Are you having a hard time figuring out how to approach Spring Gardening in our sometimes unforgiving Florida climate?
We are very fortunate to have the warmth that we do, with limited cold snaps, and usually plenty of rain.
But for people who learned to garden where there are climate-based seasons, or who have learned through resources meant for places with actual seasons, it can be so difficult to navigate when to garden in Florida.
And that’s where your local neighborhood Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply can help you.
We’ve been gardening here a long time. Our store has been serving the Tampa Bay area since 1961. Back then we were surrounded by farms growing crops and raising livestock. As those farms have been eaten up by the city, we’ve turned our focus on to growing your own backyard vegetables for your family, and to urban farming.
So, with a base guidance from the UF IFAS program, along with our personal experiences gardening in Central Florida, we’ve got a lot to offer to those who are figuring out planting seasons, like Spring, here in Florida.
Sure, we’ve got a class for that! I hope you’ll join me for that – this class is part 3 of a 4 part series that I’ve been putting together seasonally. We started in Fall 2019, then we had a Winter Class, now this is the Spring class. Of course, there will be a Summer class as well.
In the meantime, though, I’ve got a couple of tips for you right here to get started.
Forget about the First Day of Spring
If you’re waiting until the Spring Equinox to start thinking about planting because that’s what your favorite gardening magazine told you to do, I have sad news for you. In Florida you’re WAY too late for many crops.
By the time the Equinox rolls around, it’s already blistering hot outside, and our wet season will be starting soon, which means your tiny seedlings will be more susceptible to fungus, and heat withering.
In Florida, you can start planting seeds in January (or even mid/late December!) for Spring. Yes, I said December. And January.
Also, our strong and healthy Starter Plants arrive usually right around February 1st at our store – and we plan it that way for a reason. Starter Plants can go in the ground starting in February. You can also plant lots of different kinds of seeds in February.
Is there risk of frost this early in the year? Sure. Some years we get a late nip in the air. But there’s ways to make sure that your seedlings survive, and we can tell you all about how to make sure you’re protected. All you have to do is ask.
Container Plantings are a sensible option for Florida Spring Gardening
We’re here to support you in however you want to grow your veggies, or flowers, or trees, or whatever you’ve got going on. Many people choose to plant in the ground, and that’s totally great!
If you’re planting native plants, you really don’t have to do anything to the soil, they’ll be just fine with what you’ve got.
Ground plantings, like raised beds, or mounds, for things that are not native to Florida take some extra special care in the form of soil amendments and fertilizers. This is because we’re trying to force plants that aren’t used to our sandy soil to grow where they don’t really belong. So, we have to amend the soil and add the nutrients that our soil is missing for them to flourish. With a little prep ahead of time. this is definitely do-able.
BUT…you can better control your plantings using containers. You can mix your own soil, add your own nutrients, protect your plants from soil-borne illnesses, and control their sun, water, and climate, when they are in a container.
As far as containers go, you probably know that we’re Tampa’s Earthbox Authority, and we’re HUGE fans of what the Earthbox can do for the things you want to grow, like vegetables and flowers.
Earthbox makes it SO EASY to grow your own. In fact, we want you to experience the joys of Earthbox so much that we have a class for that!
There are also all manner of sizes of black plastic reusable nursery tubs, galvanized and rubber stock tanks, and all kinds of container planting options available at our store too.
We can show you what you need for all these, and you’ll have great results.
Your Spring Options Are Nearly Limitless Here
Spring Gardening in Florida, starting in January, really allows you nearly limitless possibilities on what you can grow. You can still plant cold-weather crops – it’s still cool enough for lettuces and collards and kale, for example, and you can plant warm weather crops like peppers, tomatoes, okra, and beans too.
Spring planting time is when you can plant and enjoy the most diverse gardens here. So, take advantage of our good fortune. Try some new veggies and flowers. Get creative with containers and raised beds.
We’re here to help you. We can answer questions and give you advice if you run into a problem. That’s what we’re here for.
As you might imagine, Fish Emulsion 5-1-1 is exactly what it says it is. It is a combination of leftover fish from the commercial fishing industry. It’s a fantastic natural source of nitrogen right away for plants needing a bit of a boost.
One caution with Fish Emulsions – they get a little stinky for a little while. I suggest using it during your neighbor’s working hours while they’re away from the house…unless you hate your neighbors, then Saturday morning is definitely the best time. Ha! 😉
This soil amendment is not found often available, as most of us don’t need it. It’s only used for soils where there is a LOT of thick clay (not usually Central Florida) or where soil is very salinated and salt needs to be removed from it (now that’s very possible here).
Gypsum can be harmful to other types of soil, such as sandy soil, as outlined in this very helpful article that summarizes the use of Gypsum (which is actually just calcium sulfate). I advise use with extreme caution. Have your soil tested first to make sure you actually need it!
Sources of Iron are important for any green plant. It is a necessary element to make Chlorophyll which is how plants manufacture their food (via photosynthesis).
One of the most common sources of Iron is a fertilizer called Milorganite, which is pelletized deceased poop-eating bacteria from water treatment facilities at Jones Island (Milwaukee, WI). It is organic and does not cause issues with nitrogen runoff. The history of Milorganite is pretty interesting, you should read more about it.
We also have a liquid Chelated Iron and a Pelletized Iron as well. Most people apply it to their lawns as a “quick green up” during the year when grass and landscapes can suffer in the Florida heat.
Kelp has many nutrients that land-plants need, and it can be sustainably harvested too.
Kelp Green is a wonderful ocean-based seaweed extract and fish emulsion that really offers a one-of-a-kind opportunity to use kelp in your garden without harvesting it from the beach yourself. It’s a masterful way to get a large assortment of micronutrients to your plants that is not found in other types of chemical pelletized fertilizers. These micronutrients include antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins, hormones, and minerals too.
One of my favorite things to do on fertilizer bags is to look for the minor elements they contain – also called the “micronutrients” in some cases (but micronutrients are not just the minor elements…skip that last part there if it confused you!). You can buy a fertilizer that is just a bunch of the minor elements thrown together too which can be applied to everything without worrying that it will harm anything. All plants need these minor elements.
You see, the macronutrients, also called “Major Elements”, are the N-P-K numbers you see on the fertilizer bags. But depending on what you’re targeting, other minerals/elements might be added to help that specific kind of plant. And it’s fascinating to see what certain plants need to thrive.
The Minor Elements include: Boron (B), Chlorine (CI), Copper (Cu), Iron (Fe), Manganese (Mn), Molybdenum (Mo), and Zinc (Zn)
Potash is another word for Potassium, in garden-speak. The N-P-K on fertilizer bags is sometimes called “Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potash” even though “K” is the Periodic Table letter for Potassium.
Why the name Potash? Actually, I didn’t know, so I looked it up. The word Potash comes from the method that Potassium was originally isolated from wood ash. The ash was placed in a large iron pot with a solvent and boiled until the liquid leaching agent was dissipated. The isolation process is much different now, of course.
Muriate of Potash is 50% Potassium and 46% Chloride. Both of these elements are essential for plant health, thus if your soil is potassium deficient this is a good choice to replenish it because it is very highly absorbable.
January is the time of Resolutions, and many of those resolutions we make each year focus on health. How about making a resolution you can stick with and enjoy for just a few minutes a day that has a ton of health benefits for you?
Does that sound too good to be true? It’s not.
There is an activity you can do just a few minutes a day and reap a BUNCH of health benefits. That activity is GARDENING!
Today I’m going to list out some of the many health benefits of gardening. To get you even more motivated – and to make sure you don’t think I’m full of compost, I’ll give you extra articles to read that corroborate what I’m telling you here – yes that’s right – SCIENCE!
Starting right here: For a HUGE comprehensive list of the health issues that Gardening can help, listed out in a peer-reviewed medical journal, check out this research article (a meta-analysis) here – it’s really exciting!!
#1: Cardiovascular Health
Regular light activity/exertion like gardening decreases the risk of heart attacks and stroke, and in a way that doesn’t feel like mindless “pointless” exercise (like a treadmill – running nowhere!). Read more about Gardening for Cardiovascular Health here.
#2 Decreasing Stress
One of the markers of Stress in our bodies is the levels of Cortisol found in our blood. A Dutch study tested people’s blood Cortisol levels just after doing a really stressful task, and again after those people spent 30 minutes gardening. Those that did the gardening had lower levels of the Cortisol stress hormone in their blood than those that didn’t garden. The article from the Journal of Health Psychology is here.
Excess Cortisol for extended periods of time – which is an epidemic in the Western World – carries a huge health risk. It causes weight gain, blood sugar imbalances, and cardiovascular issues, amongst other things. Any way that Cortisol can be decreased in our systems is better for us.
#3 Happiness Is Found In Dirt
It sounds like a silly statement, but research has found that there is a bacterium in soil and forested areas that causes an increase in serotonin – one of the “feel good” brain chemicals that is associated with feeling happy and satisfied and rewarded for doing something good.
That bacterium is called Mycobacterium vaccae (M. vaccae) has been shown to naturally decrease anxiety and increase serotonin. We have access to this lovely little creature any time we dig our hands into healthy soil – so get dirty! It’s good for you!
Want to read more? Discover Magazine (a science publication) has an article here. Also, more information about the bacterium itself can be found here (with source articles).
#4 Better Sleep
Light activity, as well as fresh air and sunshine, has been shown to increase the ability to sleep at night. Sleep is not something to be overlooked when it comes to your health – that is the time that the body heals and repairs itself. Not getting enough sleep means that your body cannot recover from the things that happened earlier in the day.
Gardening is the perfect blend of activity, fresh air, and sunshine! Even just a few minutes a day can help. Here’s more information from the University of Pennsylvania.
#5 Stay Strong
Exercise in the garden strengthens the body, especially the hands and arms. Gardening is an activity that can and should be done throughout your lifetime to maintain mobility, dexterity, coordination and more of your hands and fingers for as long as possible.
Even as we age, it is beneficial to keep gardening, even if we have to make some adjustments for ailments like arthritis. To find out more about this, check out this article from the West Virginia University’s Center for Excellence in Disabilities article about Gardening with Arthritis.
#6 Long-term Health Benefits for Children
It’s been found that early exposure to dirt in children has been linked to many health benefits, including reducing allergies, auto-immune diseases, and overall body inflammation when they get older. Some information from WebMD on this topic can be found here.
Also, when you are gardening with your children, you have an opportunity to bond and foster life-long special relationships and create memories to share with all your loved ones.
As a side-note here: Gardening with my father when I was a child is the main reason I garden today – those memories come back to me when I’m digging in the dirt, and it’s pleasant to remember him this way now that he has passed on.
#7 Financial Health
When we worry about money, that stress dumps Cortisol into our bloodstream (see #2 above). When you grow your own vegetables and herbs, you can save a ton of money and decrease the stress of buying food – affording more healthy eating and living too.
We all know organic food is expensive – but if you can grow your own, you not only save the money at the grocery or market, you save the time it took to drive there and the money you spend on gasoline too. And things like looseleaf lettuce can be harvested over and over again – saving you even more money!
This seems like a stretch – I know – but hear me out here.
Successful gardening takes work, and quite a bit of skill that you can easily learn. So, after tilling, planting, weeding, nurturing, waters, and harvesting from your plants, you might see the “blackthumb” that you used to know disappear to make way for that new “greenthumb” badge of honor that you’ve earned.
That kind of accomplishment can change how you view yourself, and sharing your knowledge as well as the bounty of beautiful things you’ve grown changes the way others see you as well. One of the things that makes us uniquely human is the desire to successfully contribute our skills for the betterment of a community of our peers. There’s a great peer-reviewed article about this here.
If you can grow a garden, YOU CAN DO ANYTHING!
So, these are just a few examples of the health benefits of gardening. Are you new to gardening? Are you experienced? There’s always new things to learn and experiment with in the garden. Let’s try something new together! Come see us – it’s time to plant seeds for Spring – we’ll get you started quick!
As today is Thanksgiving, we focus on what we are grateful for.
If you were to ask me my favorite part of our business, without hesitation I would say it’s getting to interact with our local community in a real grass-roots kind of way.
Today’s blog happens to fall on Thanksgiving – and so I wanted to take the opportunity to express the gratitude of Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply on behalf of our staff family (because really, we are a family too).
Being Grateful is Uplifting
I hope you’ve seen our #21DaysOfGratitude Challenge that we’ve been doing since November 8 – 21 days to get into the habit of being grateful for what we have. It’s something I started last year, and wanted to continue. I never want to forget to take a moment to be appreciative, and that’s what this article is about today – We at Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply are grateful for YOU, our customers.
We are a local family-owned business that has been around nearly 60 years – no small feat when you really think about it – and we attribute our success to the service we provide to our customers.
But without customers to service – we wouldn’t be here at all.
We are grateful you support local businesses
So, every time you come in and purchase something at Shell’s, you are supporting a local family business, all the families of the people we employ, AND keeping your money local (like your tax dollars) so that you support your community, just by shopping with us. We think that’s important.
We also realize how important having you walk through OUR doors really is, and that is why we work so hard to make it a pleasant experience, each and every time. You chose us, and we don’t take that lightly.
From picking up some food for your dog, taking care of a pesky pest problem, to bringing home a new flock of chickens, we’ll make sure you have everything you need to accomplish your goals. If there’s something we don’t carry, we don’t mind referring you to our neighbors for certain things, as our neighbors send us people when they don’t have something you need.
We are grateful for the opportunity to help you problem-solve
We take the time to learn about what you’re trying to do, if you’re willing to share it with us. If there’s other products that might do it better, we’ll tell you. If you’re wanting to use something that won’t do what you are wanting it to do, we’ll tell you. And if you have a handful of things you bring to the register to fix a problem and you only really need one of them, we’ll tell you.
Why do we take the time to do that? Because we’re here to help. We want you to remember us the next time you need help with something, and come back. More importantly we want you to tell all your friends and family about us so they will come see us too.
See, that’s why YOU are so important to us. We want to help you accomplish what you need to get done as simply as possible, so that you’ll tell others that you had a great experience.
We are grateful for our longevity in the community
We are so much more than a farm feed store, which was our humble beginnings nearly 60 years ago. Garden supplies are huge source of enjoyment for us, especially live plants, the Earthbox line, and growing soils like Happy Frog Potting Soil (it’s so awesome).
Our variety of pet supplies is pretty massive, too, not just the supplies for dogs and cats but all the exotics (like chinchillas, sugar gliders), rodents (like hamsters, guinea pigs), birds (like finches, parrots), wild birds, even some fish and reptile supplies too.
And don’t forget that we have live chickens and rabbits, and stuff for farm animals. We love it when people bring their kids to see the fuzzy wiggle nosed bunnies and the fluffy little peepers.
We are grateful for your friendship & patronage
We appreciate it when you stop in for supplies, or just to say hello to our friendly staff. We love it when you trust us for our knowledge to help you out, and we love being able to help you out to your car with your heavy items. It’s what we do, because we are thankful that you chose us. Carrying a heavy load to your car is the least we can do.
So, while we are closed today, Thanksgiving Day, so that we can be with our families – and we hope you are with yours too – we’ll be here for you when you’re ready to come in for your next dog food order, bale of hay, some veggie plants, or that one thing you need that no one else carries.
We are grateful for your support
We are truly grateful for you. Because of you we can continue to serve this community, and Tampa Bay at large. And that’s just the way we like it.
If you’re thankful for us too, please pay us the greatest compliment by telling the people you know about us. Your referral is the best gift we can ever receive from our customers. For those of you who already do that – thank you.
If you’re reading this in Michigan, you probably think I’m
nuts right now. But where I sit here in sunny Florida, last year at Christmas
is was 80 degress outside. So guess what? Gardening happens in Winter here too!
That means fresh produce from the garden year round. And
that’s great for people who love that fresh-from-the-backyard-harvested-5-minutes-ago
But there are some mistakes you can make in the garden in Florida Winter. Let’s talk about a few so you’re prepared.
Mistake #1: There’s a surprise freeze and you don’t have anything to cover your prized petunias.
This one is pretty simple to avoid — what’s that old Boy Scout motto? Be Prepared!
For Surprise freezes, it’s important to have something on hand and ready to go. I recommend N-Sulate is an awesome product for protecting your crops from the light freezes we may get here (some years we have none, other years we have several, and everything in between).
When used as directed, it is more effective than using old towels and bedsheets, AND it is light enough that it won’t crush young or sensitive plants. So, definitely get some. We have it for you, ready and waiting for you to pick up. And we can make sure you understand how to use this product so that you have the best chances of avoiding frost damage.
Mistake #2: You have no protected place to move your container plants if we do have a freeze.
Trying to move your potted palm into your living room when there’s a freeze coming could present quite a problem, and a mess, for you. But you ran out of room in the garage and don’t know what else to do.
Don’t let that be you!
It’s so important to have an area that you know you can move some of your container plants into in the event of a freeze.
Whether it’s the garage, or a porch, or a greenhouse, make sure there’s a protected space you can put some pots if there’s a freeze coming.
And while you’re at it, secure some help beforehand too, maybe a neighbor where you can make a deal, “I’ll help you move yours if you help me move mine.” No sense in breaking backs, right?
Also, your neighbor might have extra room they’d be willing to let you borrow, you know, for a nice bottle of wine or that awesome appetizer you make with your tomatoes, basil, and some fresh mozzarella. Never be above bartering for help!
So, have a place to put your plants for a freeze. Just in case. You never know when Old Man Winter will take a swipe at us.
Mistake #3: You’ve decided to grow sun-hungry plants this Winter.
Ah, yes, this is a good one!
So, you love tomatoes. You really LOVE them. That’s great, we all need a favorite food (it’s one of mine too).
But did you know that most tomatoes will only reach optimal production with 8+ hours per day of sun? With the shortened amount of daylight in the Winter, as well as the decreased angle of the sun (it’s not high overhead like it is during the summer, it’s more to the South in Winter), your sunlight prospects are usually quite limited during Winter.
Most sun-hungry plants don’t get enough sun in Winter to do much fruiting. That’s why the University of Florida Institute of Food & Agricultural Science doesn’t list them as a Winter crop, mainly (the temperature too, but lately, it’s been warm enough).
Now, these sun-hungry WILL grow nice strong stalks and leaves, albeit more slowly, and (BONUS!) with the cooler weather there’s less pests and fungus to contend with.
Many folks have luck planting tomatoes and other plants like it such as eggplants and bell peppers in Winter and then letting them grow strong stems, then they’re ready to start fruiting as we come into Spring when others are just getting their seedlings in the ground.
Of course, you’re gambling with the possibility of a freeze…but hey…worth the risk, right? (And, see #1 and #2 above for help with that).
Just know that those kinds of plants don’t fruit as well this time of year.
There’s the top 3 mistakes we at Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply see Florida Gardeners make in the Winter growing season.
Do you want to know more about what you SHOULD plant this Winter in Florida?
This “What to Plant in Your Florida Garden” series is a quarterly class I do seasonally to help people who want to garden in Florida but haven’t quite gotten the hang of what to plant when, and it’s our #1 asked question at Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply by our customers. It’s a fun class!
If you moved to Florida but had a great garden up North, this is the class for you. If you’re a Floridian but you were taught to garden by a Northerner, this is also a great class for you.
I hope to see you there!
Until then…keep growing!
P.S. You can always get great gardening tips in my blog, or also from the UF IFAS web resource. Here’s a couple of links for you:
Our world was rocked this week by some very tragic news. One of our local gardening legends, Mark Govan, has passed away. In the wake of this terrible loss, and in his honor, I am going to depart from my usual article format to bring you something a little more personal and heartfelt.
A Tribute to Mark Govan
Mark Govan and Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply have a long history. He’s been promoting us for many years, we’ve been paying advertisers on his radio show for a long time, and we have referred people to back to him for years. You could say we are “superfans” of Mark’s.
Our store had just resumed advertising on the Florida Gardening Radio show in the last few months. We wanted to support Mark somehow after the media conglomerate cancelled his show right near the 25 year mark, but we weren’t sure how to do it. After David Graham of Graham Capital Advisors purchased the show (thank you David! Mark was SO thrilled!), we knew we could be on the air with Mark again. We were so excited, and to celebrate I made a whole new ad campaign around it (see image below).
In fact, Mark and I had just corresponded last week about upcoming shows, and now he’s just…gone. Just like that.
This sad turn of events has made me pause from many of my normal marketing duties for Shell’s Feed. Mr. Shell and I are both pretty shaken up, and honestly, it has made us both realize that sometimes the stuff we get all uptight about around the store doesn’t actually matter. It doesn’t matter at all.
Further, Mark’s passing has made me think: “If I were to be gone tomorrow, what would I want my legacy to be?” I’m not sure if most people even think about that. Maybe you do. If you have thoughts about your legacy, or what you feel Mark’s legacy is to all of us, I’d love to hear it, please feel free to leave a comment on this article.
You see, we here at Shell’s are a family business, just like Mark’s business at ABC Pest Control and BuyPlumerias.com. Just this Spring I purchased two beautiful plumerias from Mark at the USF Spring Plant Sale at the Botanical Gardens. And just a couple weeks ago, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Mark’s daughter as she was having fun being the in-studio guest on his show. It was great listening to their relationship play out on the air.
Families Find Strength in Each Other
So, now I am thinking about how a family finds the strength to carry on when the Patriarch (or when a Matriarch) has moved into the next phase of existence. How does a family keep going after losing someone so dear, who is missed so much?
I’m sure it’s different for everyone. But for me, it’s the memories.
Mark will continue to be present in every life that he touched through his companies, and through his 25 years giving great garden advice and providing great educational content on the radio. Many people have ‘garden hacks’ they learned from Mark. Many more have learned to troubleshoot their garden issues from his advice. He lives on through these lessons, and the knowledge he freely and happily shared with others.
I had a Gardening Dad, Too
This sad event also makes me think of my biggest influence in gardening, my Dad, who passed away when I was a teenager. If you’ve heard me speak, or even read some of my early blog entries, I talk about my Dad being a ‘subsistence farmer’. He didn’t think of it that way, he called it survival. He grew food to eat, because food is expensive.
I still do some things today the way Dad did them back then…it’s been nearly 3 decades since he was around to share his knowledge. I still have his books on gardening. I still have all the memories of digging in the dirt, of eating tomatoes before they made it into the house, with the raised eyebrow of my Mema when she would catch me. In my mind’s eye I can still see the way the garden was set up, and the layout of his whole homestead property.
So, I carry on what I learned from my Dad just by continuing to garden. It’s how I remember him. I’d like to think he’d be proud of me.
Looking to the Future
I know that ABC Pest Control is going strong, and they will continue helping people in his tradition, because I know that is what Mark would have wanted. And I know that Mark’s family will continue helping people and providing great service just like Mark did all those years. It’s all in the family, this practice of helping people.
I would imagine Mark would have wanted for us to remember him by making our little corners of the world more beautiful through gardening.
So, Mark, this is our fond farewell. Sunday mornings won’t ever be the same without you.
Thank you for all you did for the gardening community here in Tampa Bay, and in Florida. You will be missed, but never forgotten.
We’re all still learning from you. May it always be so.
P.S. This Saturday’s Monthly Community Seed Swap is 9am-10:30am and if anyone would like to come and talk about Mark and share advice he’s given you over the years through his show I’m happy to do so.
In honor of the City of Tampa fertilizer ban ending this week, I thought it might be fun to answer one of our most asked questions:
“What fertilizers am I supposed use in my garden, and how do I know which ones are needed for each plant?”
Gosh, this is a fun one – and we get asked questions similar to this all the time. So, I’m ready to dive in to decoding fertilizers today.
The first thing I think you need to know about fertilizers is what the 3 numbers on the front of the container mean. These numbers indicate the amounts of the Macronutrients of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium in the formula.
Often called the “N-P-K”, which stands for “Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium,” this fertilizer indicator shows you two things: 1) The ratios of nutrients relative to each other; and 2) How many pounds of this product you would need to add 1 pound of that nutrient to the soil.
N-P-K Indicates Relative Ratios
The N-P-K numbers give you what is called “guaranteed analysis” that shows the amounts of the macro nutrients in each bag. It sets the standard for the contents of each bag.
For the ratios, a 10-10-10, or 3-3-3, will have the same exact amounts of all 3 nutrients throughout the entire bag. A 12-6-8, or 6-4-6, will have different amounts of nutrients throughout the entire bag. Higher numbers mean more of that nutrient was added to that formulation, in relation to the relative amounts of the other nutrients.
Since all these different formulations exist, it stands to reason that different ratios of nutrients are good for different plants. In fact, specialty ratios have been developed for certain types of plants. This is why you see specialty fertilizers such as Rose, Azalea, Palm, Citrus, Strawberry, Blueberry, and more.
These special formulations have been shown to increase the growth and production of these specific plants because of the ratios of the three main nutrients. It is based on how those plants assimilate nutrients, how they use them, and observational studies of which nutrients give the maximum amount of the desired result. Yep. it’s science.
Often, these specialty fertilizers will also have additional ingredients too, like micronutrients, humates, mycorrhyzae, etc – check out the back of the bag to see what goodies are in there for those special types of plants.
Alright, up next, it’s time for some math. Ugh, adulting is hard.
N-P-K Indicates Relative Weight
Now, speaking about the second characteristic of the N-P-K rating, the amount to apply to reach 1 pound of that nutrient in the soil, we need to do a little math.
Here’s a simple example: Shell’s 10-10-10 N-P-K fertilizer indicates that you will need 10 pounds of the fertilizer to add 1 pound of each of the nutrients into the soil. You do this math by taking 100 (indicating 100%) and dividing it by 10.
100 / 10 = 10 lbs of fertilizer is needed to yield 1 pound of nutrient applied to soil.
If the N-P-K numbers are all different, like our Shell’s 4-6-8 Citrus Fertilizer, then you’d take each of those numbers and divide them into 100. Your answers will tell you how many pounds of that fertilizer you’d need to put 1 pound of that nutrient into the soil, like this:
So basically the N-P-K numbers are “weights” in a ratio format. Basically the higher the number, the LESS fertilizer you need to achieve the same result.
I know, it’s a little confusing sometimes, especially when you’re dealing with the N-P-K’s with different values for each nutrient.
What Nitrogen Does for Plants
Nitrogen is essential for healthy plant growth. It is an essential component in the process of photosynthesis, and as such it is needed to grow leaves and the stems to support them.
Plants with not enough nitrogen will show yellowing leaves that fall off easily. Plants with too much nitrogen will have leaves that yellow then brown and become “crispy” as the whole plant shrivels and dies (nitrogen burn). So nitrogen has to be in the right balance to help plants.
What Phosphorus Does for Plants
Phosphorus helps plants convert nutrients taken in by the roots and converting them into building block for the plants in their growth process – for example, making proteins that keep stems strong. Phosphorus is essential for root development.
Plants with not enough Phosphorus will have a classic “failure to thrive” identity – they will be small, and will have difficulty flowering or fruiting. Their root systems will be under-developed. They may have either a very bright green or a purple hue to them – these are both signs of Phosphorus deficiency.
What Potassium Does for Plants
Even in modern science today, the specific interactions of Potassium with plants remains a mystery. That said, we know what happens with plants when they don’t have enough, so we can extrapolate from that.
Potassium increases the rate of growth of the whole plant. It makes them use water more efficiently and makes them more drought resistant. With the correct amount of potassium plants are able to fight off disease and pests. They also produce more flowers, and fruits.
Potassium deficiency is hard to spot, but sometimes in the older leaves there will be brown spots, yellow edges of the leaves, yellow or brown veins. Overall the plant will not perform well.
How Do I Know If My Soil Has What My Plants Need?
Well, that’s pretty simple, really. Soil can be tested!
There are soil test kits – we carry them. There is also your local UF Extension office – they can test your soil for you, and if you need further testing, they have resources where you can have a more full analysis of your soil done for you.
If you’re serious about finding out a full analysis of your soil with a full report of what you can do to make it ideal, there are private and/or commercial facilities that will take your soil and test it with full reports.
I found a small list of providers at Fine Gardening’s website, edited to remove links that no longer work.
Woods End Research Laboratory PO Box 297, Mt. Vernon, ME 04352; 207-293-2457 www.woodsend.com
I definitely suggest starting with the local Extension service. They’re there to help!
Diagram of Plants and How Macronutrients Help Them
Side by Side Comparison of Nutrient Deficiencies
What Do I Use For My Vegetable Garden?
Now that you know all of this great information, the choice should be easy.
A well balanced fertilizer is great for your vegetables and herbs to help promote growth of the whole plant. Formulas like Shell’s 6-6-6, 8-8-8, and 10-10-10 are great for gardens. If you love the idea of organic food growing, Shell’s 3-3-3 Organic Garden Mix Fertilizer is AMAZING for gardens, lawns, landscapes, ornamentals…really anything you want to grow.
For your trees, ornamentals and specialty plants, there are a wide variety of specialty fertilizers available for them. Ask us when you get to the store and we’ll point you in the right direction.
I will say that it is very beneficial to have your soil tested for the Macronutrients. Your soil may not need fertilizer, and adding more would contribute to leaching of these nutrients in the the ground water and our beautiful Gulf of Mexico. When we add too much nitrogen, our porous soil allows the nitrogen to leach out, adding lots of nitrogen to our water table and our ocean. Then algae get a growth boost, and we have what’s called “red tide.”
“It’s like the old adage – too much of a good thing can be bad.”
The fertilizer ban legislation happened because of humans using too much chemical fertilizer in the environment and not planting plants that are native to Florida which tolerate the “challenging” soil we have here. Our soil is just fine for Florida native and naturalized plants – we only find it challenging because we try to grow things that normally wouldn’t grow here, and chemically force them to survive.
Compost, clean dry leaf litter, pine bark or needles, straw/hay, old mulch, and wood chips are all great organic matter to add to your soil. As it decomposes over time, all of the NPK nutrients in that plant matter is eaten by the critters and microbes in the soil. The Nitrogens, Phosphorus, and Potassium in those materials are thus made available to the plants that are growing now.
It takes time, but amending with organic material is the best long term way to ensure that your soil has plenty of N-P-K and other nutrients for your plants. And…organic materials can be collected from your yard either for free, or it’s kitchen scraps and other waste that would have gone to the landfill…which you can collect and compost yourself.
I hope this fertilizer tutorial was helpful to you! Let me know if you have any questions.
If you’ve been to our store, you know that in our garden amendments section we have LOTS of bags and bottles of stuff with funny names, maybe even funny smells, and not a lot of information written on them. I call it the “Garden Aisle of Mystery,” even in my own store.
I know that this section of our store, or any garden store really, can be kind of intimidating, and I want to fix that! So, I’m writing this series as a reference for you. This is the very first of a “mostly monthly” series I want to do to help you figure out what you might need for your lawn, landscape, and/or garden.
So, I’m going to go “mostly alphabetical” as I name and describe a few items per Episode. As I move forward I will probably do some video snippets to embed here on the website as a useful visual guide. Until then, well, you’re stuck with my writing and pictures. If you want some more quick definitions, check out our Garden Glossary.
DISCLAIMER: Before you read about a product and just guess that your lawn, garden, and/or landscape need something, I urge you to take the necessary proper steps: 1) have your soil tested, either with a test kit or through your local UF IFAS County Extension Office; 2) make sure that your plants really have the issue you think they have before treating with anything. We can help.
Also called Calcific Limestone (which has less magnesium than other ag limestones), Dolomite, Dolomitic Lime, Ag Lime, Garden Lime – Agricultural Limestone is a powdery substance made of pulverized limestone. Limestone is mainly made up of Calcium Carbonate, but can also include Calcium Oxide, Magnesium Oxide, and Magnesium Carbonate.
Agricultural Limestone is used in soil to counteract acidity for plants that need a more neutral or alkaline soil to absorb nutrients. It increased the pH to make the soil more alkaline. Some plants require alkalinity or neutral pH to take up water and nutrients through the root systems. Also, for plants such as hydrangeas, often the pH of the soil dictates what colors the flowers will be.
In vegetable gardening, Agricultural Limestone is used to help combat diseases such as Blossom End Rot. This problem is very common in tomatoes and peppers where the soil does not have sufficient calcium and/or magnesium to complete the transformation of the flower into the fruit.
Blossom end rot is not your friend, make sure you add lime to your beds with veggies!!
Aluminum Sulfate, as with most powdered sulfur compounds, will decrease the pH of soil making it more acidic. This is useful when the soil is already too alkaline for the type of plants you want to plant in a particular place.
Aluminum Sulfate can be used for plants that like acidity, such has roses, blueberries, azaleas, rhododendrons, and blackberries or raspberries. Also, again with hydrangeas, it will change the color of the flowers. It is an acidifier that doesn’t have to break down to provide the acidity. The pH will change instantly once it’s added to the soil.
This amendment should be worked into the top 6″ of soil with a shovel or rototiller for best results, and if you’re planting a lot of plants that require acidity in an area you can add it to the whole area to instantly provide the acidity the plants will need.
You know on regular bags of fertilizer there’s that 3-digit listing on the front, like 12-6-8 or 3-3-3? That’s your N-P-K indication required on all fertilizers. N = Nitrogen, P = Phophorus, K = Potassium.
Ammonium Nitrate is pretty much straight up Nitrogen. It gives your plants a boost when it’s bloom time and fruiting time. Plants use nitrogen to grow leaves and flowers and fruits.
This is also one of the things that we cannot sell during the June-September fertilizer ban because it will wash out of the soil and into our beautiful Tampa Bay and Gulf of Mexico during summer rains.
If you’re needing some nitrogen in this form, we’ll have it back on the shelves by October 1. In the meantime we have other organic solutions for you that are not subject to the City of Tampa’s fertilizer ban. Just ask us, we’ll help you out.
Blood meal is exactly what it sounds like. Blood from animals is dried into a powder. It is an excellent source of nitrogen and iron , and works as a soil acidifier too.
It is a dry powder because it is dehydrated, meaning all liquid is removed.
There are alternatives to blood meal, namely alfalfa meal and feather meal, which are also exactly what they sound like – ground alfalfa and ground feathers.
Bone meal is dried and pulverized bones from animals (and/or fish). When used in vegetable gardening it increases the flowering of the plants very quickly.
This is because bone meal is a great source of Phosphorus (the P in NPK), which is necessary to make flowers.
Alternatives to this are soft rock phosphate, urine, and manure. Manure will have to break down before it can offer phosphate, but bone meal, soft rock phosphate and urine all have it immediately available.
I know, I know, you’re thinking “urine, that can’t be right” but I promise, you read it correctly. If you can get over the possible “ick” factor you’re feeling right now, fresh urine is high in nitrogen, moderate in phosphorus and low in potassium and can act as an excellent high-nitrogen liquid fertilizer or as a compost accelerator.
So go ahead, pee in the garden! (C’mon, I had to say it, how often does anyone get to say it?)
Alright, that’s what I’ve got for this blog. I’ll go over more of the items in my Solving the Aisle of Mystery series as we move forward in time, so stay tuned for that.
In the meantime if you have questions about something on our shelves, don’t hesitate to ask.
Relocating your plant to a new home can be a little stressful to your plant. It’s suddenly got a new home, with new light, a new container, and room to grow. If you were a plant, what would you do first? Grow more leaves? Grow more roots? Just sit for awhile and ponder the meaning of this new life?
I know, I’m being silly, but in honor of our Fall Starter Plants arriving this week, I wanted to do a quick reference article to give you some Transplanting Tips for our starter plants.
All around the internet you’ll find gardener’s best transplanting tips, and a LOT of them are very different. That’s ok! The beautiful part about gardening is that we all have different experiences…we live with different soils…we have different plants. My best suggestion? Read as much as you can and figure out the best way for yourself. These are my tips that work for me.
Please note: This article is mostly referring to small vegetable and annual plants. Trees and shrubs have a different planting process, so make sure you know what to do with those!
Transplanting Tip #1 – Amend Your Soil First
Before you put your plant where you want it to be, prepare the area first. Whether your plant’s new home is a bigger container, in a raised bed, a square foot garden, a hay bale, or in the ground for a landscape, soil matters.
If you’re using fluffy potting soil in a container, you’ll need to add a bit more water at first. If you don’t, you’ll find that when you water your container for the first time, the soil will sink down. Now what looked like a full container will only be half to two-thirds full, and when you refill it you’ll bury your starter plant. That’s not good.
For in-ground and raised bed gardens, weed the area, pull back any mulching to expose the soil. Mix a palm-full of fertilizer (I like Shell’s Organic 3-3-3 – specially formulated for Florida Soil) into the top 6-10″ of soil with a trowel to aerate and loosen the soil. You want the bottom of the hole to be loose, un-compacted soil for several inches below where your plant’s root ball will be.
The little bit of fertilizer will help your plant through its initial period of adjustment, sometimes called “transplant shock”. Don’t use a lot, just mix in a small pile on your palm in about a 6″ x 6″ area.
If the soil is really dry, add a little water to help the soil reach a “crumbly” consistency, not muddy. This will help you with Step 2.
Transplanting Tip #2 – Make a Hole That’s Juuuuust Right
Goldilocks wasn’t a plant, but she had the right idea – she wanted everything “just so.” Plants do too, which is why we fuss over them, right?
I usually guesstimate the size of the root ball by the size of the container the plant is in. Using that approximation, I use 2-3 fingers on each hand to reach into the loosened, crumbly dirt. I then pull back the dirt into a hole that’s approximately the same width and depth as the root ball.
If you have a spare container laying around that’s the same size as the one for the plant you’re planting, you can use it to check your depth, but it’s not truly necessary.
The point of making the hole in this way is to keep you from burying the root ball too deep. You also don’t want to leave air pockets. Soil needs to touch roots to do its job.
Transplanting Tip #3 – Check Your Roots
OK, now it’s showtime. Grasp your plant loosely at the base of the stem with one hand, and the container with the other.
Lightly squeeze the soil inside the container, then lift the stem. If your container is flexible enough, you can also push the root ball up from the bottom.
Now look at your plant’s roots. Are there lots of visible roots that are thick and matted? Or is it mostly dirt showing there? Here’s an example of a root-bound plant versus a normal starter.
If your plant is severely root bound, you’ll need to squeeze and pull the roots gently apart to get them a little untangled. It’s a starter plant, so you don’t have to go crazy with this step, but they need a little separation so that they can find their new path into the soil’s ecosystem. Sometimes a couple of small slices with a pointed trowel will do the trick.
Transplanting Tip #4 – Place Your Plant In Its New Home
Alright, you’ve arrived ahead of time and put all your plant’s favorite things in its new home. You opened the door. Now it’s time to welcome your plant home!
Place the root ball gently into the hole you made. Your starter plant’s soil from its original growing container should just about line up with the soil of the plant’s new home.
Gently but firmly press the root ball and the new home’s soil together to get them acquainted. You want to make sure the big air pockets are eliminated and that your soil won’t sink too far when you perform the next step.
Don’t press so hard that you break the connection between the stem and the roots! I’ve done it. That’s why I wanted to mention it.
Transplanting Tip #5 – Water It In
Whether you’re planting one plant into a new container, or an entire bed or row of them, the last step is to water them in.
Watering helps eliminate the remaining air pockets from the transplanting process and helps the roots shift into a position to grow in a downward direction like you want them to.
You don’t need to water a lot at first. Do the initial watering of the soil, avoiding the stem and leaves if possible, until the soil is wet but no puddles remain. Give them a day to get adjusted to their new environment.
The next day you can add them to your normal watering routine. I will say that most starter plants will need to be watered a bit more until they get established. The soil doesn’t have to be drowning, but it shouldn’t completely dry out either (unless you’re dealing with succulents or cacti – that’s a whole new ball game right there).
I hope my transplanting tips are helpful to you as you plant your garden this season! What are your favorite tips and tricks for transplanting new plants into your garden? Tell me in the comments below.
One of the most common questions we get at the store has to do with whether or not what they are planting is a GMO product.
I’m here to answer this question and clarify what all these terms mean so that you understand in a quick, clear, and easily repeatable way!
Let’s take the confusion out of seeds, shall we?
Heirloom seeds are seeds that are harvested from plants that are the product of seeds that are collected in succession over time – 50 or more years, actually. They are naturally pollinated (wind, bees, butterflies, etc.), and the seeds are passed from generation to generation, usually in families or communities.
Heirloom seeds gathered from the heirloom plants will create the same exact plant in the next generation.
Hybrid seeds are the result of taking one species (let’s say, a tomato), and pollinating it with the pollen of another species of the same plant family. If the pollination is successful, the resulting seeds will grow a plant that has some of the characteristics of both the parent plants.
The seeds from that hybrid plant (in other words, the 2nd generation), will generate a variety of plants that have the characteristics of the parent and the grandparent plants. While the first generation hybrid will have the same characteristics all the time (these are the hybrid seeds that you buy) the second generation of the hybrids will be almost random (these would be seeds that you collect from the hybrid plants you grew initially).
Genetically-modified Organisms, or GMOs, are LAB CREATED. They are the products of DNA Splicing and techniques of stabilizing DNA so that it is stable through multiple generations. They are patented by the creators and are NOT available for human purchase as seeds.
Since GMOs are patented, no statements about their reproduction in the second generation of seed from the initial GMO can be made – every one is different.
Someone took the time to make this chart, so I shared it (with credit) below. I disagree with some of what is said here (see caption) but the definitions and characteristics are spot-on.
Why Should I Care?
Heirloom seeds are being purchased by big agricultural companies to eliminate them from the open market and barter trade. Their motive is profiting from these varieties that have been cultivated for generations by families and communities and dominating the seed market globally. By owning the seed varieties they dictate what is available for people to grow for themselves, and ultimately control what foods are eaten throughout the world.
Hybrid seeds have been cross pollinated and developed by lots of Mendelian research techniques to deliver great disease resistance, fruit types, colors, flavors, and other valuable and desirable characteristics depending on the species. Are hybrids unnatural? No. What they are is an example of expedited evolution – we have forced plants to cross-pollinate where normally they would never meet in a natural environment. It could be argued that even all heirloom seeds were created this way initially.
GMO seeds are usually modified to make the plants resistant to insects, disease, or to broad-spectrum herbicides like Glyphosate which are sprayed on fields to keep competing plants/weeds from growing in between the rows of crops. It is largely limited to large-scale crops such as corn, wheat, sorghum, soy, canola, etc. Genetically-modifying these species has helped raise production of food from limited land areas, but there are questions as to the safety of eating the products of this modified food source.
Currently no studies have conclusively found evidence that people are being harmed by the presence of GMO products in their food, only from the increased presence of processed grains in the foods that are available in the marketplace causing issues linked to overindulgence like obesity, diabetes, and inflammatory diseases. But there are many cellular processes that are as-yet not understood, and we don’t know all of the effects of the interruption of the genetic code of the cells in our agricultural food has or will cause. I really encourage you to do your own research on the topic and make the decision for yourself. Here is a place to start.