How to feed outdoor plants

Keep your outdoor plants in tip-top condition by feeding regularly with plant food. Not sure where to begin? Well, we’ve got the low-down on how to make sure your plant babies are happy and healthy this year.

Why do I need to feed my plants?

It’s true that lots of plants can get all the nutrients they need from the soil, sunlight and water, particularly those that are growing in the ground. A regular feed will give these plants a little boost to make sure they are as healthy as can be. It’s a bit like the spirulina and banana smoothie you might have for breakfast - not really essential, but it makes you feel good.

However, if you’re growing plants in pots, a regular feed is a lot more important. Think Weetabix and toast. You can skip this for breakfast, but you might feel a bit ropey later in the morning.

When you first plant up pots and you’re using shop-bought compost there will be about 6 weeks’ worth of plant food (also called fertiliser) in it. Once your plant has used this up, there is nothing. Zero, zip, zilch, nada. So it is up to us to give potted plants all the nutrients they need.

Pelargoniums growing in pots
Pelargoniums growing in pots

What feed should I use?

There are a lot of different plant foods available, including some specialist ones for plants like tomatoes, roses and fruit. Here’s a few of the more popular ones you’ll see:

General purpose/All-purpose

This is a good all-round plant food to have on hand and will be suitable for lots of garden plants. These come in different forms including:

  • Granular fertilisers, which you just sprinkle around the base of your plants and then lightly fork into the soil

  • Soluble powder, which you dissolve in water (in a watering can is usually best) and then water onto the soil

  • Liquid concentrate, a bit like the soluble powder, in that you dilute in water and then water onto the soil

It’s a personal choice. A granular feed is usually cheaper than soluble powders or liquids, and is better if you’re feeding shrubs and plants growing in the ground. For containers, a liquid or soluble powder is normally faster acting, meaning the nutrients are available quicker to the plants. Horses for courses.

Tomato food

Don’t let the name fool you; yes, tomato food is specially formulated for your tomatoes, but you can also use it on sweet peppers, aubergines, strawberries and flowering potted plants. It normally comes in a liquid and you need to dilute it before using.

Rose food

Again, rose food is specially formulated to give your roses all the nutrients that they need throughout the season.

Hands holding tomatoes
Hands holding tomatoes

Do I need any special equipment to feed my plants?

The short answer is no. For a granular feed, you simply sprinkle onto the soil. Best to wear gloves when you do this. If you’re using a soluble feed or liquid concentrate, then you’ll need to mix it up in something. A watering can is perfect. But if you don’t have one, a jug will do just fine. Just make sure it is a dedicated gardening jug (don’t take it back inside to make Pimms in!).

Watering can and garden
Watering can and garden

How often should I feed my outdoor plants?

It completely depends on what plant food you are using and what plants you are feeding. If you’re using a granular plant food on shrubs, you might only need to apply this twice a year. If you’re feeding petunias in hanging baskets with a liquid feed, you might do this every seven days.

The label on the back of your chosen plant food will tell you all you need to know about timings and how much to feed. Read it well.

Lush green garden
Lush green garden

Should I feed my plants every time I water?

Nope, you don’t need to feed every time you water your plants. Read the label on the back of your plant food to find out how often you need to feed. As a general rule of thumb, plants in pots should be fed every seven to 10 days from spring to autumn.

Can I over feed my plants?

Yes you can over feed your plants. And a bit like us when we overindulge, your plants will get sick. So always read the product label to make sure you understand how often to feed and how much to feed.

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