Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cold weather means gardening challenges; The bigger the root system the more rapid uptake of fertilizers, whether you're using synthetics or organics

It has been an interesting gardening season so far. Thoughts about the low soil temperature and the miniscule plants being sold in the stores.
As a lot of gardeners are aware, this spring so far the weather has been a lot colder than normal. We have had many reports of plants, particularly hardy nursery stock in gardens, getting killed off by the frost. As we said in a column a few weeks ago, this is not a season where you can force your plants into early development. An example in our area, which is not normally particularly cold, the 1st of May's minimum night temperature was minus 2F (1 C). The ground temperature, which is the most important link in the survival of bedding plants, is in most areas way below normal for the first week of May.
It is going to take a lot more than a week of sunny days to bring these ground temperatures up. You are going to need at least three weeks, minimum. As we have said before, don't plant your corn early this year, otherwise you will be going out to put a second seeding in.
Miniscule plants for sale. I find it mind boggling that gardeners will go and buy one inch (2.5 cm) high impatiens plants being sold in a local food store and two inch (5 cm) high tomato plants in four inch (10 cm) pots.
All these miniscule plants have only just been planted up, so the likelihood of the root system penetrating the whole of the growing medium in the container is highly remote.
Yet with today's modern day bedding and vegetable plants, a large fully developed root system, even to the degree of appearing to be pot bound, is a far better thing to spend your money on than plants that have just been put into the pot and shipped out of the greenhouse a week later. The bigger the root system, whether you are planting in a container or in the ground, when the ground is warm enough, the more rapid uptake of fertilizers, whether you are using synthetics or organics.
This is the number one controlling mechanism in plant growth. If the roots cannot take up sufficient food, then the plant is going to grow very poorly and very slowly, which translates, if you are growing flowering plants, into very few flowers. And if you are growing vegetables, such as tomatoes, it means it means you might just get five pounds of fruit.
Where we know from experience, getting large plants and we are talking real large plants at three feet high (90 cm) on the 1st of June, you can get at least 25 to 35 pounds of fruit off of one container grown plant if it is properly watered and fed.
Talking about plant sizes, I came across an interesting piece of marketing in geraniums. Plants in a hyped up four-inch (10 cm) pot in a big box store were twenty five per cent more expensive and not as good quality as a four-inch (10 cm) geranium out of one of the garden centers.

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