants will receive nothing. During winter months you do not need to water your garden but you do need to check that your soil is not too dry.

When to feed plants

Feeding your plants is something that you need to do throughout the year. You need to feed your plants during the summer to ensure the plants are getting the correct nourishment and you need to feed during the winter months to promote and encourage new growth.

Tools you'll need:
  • Watering can
  • Hose
  • Sprinklers
  • Fork, spade, hoe and rake
  • Water-retaining gel
  • Compost
  • Grit
  • Plant food for shrubs and trees, bulbs and bedding plants
  • Container plants
  • General liquid and liquid feed – so that you can feed weekly in spring/summer – the busiest time for gardeners.

How to water plants and with what

  • Watering cans: Use one fitted with a fine watering can spray. This will make sure that you cause as little disturbance as possible to the soil around your plants and not destroy any roots.
  • Sprinklers: Try not to use them during hot sunny weather as this can cause leafs to scorch. More importantly the water applied has more time to be absorbed in the soil if you water early evening or in the early morning.
  • Trickle or soaking hoses: These only give out tiny amounts of water over an extended period of time.
  • Root watering: If you sink 5-8cm diameter pipes or plastic juice bottles with the bottoms cut off in the soil next to the tree or shrubs or even in your containers, they will water the roots of your plants. A word of advice though – remember to top them up on a regular basis.

Watering tips

It is better to soak plants from time to time rather than watering little and often. If you only give them a little water it might not be enough for your plants.

Make sure water gets right down to the roots by placing the hose or watering can spout at the base of the plant and water gently. If your soil gets very dry you may need to water twice.

Do not water your plants too forcefully. You could damage the roots, leaves and the plant. Never direct a jet of water at the base of the plant either, as it washes away soil and exposes any roots. Never make a hollow around the base of the plant and fill with water.

Re-use water from baths and sinks or even recycle rainwater by using a water butt. It saves water and it’s kinder to the environment too.

Watering the lawn

If your grass does not spring back after it has been walked on, it needs water, ASAP, as long as there isn’t a drought. If it is very dry, spike your lawn with a fork before watering to create holes for the water to soak into. The quickest way to water your lawn is by using a sprinkler, but you will need to remember not to over-water in the one place. Place a jar next to your sprinkler, and move it once the jar has 2.5cm of water in it!

Watering container plants

Plants in pots and hanging baskets need extra special care as they can run out of water more quickly. It’s good to add water-retaining granules or gel to compost in pots and place a small pipe or plastic bottle in the compost to help with root watering as explained earlier. Aim to keep the compost moist at all times, and remember to water every day during the summer months. If the compost looks pale and has shrunk away from the side of the pot or the plants are looking droopy and wilting, stand the container in a bucket or tray so it soaks the water right up into the compost.

New plants

In our experience, new plants need a good deal of care and attention to help them adjust from their environment from garden centre to your garden.

When planting new plants, prepare the soil to ensure they have enough space, water and food.

Dig the soil between 25 and 50cm deep; this will let in air and water to prevent root suffocation.

Add water-retaining gel or well-rotted manure, garden compost or peat as they will act as a sponge, retaining water for your plants.

Poorly drained soils may need food to be absorbed. Dig some organic material, compost, composted bark or in severe cases grit into the soil.

Irrigating lawns

If grass does not spring back after it has been walked on water as soon as possible as long as there isn’t a draught! If it is very dry, spike your lawn with a fork before watering and this will create holes for the water to soak into. The quickest way to water your lawn is of course using a sprinkler, but you will need to remember not to over-water in the one place. Place a jar next to your sprinkler and move it once the jar has 2.5cm of water in it!

Caring for plants in containers

Like many plants, those in pots and hanging baskets need extra special care as they might run out of water more quickly, so you will need to add water-retaining granules or gel to compost in pots and place a small pipe or plastic bottle in the compost to help with root watering as explained earlier. Aim to keep the compost moist at all times, and you will almost certainly need to water every day during the summer months. If the compost looks pale and has shrunk away from the side of the pot or the plants are looking droopy and wilting stand the container in a bucket or tray so it soaks the water right up into the compost.

Watering in drought conditions

A drought often means a hose pipe ban, which makes it difficult to water your garden. If there is a drought on, one of the best ways to water your garden is to attach a water butt with a tap to your drainpipe to collect rainwater. These are readily available at Dobbies Stores.

Keep your borders well weeded – weeds compete for moisture to grow and spread.

A 5-7cm protective layer of mulch such as compost, cocoa shells, bark or even gravel spread on the soil between plants reduces evaporation. Stop sprinkling lawns in drought, as in autumn they will recover. Hoe weeds at the roots to save time and avoid disturbing the soil and increasing water loss from the surface. Leave grass clippings on the surface of the lawn after mowing to recycle nutrients.

Inorganic and organic fertilisers – what's the difference?

Inorganic fertilisers

Inorganic fertilisers are manufactured from a chemical or mine process. Today these are formulated into compound fertilisers that release a balanced amount of nitrogen, phosphates and potash over a period of time. There are dedicated fertilisers that supply just one element and these can be used to correct any specific deficiency.

They are applied as a dry powder or in a granule form in spring and the instructions for use will be by the manufacturer recommendation. Some can act quickly; others are slow-release types which release small amounts over a long period. Some available are in dry or liquid forms – liquids are applied from late spring to early summer only.

  • Sulphate of ammonia: contains concentrated nitrogen
  • Sulphate of potash: a good source of potassium
  • Growmore: a good balanced fertiliser
  • Sulphate of iron: for acid-loving plants
Organic fertilisers

These come from vegetable or animal matter they are often slow-acting so apply them in good time.

  • Mushroom compost: contains a range of nutrients
  • Liquid seaweed extract: contains nitrogen, potash and phosphate
  • Bone meal: adds crucial elements like phosphorous and nitrogen
  • Wood ash: contains a small amount of potassium
  • Fish, blood and bone: a general fertiliser, containing phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium

How to apply plant food

Use a plant food to meet the specific needs of your plants and apply it at the right time of the year to avoid waste and damage.

When watering in plant food, use a separate watering can or wash thoroughly after use.

Always wear gloves when using fertiliser and avoid breathing in dust or vapour. Read all the instructions thoroughly before use.

Always remember to store fertilisers in a cool, dry and preferably dark place away from children and animals.

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