Wake up and smell the roses because this has been an early spring and roses are not waiting for summer to bloom.
This is your cue to fertilize your roses, perennials, annuals and other plants having a spring growth spurt.
Don’t worry so much about what type of plant food to use — plants cannot read the labels, so your roses won’t be offended if you feed them with the tomato food, and your tomatoes will not turn into roses if you feed them with a flower fertilizer. Just give them all something to eat now.
Compost is great for your soil, but compost is not a fertilizer — it feeds the soil, and the soil nourishes the plants, but this takes time. Liquid plant foods, including organic liquid plant foods, work quickly. But they are the most likely to burn or damage the new growth of your plants if applied to the foliage of plants on a sunny day.
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The best way to use any plant food, liquid, granular, slow release, organic or solid is to read and follow the instructions on the label. Potted plants always need more fertilizer than plants growing in the ground. Soil that has been improved with compost year after year may be fertile enough to support plants without the need for additional fertilizers. For this reason, make more compost and layer it on top of your soil in early summer once the soil has warmed. Compost is like frosting on a cake, so spread it around.
Here are questions from readers, with answers.
Q. What would cause a petunia to change color? My petunia plant had purple and white splashes on the petals, but the new blooms are solid purple. It is a hanging basket in full sun. W.G., Sumner
A. Cool nights, hot days or any extreme in temperature will influence the color of flower petals. The change in color may be temporary, and once summer arrives and the temperatures are more stable, your petunia should stop dragging out different personas and decide what color it most wants to identify with. Not all flowers were born this way. Some stay true to form no matter what their environment is like.
Q. I planted some pansies a few weeks ago. Now it looks like some of the lower leaves are turning yellow and purple. Almost like a bruise. Is this some type of pansy disease? N.L., Kalama
A. It sounds like a bruised ego is all, because when leaves turn purple the most common cause is not adapting well to the cold night temps after spending the first eight weeks of life in a heated greenhouse. Your pansies will recover soon, and the next time you bring home new plants either have them spend a few nights on a covered porch or patio or protect them for the first week outdoors by tossing a sheet over plants set into the ground, or by moving potted plants under cover at night.
Q. Help! I had an ugly clematis that was full of brown dead wood at the bottom of the vine, then green growth then more dead wood and green at the tips. This vine is a decade old and huge. I was told to just cut it back to the ground in the spring to get rid of all the dead brown wood. I did the pruning in March, and there is still no new growth. Did I kill my clematis? W.G., Sumner
A. My guess is no. Clematis are the Lazarus vine, coming back to life sometimes years after the gardener gives up all hope. You did not mention what type of clematis got the close shave — the early spring blooming clematis that are evergreen, such as Clematis Armandi and Avalanche, hate spring haircuts.
Pruning after blooming is the general rule of green thumb. If you pruned a June flowering clematis like Nelly Moser the vine may be sulking a bit now but should sprout and bloom later in the summer. March is a bit early to be pruning summer flowering clematis. Next time, wait until mid April or when you see fresh green growth. Try to thin out the oldest canes and shorten up the longest vine, but leave some foliage to support the roots below.
Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.
May 14: 10 a.m., Windmill Gardens, 16009 60th St. E., Sumner. The topic is “Layering the Landscape.” $5 fee. Register at 253-863-5843 or windmillgarden.com.
May 14: 12:30 p.m., Tukwila Backyard Wildlife Festival at Tukwila Community Center, 12424 42nd Ave. S., Seattle. The topic is “You Can Save the World — Tips and Shortcuts to Encourage Pollinators and Wildlife in your Garden.” Free. backyardwildlifefestival.org.