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Help me figure out what I'm doing wrong!

Posted by SproutingLexi 8b (My Page) on
Sun, Feb 23, 14 at 17:42

So this is my first attempt at growing peppers. I have some experience with other veggies and I'm usually doing decently well for a new gardener.

I bought bell pepper, sweet banana pepper and cayenne pepper seedlings from a nursery about two weeks ago now. They were various sizes, banana being the smallest at about 3in tall, cayenne the tallest at about 5in. (They do seem to have grown in the past two weeks, so that's good at least, I guess).

I will first explain what I'm seeing now. First of all, some of the lower leaves are looking very opaque and wrinkly. Not all distorted and bent, but just wrinkly. Literally like ageing skin. And now that temperatures are reaching mid 80's some days, they seem to be having hard time dealing with the heat and get droopy (but it's not even that hot..hmm..).

Now, I recognize that one reason for droopiness may be lack of water. I have indeed backed off from watering as much as I did at first because I suspected that the funny leaf wrinkle was due to overwatering. However, I feel like the soil is not even all that dry now. They're in large pots and the top couple of inches will dry out over two days (which is when I will water), but deeper in the soil feels cool and a little moist. Not bone dry at all. (the pots drain well)

So first question - how much do I let them dry out before watering again? Should I let them get all wilty during daytime, or are they trying to tell me that I need to go back to daily watering?

Next question - what could be causing the leaves to appear wrinkly and opaque? I checked for bugs and spots, found nothing.

When I first got them, some of the nighttime temperatures got lower than predicted. They were outside when the temps were in mid 40ies for a few nights. Could this have hurt those leaves? Or did they get scorched by sun from not getting hardened off properly? Is it some sort of nutrient deficiency?

I am so lost. And I really don't want to lose these plants. Please offer me a piece of your seemingly endless knowledge, guys! :)


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RE: Help me figure out what I'm doing wrong!

Pictures!

Besides that though, we're they outdoors when you bought them? If not it could definitely be a case with hardening off. I have recently had the same trouble with my seedlings, this is the first time I've had to harden off any plants before. For what it's worth the plant below went from vibrant and full to the mushy mess you see in about 20 min outside. It perked right back up after a day on the patio though. I'm now moving all the plants out in increasing increments to adjust them, but it's a pretty tedious process I'm finding.


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RE: Help me figure out what I'm doing wrong!

When the leaves are as wilted as above, they can sustain damage much quicker too I noticed. They are really soft and even the slightest of forces can spell doom for them. So if your plant got really wilted, then some winds mashed the lower leaves through the soil/other leaves/etc...it could explain the appearance of them now.


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RE: Help me figure out what I'm doing wrong!

Once the lower leaves show signs of wilt(due to thirst) it is the time to water. If your plants are outside and your potting soil is well drained, watering early and often should not be a problem. You cannot help, when it rains so often !. That is why a good well drained potting mix can play a role. Bark based mixes like 5-1-1 have that property.


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RE: Help me figure out what I'm doing wrong!

what soil are u using?

In any case, stop watering for now. If the top 2 inches are dry but below that it is still moist then you do not need water. You want your roots to go deep for the water, not come to the surface.


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RE: Help me figure out what I'm doing wrong!

If they seem fine in the morning and wilt when the heat comes on during midday, then they're fine. Did you give the potting mix a good drench after planting?

Opaque or pale? Like podpiper said, lay off the water. Do the stick test -- take a bamboo skewer or chopstick, plunge into the soil about 6 inches; if it comes out with soil on it, then there's enough water; if no soil, then water.

Did you scratch the root balls when planting?

Also, just because the garden center has peppers in the middle of winter doesn't mean you have to buy and plant. Even down here in SoCal and being unseasonably warm during the day, it's still too chilly at night for young seedlings to get a foothold(adults plants are fine in the high 40's). Most everywhere in the country is like that right now. Found some at Walmart the other day and said to self, "No Way!" All I could do with it is bring it home and stare at it in a window or under my lights.

Kevin


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RE: Help me figure out what I'm doing wrong!

Sorry, I don't currently have any pictures. But my plants were nowhere near as wilted as the one posted above. The lower leaves were drooping a little, but didn't go all soft and mushy like that.

The bigger concern for me, I suppose, is why even after the lower leaves perk up, they seem to be a little wrinkly looking. They're not pale, they actually seem to be deeper green than the top growth. Just..I don't know how to explain.. if the top leaves look healthy and with a little bit of shine to them, then these lower ones are lacking that shine. Does that make sense? I guess they could have gotten a little mushed up while at that limp stage, like PP mentioned. I'm just hoping it is not some disease I'm dealing with here.

As far as watering, you guys are confusing me a little. So as long as the soil deeper in is still cool and moist I shouldn't water even though the plant is drooping? Just trying to get this straight.

About the weather here, like I said, the nights got a little cooler than expected. I wasn't planning on them to be out in temperatures like that. Right now the nights are in the 50's and 60's and most of my plants don't seem to mind at all. I guess peppers may not be the same, which is my mistake then.

I did not scratch the root balls when planting. Is that something that I was supposed to do? Is it a big problem that I didn't?


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RE: Help me figure out what I'm doing wrong!

I doubt it's a disease at this juncture. We can wait for pics. Wrinkled leaves usually aren't a big problem, but at this point, check for aphids.

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"As far as watering, you guys are confusing me a little. So as long as the soil deeper in is still cool and moist I shouldn't water even though the plant is drooping? Just trying to get this straight. "

Yep. Let me put it to you this way-- more plants are killed by overwatering than under.

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50's-60's? Not ideal, but not bad. Like I said, adults wouldn't have a problem with 50's at all. Seedlings, on the other hand, will be slow to get going.

"Right now the nights are in the 50's and 60's and most of my plants don't seem to mind at all."

What types of plants?

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"I did not scratch the root balls when planting. Is that something that I was supposed to do? Is it a big problem that I didn't?"

Yes. Not usually a HUGE problem, but it CAN be a big problem... the roots will just keep wrapping around, ultimately strangling the plant. All depends how rootbound they were to begin with.

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2 weeks ago you planted? You may want to gently dump the pot by lying on it's side. Gently knock away the potting soil from the root ball, then give it a good scratching to loosen up the roots. -- Re-plant

If it looks like the root ball hasn't even begun to spread out into the potting mix, score an X on the bottom of the root ball before scratching.

Just make sure that as you dump the pot to undercup( your free hand or a large bowl) the plant to prevent it from crashing to the ground.

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Just from the info you've provided, I'm leaning towards the scratching as being the problem. Just a feeling though -- Let others chime in before you do anything.

Good Luck.

Kevin

This post was edited by woohooman on Sun, Feb 23, 14 at 23:27


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RE: Help me figure out what I'm doing wrong!

Not sure I get the root scratching thing. Have never done it and never needed 2. In all the years I have been growing peppers and been on many many forums, never heard mention of that practice.


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RE: Help me figure out what I'm doing wrong!

poppiper: Really?!?! It's not just peppers, but ANY plant that's extra rootbound.

I would think that most home growers don't let their seedlings get to the point that it becomes harmful. But try picking up a pony pack from a nursery in 2 inch cells late in the season.

Do you, at least, tap/fluff/etc. the root ball when planting to loosen up the soil and roots? If so, that's essentially scratching. With a very rootbound plant, one should actually score the bottom to help in this process. And even score the sides in larger starter pots.

Kevin
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RE: Help me figure out what I'm doing wrong!

Kevin -

ok, gotcha! I will work on the root balls for sure, because the roots did seem crowded when I planted. All I did was gently push around and loosen the root balls to loosen them up a little before planting.

You asked what other plants I have going - I have a few grape tomato plants (please don't hit me, I KNOW they went out early) that were hardened off a lot better, a variety of beans have sprouted and are doing great, the herbs are fine too. But I'm mostly judging from the tomatoes.

Either way, you are probably right and I put the out too soon. I hope I didn't hurt them too bad. The plants seem to be doing a lot better today actually. No wilt, just that same wrinkly look on some of the bottom leaves.

Take a look:

This one has since got a little distortion going on too.


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RE: Help me figure out what I'm doing wrong!

here's one that is worse. It has no residue or fading on it, though, that's just the light reflecting off of the not so smooth surface.


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RE: Help me figure out what I'm doing wrong!

Lexi:

" All I did was gently push around and loosen the root balls to loosen them up a little before planting."

That's usually sufficient. But with an EXTRA rootbound plant, scoring is recommended for the reason I mentioned.

Tomatoes are about the same as peppers in regards to warmth. If you plant too early, they just sit there and do nothing until it warms. Usually not a problem unless it's way early.. In your case, it doesn't sound like it will be.

Beans take off anyhow as long as it's warm. Sounds like it's warm enough for them.

The distortion: not sure if it's a variety thing or edema or what. I've seen it before in a plant or 3 of mine, but it never had an effect on growth or production. At this point, I'd say nothing to worry about. Maybe others can help.

If you think it may be a hardening off problem, get them out of the sun during midday until they can handle it. Or throw a sheet or shade cloth up.

One more question--- are they wilted in the mornings and eves?

Kevin

This post was edited by woohooman on Mon, Feb 24, 14 at 17:23


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RE: Help me figure out what I'm doing wrong!

Kevin,

See, that's the interesting thing, I'm starting to think I may be worrying about nothing. Because I looked at the pictures I snapped when I just got them and they do seem to have grown. Tomatoes have really taken off lately too.

And no, the plants only look droopy mid day, but this wrinkledge seems to be constant. Today it is cloudy out and the plants look all perky and nice. I'm thinking your suggestion of a shade cloth is where it's at!


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RE: Help me figure out what I'm doing wrong!

I may not even bother with that. Droopy midday is to be expected on sunny days in the mid 80's for young seedlings.

I change my prognosis -- grower anxiety is now the prognosis. ;)

But just to ease your mind about the roots -- gently tug straight up at the base of the plants. If they seem well rooted, no worries. if they seem like they want to uproot, then it's up to you if you want to doctor those roots.

Kevin


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RE: Help me figure out what I'm doing wrong!

Kevin,

oh man, now I feel silly :) I think I am indeed entirely too excited and worried about these plants all at the same time. I guess I got worried when I was going through the galleries here and saw how beautiful everyone's seedlings and mature plants were and mine didn't quite look the same. :)

One last question - will these survive a Texas spring/early summer if they show signs of distress at mid 80 temps? Because as you may imagine, it gets a whole lot hotter here before midsummer.

I've been continuously impressed with how amazing this forum is. You guys handle all of us, newbies, and our silly questions so well. Often I like to browse old posts and just read and soak up the knowledge. Thank you for sharing and making us all better gardeners! :)


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RE: Help me figure out what I'm doing wrong!

Never had the need to do any scratching. never had any probs with late season nursery packs either. Re landscaped my front yard last year and purchased 10 hydrangea plants in 3 gal pots. Nothing but roots, never fluffed or scratched and by the end of summer they were out of control.

I have heard of doing it to fruit trees. Not saying its a bad thing I just know that not doing it will not make or break a pepper season.


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RE: Help me figure out what I'm doing wrong!

thepodpiper

I'm still at that stage of gardening where I'm a little scared to mess with the roots. I have to get over that actually, since it seems it would be beneficial at times. I am still learning to do this all by myself. My only experience comes from my family keeping a pretty large garden when I was a kid, and then later on from my grandpa who was a tomato guru all the way up until he passed away a few years go. Growing veggies reminds me of him a lot. But it is sure different when he's not there to do most of the work haha :)


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RE: Help me figure out what I'm doing wrong!

Lexi:

Not to worry. We all got anxious with our early years and then again with our 1st from seed. They say gardening is relaxing, but there's always something that stresses us --- wilted seedlings, too wet, too much heat, bugs, fertilizing, etc. The list goes on.

Regarding the wilting -- within the next couple weeks and a bit more growth, above and below the surface, I'm willing to bet it goes away shortly.

85F is actually perfect for peppers and other warm crops. By summer, they'll be nice and big and producing. It's just through this very short period after transplanting that they're adjusting.

The summer will bring on a whole different set of worries. Especially in Texas, where it's over 95 day/ 75 night for months. This is when you'll see them starting to slow and drop flowers and stop producing. At that point, you'll definitely want to keep them cooler with the use of shade cloth or moving to a patio cover for the hot parts of the day.

Even if they do stop producing, just keep watering throughout and they'll pick back up when it cools down to the high 80's low 90's. Remember what I said about wilt in the morn/eve -- if no wilt, then they're fine. If you walk out one morning and they're slightly wilted, give a good soak. Can't go wrong with a watering schedule like this

Just remember, it's hard to kill a pepper plant. Doing them by seed is a slight challenge because of the germination temp and damping off issues, but once you do it a couple times, like anything, it gets easier.

Podpiper: You're right. I've never had a pepper plant not grow because I didn't scratch, but a severely rootbound plant can slow growth and sometimes even get stunted. Now that I'm more of a seasoned gardener and I don't worry about the roots TOO much when transplanting, I scratch any seedling's roots and for those that are severely rootbound, scoring an X on the bottom and down the sides is part of what I do.

Lexi: keep us updated.

Kevin


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RE: Help me figure out what I'm doing wrong!

Hey Lexi, you're in Arlington, right? I won't be growing much this year unless these three overwintered plants recover from their trip to the North Pole, so since I'm right up the street (in Texas terms) I can consult if you need a third eye in the garden.

As for root balls, I generally "loosen" rather than score. But I have seen the results of scoring improve growth. In cases where the roots are significantly wrapped, I try to unwrap some and pull them out away from the ball. Or insert hands beneath the ball and pry outward to flare the root mass. Also, I cut away "biodegradable" pots, even when the pot takes some root with it.

Generally, any major difference between the soil of the root ball and the soil of the transplant pot seems to convince the roots to stay with the devil they know. They have to be encouraged to emerge to glory!

Dennis


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RE: Help me figure out what I'm doing wrong!

Kevin - I had very discouraging results from trying to grow peppers from seed last year (hence this is my first year of actual pepper care). I was a little scared to screw up again this year, so I went the easy route so to say. I'll definitely keep you posted!

Dennis, I'm actually in San Antonio, so quite a ways away, but I appreciate the offer and would definitely use it if Arlington was where I was indeed :)


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RE: Help me figure out what I'm doing wrong!

Lexi: Even last year I had problems with my 1st run of seeds for peppers. My thermometer was off by 25 degrees and I cooked my seeds. Like I said, it's always "something" with gardening.

If all your going to grow is basic varieties like you have, going down to the nursery and picking up some starts is definitely the way to go.

What happens, though, is gardening is like crack -- it's very addicting. You start off growing a Cayenne and a Jalapeno and the next thing you know you want more variey like a Golden Cayenne, a hotter variety of Jalapeno, and to up it a notch, some dried varieties like Chihuacles and Guajillos(because you found out that's what they use in a great mole you had at a restaurant in San Antonio. LOL

So, you end up having to grow from SEED because Home Depot doesn't carry them as seedlings.

It really can get out of hand, like crack. Ask most growers. When they 1st started, it was probably just 1 or 2 varieties. Next thing they knew, they had to get their fix.

I, myself, force myself to stick to what I like and I know I'll USE each year and maybe try 1 or 2 new varieties.

Just keep on asking questions and the experts(Not me, but I do know a tad) can help you through your growing passion.

Kevin


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RE: Help me figure out what I'm doing wrong!

Kevin,
I can definitely see that happening. My husband is slightly addicted to hot sauce, so I'm sure he'll be advocating for some more interesting varieties next summer. This season is going to be a busy one, so I'm thinking learning with the basic kinds was a good idea. If I mess up, I'm not going to be too hurt :)


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RE: Help me figure out what I'm doing wrong!

Lol Kevin @What happens, though, is gardening is like crack -- it's very addicting. You start off growing a Cayenne and a Jalapeno and the next thing you know you want more variey like a Golden Cayenne, a hotter variety of Jalapeno, and to up it a notch, some dried varieties like Chihuacles and Guajillos(because you found out that's what they use in a great mole you had at a restaurant in San Antonio. LOL

So, you end up having to grow from SEED because Home Depot doesn't carry them as seedlings.

It really can get out of hand, like crack. Ask most growers. When they 1st started, it was probably just 1 or 2 varieties. Next thing they knew, they had to get their fix.

So true.... I might have to make my garden bigger just for all the peppers I have started lol.
Lexi, be encouraged. It sounds like you're doing great (maybe a little anxious, that's to be expected). Just keep reading, learning and asking questions.


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RE: Help me figure out what I'm doing wrong!

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Mar 2, 14 at 18:13

Water uptake and therefore nutrient uptake is energy driven, i.e. it takes energy to absorb water and nutrients, and the roots need oxygen to turn the carbs the plant makes (its food) into energy - just like you do. When your plants wilt while the soil is still damp and the problem persists more than a day or 2, you can be almost 100% certain it's a root problem - probably related to excess water retention and the dearth of oxygen that comes along with it.

Roots are opportunists - they don't/can't "go looking" for water, air, and nutrients, they simply grow where conditions are favorable ...... and don't grow where they aren't. In your case, the roots are probably growing deeper into the pot when the water supply is at its lowest, then dying back again when you water. The cycle of death and regeneration of roots not only impairs root function, it's very expensive in terms of energy outlay as well. What it takes to regenerate roots killed by a lack of air might have been spent on things more productive - like an increase in plant mass, blooms, fruit ......

Your soil choice has a very significant impact on how easy/difficult success is going to be, and on how wide the margin for grower error is. My take on what constitutes a good soil, at a minimum, is one you can water to beyond the point of saturation, i.e. until at least 15-20% of the total volume of water applied exits the drain, carrying accumulating salts with it, this, without the grower having to worry about root rot or impaired root function. In most cases, the inability to water correctly also prevents you from being able to institute a nutritional supplementation plan that works well because nutrient ratios quickly become skewed if you can't hit the 'reset button' by flushing the soil regularly.

Dennis is right about tight little root balls, too. If I get sets that have congested roots, I rip the bottom half of the roots off the plant and use as nylon pick to tease the remaining roots apart before the set gets planted. I also remove the lower leaves of the sets and plant very deep if in a pot, and deep and at about a 30* angle if they get planted in the ground. Often, roots allowed to remain in a tight little wad end up staying in a tight little wad with the plant suffering for it, and that's something you want to avoid. Roughing up the roots actually sends chemical messengers to the rest of the plant, telling it it needs to direct energy to the root mass. Plus, the closer roots are trimmed to the stem, the more juvenile and vigorous they are (look up 'ontogenetic age'), so make sure the roots are going to be able to easily colonize your soil mass by correcting congestion before planting and using an appropriate soil.

Al


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RE: Help me figure out what I'm doing wrong!

Sam - you're right about the anxiousness. It's just so exciting :)

Tapla - wow, that's a lot of good information. I think I was overwatering. Now that I have backed off with the water, the plants are doing a lot better. I actually dug them up yesterday since I suspected that a part of the issue with watering was the pot size (so I changed that). I checked the roots and they actually looked great. They have definitely spread out since I first put them into those pots and the roots looked strong and white. So at this time I'm not worried about root damage.

I also chopped off some of the lower leaves a few days ago, but planted only a little deeper than they were before. I'm experimenting with pruning/not pruning to see what kind of difference it makes. At this time I'm seeing a ton of new growth on the stems, so I may get a little bushier plants. It'll be interesting to compare the plants later in the season.


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Mar 3, 14 at 7:18

How bushy your plants are depends on several things. One that's little known is the type of fertilizer you use. Urea tends to make coarse and lanky growth, while fertilizers with nitrate forms of N help keep plants compact. Tight roots make for small leaves and short internodes, but cause a lot of shedding of older and interior growth. The more light and air movement a plant gets, the more compact it will be as well.

The easiest way to increase ramification (maximize the number of branches and leaves) is via a selective pruning program.

Al


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RE: Help me figure out what I'm doing wrong!

Lexi, you seem to be making great progress. It's not too late to diversify your pepper population and to tickle your hubbie's tongue. Check the Bonnie Plants stand at your local box nursery, e.g. Lowes or HD. They typically stock up to a dozen pepper varieties, of which their Habanero (subscript "Worlds Hottest Habanero") is actually an African pepper called fatalii - a real star in the pepper world. It is a C.chinense (you don't have one of those yet), isn't much like a habanero, and produces many tasty bright yellow *hot* pods. Recommended.

Dennis

P.S. I'm speaking from Georgia experience. Things might be different here in TX, but I'm pretty sure Bonnie Plants is here too.

P.P.S. While you're there, pick up some basil!


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RE: Help me figure out what I'm doing wrong!

Al,

fertilizing is a whole new world to me as well. Oh, man, so much more to learn :) Is a 5-1-1 fish emulsion a satisfactory option? They are container plants. I'm entirely unsure how often I should fertilize.

Dennis,

San Antonio Botanical Garden is starting their annual plant sale tomorrow, I believe. So tempted to go..but I don't even know where I'd put more plants at this time.

As far as basil, I've got that going from seed already. It sprouted last week.


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Mmmm .. pesto!

I wonder why no one has posted a deadly hot pesto recipe?


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RE: Help me figure out what I'm doing wrong!

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Mar 3, 14 at 19:45

When you use organic amendments as a source of nutrients, you depend on soil organisms to break them down into the salts plants can absorb in ionic form. Unfortunately, the population size of soil organisms is highly variable in containers, and as such undependable. You really never know what will be available or when. In addition, fish emulsion is about the most expensive source of N I can think of. I use 1 fertilizer for everything I grow ��" that’s everything, and I grow a huge variety of plant material. I don’t do it to prove a point, I do it because the variation in how plants use nutrients is quite small. Sequoias, sunflowers, snapdragons, and sedum all use about 6X as much N as P, and about 3/5 as much K as N. Some plants use larger amounts of nutrients than others, but they use them in very close to the same ratio.

The fertilizers that come the closest to providing nutrients in the ratio at which plants use them (and there is a considerable advantage in fertilizing that way) are 3:1:2 ratios. I use Foliage-Pro 9-3-6 because it has ALL the nutrients essential to normal growth (including Ca and Mg, nutrients most soluble fertilizers lack), and it derives it’s N primarily from nitrate sources, which helps keep plants stout and compact ��" fuller.

Al


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RE: Help me figure out what I'm doing wrong!

Al,

and you use Foliage-Pro 9-3-6 all throughout the season? Just clarifying.


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RE: Help me figure out what I'm doing wrong!

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Mar 4, 14 at 16:50

Yes - start to finish.

Al


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