Florida Fall Gardening Starts NOW!

Florida Fall Gardening Starts Now!

Florida has the distinction of being the Southern-most of the 48 contiguous States, and as such, our growing and gardening seasons are a bit different than most of the rest of the country.  

gardening plant hardiness zone map from the USDA
Our Agricultural Zones for our beautiful state – what it really says: “It’s HOT”.

People that move here from more northern climates are a bit lost at first when it comes to gardening. They’re used to the commercials for big box stores telling them when to plant – and having that information be correct.  Here, it’s not necessarily correct, in fact, they can steer you completely wrong!  Here’s a nice guide I wrote for our “Northern Transplants” to the Sunshine state. 

In response to the #1 question we get at Shell’s – “what can I plant right now?” – this week’s blog is about what you can do right now to start your Florida Fall Garden.

Florida Fall Gardening Seed Planting

Because we can garden in Florida all year long, it’s hard to sometimes figure out what to plant when.  The UF/IFAS guides are very helpful in this.  Here’s the August chart from the extension office:

what to plant in august gardening guide
The UF/IFAS extension office service has great guides on what to do when in the garden. I tend to follow the North “Easily Survives Transplanting” and the Central list for my Fall Seeds that I plant in August.

As you can see, August is a great time to start your seeds for Fall.  Most everything you can grow in Spring can be grown in Fall.  There are exceptions, of course, and we go over that in our “What to Plant in Your Fall Florida Garden” class – coming soon as an online webinar course for social distancing purposes!

Seed Planting – Sow in pots or in the ground?

Another common question is “Where/how should I plant my seeds?”

gardening places to plant seeds
There’s many options on where to plant seeds!

Well, the best answer I can give is “it depends.”

Some crops cannot be transplanted very easily, and those should be planted directly in the ground (or wherever they’re going to live their lives).  Others grow really easily no matter where you’re starting them, and thus can be done in seed trays or pots – or the EarthBOX!

Examples of plants that shouldn’t be transplanted because they damage very easily: carrots, celery, mustards. That said, people have done transplanting with few issues!

Gardening is an adventure – the purpose is to TRY things and see if they work!

What growing medium should I plant my seeds in for any type of gardening?

There’s so many answers to this question.  Potting soil works just fine for most people.  It’s got good drainage, aeration, and organic material.

growing mediums in gardening for seed planting
Many options for seed starting that we carry here at Shell’s! Even more than what is pictured here!

Many people really like seed starting or germination mixes as well. These mixes are lighter weight to ensure that the seeds don’t rot and have the best chance of sprouting. Most of them have no soil in them whatsoever, rather they’re made of things like coco coir, peat moss, perlite, vermiculite, and/or compost.

Do my seeds need fertilizer to be put in the soil/germination medium?

I absolutely LOVE this question. Because the answer is NO. Seeds have everything they need to sprout already inside them – and that makes gardening just a little bit easier.

 Had to put some nerdy biology stuff in here – it’s literally in my DNA. This is an example anatomy of a seed (Source: Encyclopedia Britannica).

See that big grey area of the body of the corn kernal? That area is a stockpile of energy that the embryo uses to grow and differentiate into to roots, stems and leaves, and it’s called the endosperm.  It uses that until it can grow to the point where it starts its own photosynthesis. Pretty cool, right?

Beginner’s gardening tip: Seeds will need water – not too much! – and warmth to sprout.

Once they have their second/third leaves, then they’re about ready for some extra food when you transplant to help them get through the shock of transplanting. 

>>>Don’t know how to transplant? Don’t worry, we’ll be covering that at the beginning of next month right here in the blog!  So look out for that.<<<

What is this colored stuff on my seeds?

Some seeds have a coloration coated on their surfaces.  The purpose could be one of two things.

the purpose of seed coloring, gardening
Examples of seeds that are colored.

The first, and most common in bulk seeds, is a light coating of a water-soluble fungicide. The purpose of this coat is to protect susceptible seeds from rotting due to fungus in the soil before it has time to sprout.

You see, fungus is GREAT to have in the soil for decomposition of your organic materials like leaves, sticks, and compost. BUT, the same fungi that do that magical work can also decompose more fragile seeds before they have a chance to do their thing, decreasing your germination rates significantly.

But don’t worry, those fungicides break down very quickly and don’t have a lasting effect on the local biodiversity and ecosystem.  It just gives the seeds a fighting chance.  None of the fungicide ends up in the food you’re trying to produce (promise!!).

Fungi are awesome at reproduction! (Source: YellowElanor.com)

The other reason to color the seeds are for the purpose of seeing the seeds that you put in the soil. Some seeds are very small and hard to see, so some companies put a harmless coloring on the seeds to make them stand out against the color of the soil.  So if you drop one, or plant too many in a hole while you’re gardening, you can find them and put them where they belong.

The other reason to color the seeds are for the purpose of seeing the seeds that you put in the soil. Some seeds are very small and hard to see, so some companies put a harmless coloring on the seeds to make them stand out against the color of the soil.  So if you drop one, or plant too many in a hole, you can find them and put them where they belong.

Next Steps: Pick and Plant Your Fall Gardening Seeds

So what are you waiting for? Let’s get you started on your Fall Garden. Get seeds for things that you want to plant.

fall gardening
This is what you have to look forward to when you start seeds right now for Fall!

I like to use seeds for things that are easy to grow. I also like to use them for vegetables/fruits that you can’t often find as a starter plant.  Specialty and rare plants, heirloom varieties, and very specific hybrids are just some of the reasons to pick up seeds.

 (by the way, starter plants arrive at Shell’s in September…just FYI)

Have a list of seeds you’re looking for, or have extra to trade? Join our Shell’s Garden Community on Facebook and talk to other local gardeners in there to make some swaps! You can also ask questions and get answers from our group members (and me!).

Shell's Garden Community - your private group about local gardening on Facebook!
Join us!

Normally I’d be inviting you to a free Monthly Community Seed Swap, but because of COVID-19 these activities are suspended right now.  Of course you can always use the store as a meetup point to make your swaps, we’d love to see you!

I hope this article helps get you motivated to start some seeds for your Fall Garden right now.

I hope this article helps get you motivated to start some seeds for your Fall Garden right now.

Until next time, Keep Growing!

Sincerely,

Marissa

A Secret View Into a Garden Writer’s Garden

Hi there Gardening Friends!

It’s getting to be that HOT time of year! But really, I’ve not seen it so MILD as it has been this year (2020) this late in the year! Some parts of our country had SNOW just a week ago, and here in Central Florida we had temperatures in the 60s in MAY! It’s really been a special Spring season this year. I hope you’ve been outside enjoying is as much as possible.

I don’t know about you but my garden is doing pretty well!

I thought I’d take this opportunity to show you pictures from my garden, what I’ve been up to, and some of the interesting thing’s I’ve seen and done. I haven’t even gotten around to planting everything I wanted to – Coronavirus stole most of my free time and energy this Spring trying to make sure we had our store open to serve you – but I’m enjoying what I do have, and stuff from Winter/Spring is not bolting as quickly because of the cooler temperatures.

I did plant a lot more flowers than usual this year, and the bees and butterflies are loving it. I planted a lot of wildflowers as well, and that patch hasn’t bloomed yet, I think it will have to get a bit hotter to make that really thrive. Some of the Florida Native wildflowers I planted never germinated, so will have to try again. Hey, even us garden writers have failures!!

Right now, my sweet potato slips are going very strong – great young vines developing right now that I’ll be attempting to train to climb my hog panel trellis (it’s like herding cats…really). Some of the ones that get a little unruly I clip and root to give to friends and neighbors. If you have lots of leaves already, you can use some of the really young tender leaves in recipes like you would spinach (great tip for you foodies out there!).

My sweet potato bed – the new slips are on the left, the ONE slip that was planted in January is the rest!

The vines that are already climbing the trellis are from a slip that I found growing on my counter and stuck in the ground in January. Yes, that’s right, all that is from ONE slip. Sweet potatoes LOVE Florida. Did you know that they are part of the same family as morning glories? That’s why they have those pretty purple flowers!

Speaking of potatoes, and flowers, my regular potatoes made flowers – I usually miss them when they bloom but I happened to get pictures this time. I have a row each of Red Pontiac, White Kennebec, and Yukon Gold, and the flowers bloomed on a couple of my Red Pontiac plants.

An elusive Potato flower, on my Red Pontiac potato plant!

Potatoes are part of the nightshade family, and you can see the relation to other nightshades like eggplant and tomatoes in the shape of the flowers and the stalks. It’s amazing how similar they all are structurally! I’m hoping to see the tomato-like “fruits” happen after the flowers are spent. If I see them I’ll be sure to snap a picture and share it on our social media page. No, you can’t eat those fruits from the potato flowers – they’re usually poisonous.

Pigeon peas, before they were stolen! I suspect tree rats!

Something has been stealing my pigeon peas…I got a good 2 rounds of harvest from my one pigeon pea “tree” and I get flowers on the tree, and haven’t seen any peas since. I do, however, see pods on the ground…so it’s likely squirrels. They’re robbing me of my pigeon peas and rice dinners…not happy about that. I did plant some more pigeon peas, so When those grow up maybe I can get some harvested before they all get eaten by the tree rats.

One of two remaining cabbages waiting to be harvested.

I still have carrots and a cabbage left from the winter…probably going to pull all of them out here pretty soon and make way for more cowpeas in that bed. I’ve been planting a lot of marigolds to help keep the bad pests away, and it definitely seemed to help my cabbages! Plus that bed is faltering in it’s nitrogen content – some of the plants that do grow are runts, so it’s time to plant beans so that the nitrogen can get fixed in the soil. I’ll probably have to get some Shell’s 3-3-3 organic into that bed to help the beans and cowpeas along a little bit. I try not to use too much fertilizer at all if I can help it through crop rotation, but sometimes you just have to help nature along a little bit!

Moringa tree sprouts – only 3 of 12 sprouted, I hope they make it!!

I also planted a few Moringa seeds that I picked up from a lovely couple at one of our Seed Swaps, but only 3 of the 12 germinated. I’m doing everything I can to hang on to those seedlings, I really want some Moringa trees! It’s a great superfood, and nearly everything on the tree is edible!

Last year about this time I wrote an article about Summer gardening with lots of great tips and advice in it, and it’s still relevant this year, so I wanted to link to it here so you could go back and read it. Please go check it out!

shells feed garden supply tampa florida guide to summer garden
Summer growing article I wrote last year

One of the most asked questions we get at the store is “What should I plant right now?” Normally if you’re in the store we hand you one of our garden guides, which has a handy-dandy planting chart on one side and advice for the gardening chores to do this month on the other, and send you on your way with whatever products you came in for that day. This article from last year goes a little deeper, and even has some other great links inside it. Do check it out when you get a chance.

I could keep writing about my garden – I love it so much – but I will stop there for now. My garden is my place to take out frustration (very satisfying pulling weeds, and hand-tilling the soil), get some sunshine and fresh air, and see beautiful things. All in my own back yard. I’m happiest when I’m out there, hanging out with the dogs, working on a project with my fiance, or just sitting and relaxing on the swing.

Petunia, Ping Pongs, Red Salvia

I hope you’ve made your own beautiful place. If you haven’t, what’s stopping you?

We’re here to help.

Until next time, keep growing!

Marissa

We Bet You Didn’t Know This About Spring Gardening In Florida

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.

See? Our Ag University backs me up on this!

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.

From the UF IFAS

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!

Citrus is making a comeback!

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.

shells feed garden supply tampa florida earthbox garden spring 2019 gardening plan planning
An Earthbox garden – look at all those healthy, weed-free plants!

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!

Our most popular class, Susan does a great job showing folks the Earthbox ropes! Also someone from the class will WIN the demo box we plant in the class together!

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.

Yes, we can grow roses here 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.

Until next time, Tampa – Keep Growing!

~Marissa

Solving the Garden Aisle of Mystery, Part 2: More Soil Amendments Explained

In Part 1 of the Solving the Garden Aisle of Mystery series, we talked about some soil amendments and what they do. This article is a continuation of that, adding a few more to the list. As in the Part 1, I’ll be going in alphabetical order here, just to keep it organized.

The Garden Aisle of Mystery – Soil Amendments!

Fish Emulsion 5-1-1

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! 😉

16 oz: https://shellsfeed.com/shop/lawn-garden/fertilizers-soil-amendments/fertilome-fish-emulsion-5-1-1-fertilizer-16-oz-jug/

1 gallon: https://shellsfeed.com/shop/lawn-garden/fertilizers-soil-amendments/fertilome-fish-emulsion-1-gallon-jug/

Gypsum

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!

6 lb bag: https://shellsfeed.com/shop/lawn-garden/fertilizers-soil-amendments/espoma-gypsum-6-lb-bag/

50 lb bag of pelletized Gypsum: https://shellsfeed.com/shop/lawn-garden/fertilizers-soil-amendments/gypsum-micro-pellet-50-lb-bag/

Iron

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.

1 pint Chelated Liquid Iron: https://shellsfeed.com/shop/lawn-garden/fertilizers-soil-amendments/southern-ag-liquid-iron-1-pint-container/

Granulated Iron 5 lbs: https://shellsfeed.com/shop/lawn-garden/fertilizers-soil-amendments/southern-ag-iron-granules-5-lb-bag/

Granulated Iron 25 lbs: https://shellsfeed.com/shop/lawn-garden/fertilizers-soil-amendments/southern-ag-iron-granules-25-lb-bag/

Milorganite (the Lawn Pro edition): https://shellsfeed.com/shop/lawn-garden/fertilizers-soil-amendments/milorganite-pro-6-4-0-fertilizer-50-lb-bag/

Kelp

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.

Kelp Green 1 Qt: https://shellsfeed.com/shop/lawn-garden/fertilizers-soil-amendments/southern-ag-kelp-green-concentrate-1-qt-bottle/

Fox Farm has an awesome Kelp product for your plants too. This company is really dedicated to sustainable practices, and their products are top notch!

Fox Farm’s Kelp Me Kelp You: https://shellsfeed.com/shop/lawn-garden/fertilizers-soil-amendments/foxfarm-bushdoctor-kelp-me-kelp-you-plant-food-16oz/

Minor Elements

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)

1 lb bag: https://shellsfeed.com/shop/lawn-garden/fertilizers-soil-amendments/southern-ag-essential-minor-elements-1-lb-bag/

5 lb bag: https://shellsfeed.com/shop/lawn-garden/fertilizers-soil-amendments/southern-ag-essential-minor-elements-5-lb-bag/

25 lb bag: https://shellsfeed.com/shop/lawn-garden/fertilizers-soil-amendments/southern-ag-essential-minor-elements-25-lb-bag/

Muriate of Potash

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.

Muriate of Potash 4 lb bag: https://shellsfeed.com/shop/lawn-garden/fertilizers-soil-amendments/hi-yield-muriate-of-potash-4-lb-bag/

That wraps up Part 2 of the Solving the Garden Aisle of Mystery series! This series will continue probably after our upcoming Spring activities and promotions.

As always, we are here to help with any questions you might have. Stop in and see our awesome staff and pick up your garden, pet, and DIY pest control supplies today!

I hope these explanations help you decipher the crazy Soil Amendments aisle! Until next time….Keep Growing!

Marissa

Be Confident in Your Fertilizer Choices Today

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.

Here is an example of a fertilizer for a new lawn with N-P-K of 18-24-12.

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.

Here’s a specialty fertilizer for Palms, Ixoras, and other plants/trees with similar needs.

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.

As soon as I’m done writing this blog, I mean…

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:

100 / 4 = 25 lbs; 100 / 6 = 16.7 lbs; 100 / 8 = 12.5 lbs

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

The Nitrogen Cycle

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.

Too much Nitrogen (bottom leaf)

What Phosphorus Does for Plants

Phosphate is a naturally occurring source of the Phosphorus found in fertilizers.

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.

Phosphorus deficiency – notice the purple edges?

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.

Notice the yellowing and browned edges of this leaf – this is Potassium deficiency.

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.

Here’s the soil test kit we carry – it’s very useful!

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.

Midwest Laboratories
13611 B Street, Omaha, NE
68144; 402-334-7770 www.midwestlabs.com

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

See? Plants CAN talk back!

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.

This aisle can be overwhelming…so let us help!

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.

Make your own organic material by composting!

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.

Want to learn how to turn your kitchen and plant waste into food for your soil? Come to our Composting 101 class on 11/2/2019 at 10 am with Amanda Streets from the Pinellas Community Composting Alliance! You’ll learn everything you need to know to get started!

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.

Keep growing!

Marissa

P.S. Want to know more about WHEN to use fertilizer? Check out this article I wrote previously: