Long ago I gave up on the use of solid fertilizers and adding the individual
ingredients to each plant. It is a tedious, time consuming method, and there
is no way to get even distribution throughout the plants' root systems.
Finally, adding solid materials through a two inch mulch is a pain in the
The dilute solution I use distributes itself nicely throughout the root area
of the plant. An important point --- no part of the root system is in contact
with a strong fertilizer solution which can cause fertilizer burn. Although
the fertilizer solution is available at once, the plant takes only what it
needs and the bulk of the fertilizer material is absorbed by the soil
particles, and stored for future use. This stored fertilizer will be leached
out by subsequent rains or watering thus be available to the plant in
solution form. Always member that the roots of a plant can drink, but cannot
For 15 years I have grown more than 500 plants, roses, and daylilies, and
recently it has been more than 800 plants. Therefore, I need an efficient and
orderly fertilizing system to keep the time and labor down to a reasonable
figure, and at the same time, add the desired amounts of material to each
Make up 5 gallons of stock solution:
1-2lb. coffee can of Peter's 15-30-15
These materials are all water soluble. Water is added to the 5 gallon mark
while stirring. One 12 oz. can of stock solution contains the desired amount
of each ingredient for 1 large rose bush or 1 daylily clump. For miniature
roses or a small 1 - 2 fan daylily clump, I use a 6oz. can of stock solution.
The 5 gallons (640 liquid oz.) is enough for 53 plants (12 oz. can each) or
106 plants (6oz. can each).
1-2lb. coffee can fish emulsion
1-6oz. can Epsom Salts - Magnesium Sulfate
1-8oz. can Cygon - (Editor's note: Cygon is no longer available)
1 ounce Sequestrene - Iron Chelate
Note: I do NOT, repeat, do NOT apply the stock solution to the plants.
The Actual Procedure
In practice, the job is best done by two persons - 1 easy job and 1 active
job. A large garden cart (or wheelbarrow) near the bed, contains the 5 gallon
can of stock solution, 3 or 4 ten quart pails, a 12 oz. can and a 6 oz. can.
Person #1 (easy job) holds a running water hose (fast enough to fill up a 10
quart pail in a minute or less) and also dips (rubber gloves) a can full of
stock solution into each pail.
Person #2 (active job) lifts the full pails from the cart and pours the
dilute solution into the soil at the base of each plant. By working hard, it
is possible to fertilize 100 plants an hour, but 50-60 plants per hour is an
easy pace and will take care of my 800 plants in two days. But in those two
days the plants have (1) been watered and (2) have been fertilized for the
next six weeks and (3) have been protected from sucking insects for a month
to six weeks.
Of course, for the system to work, the soil should be loose and friable, as
it should be anyway, so the solution will soak into the ground and not run
off. Sometimes if the soil is hard, I cultivate around the base of the plants
before starting to fertilize. Usually this is not a problem for I like to add
cow manure in the fall or winter and also use ground corn cob mulch so the
ground is receptive and the solution goes right through the mulch (no
problem). Also I pour the dilute solution right into the center of a daylily
clump with no harm to the foliage.
Purpose of the Components:
The 15-30-15 soluble fertilizer is a good growing compostion and the high
phosphate corrects a general phosphate deficiency in the Pittsburgh area
soils. Not only that, but the solution distributes the phosphate throughout
the root area which solid phosphate fertilizers cannot do. If you think this
is too much nitrogen, change to 9-45-15 plant starter for May 15 and July 1
application (41% less nitrogen).
The fish emulsion adds hormones, vitamins and promotes vigorous growth. The
epsom salts supplies magnesium, in soluble form, required in photosynthesis.
Iron also gives deeper and richer colors, desirable in most cases, notably
lavenders, purples, and pinks. Too much iron, however, does not improve
bright scarlet roses and daylilies. The resultant deeper red is not nearly so
bright. The Cygon protects roses and daylilies against sucking insects like
aphids (deadly) and thrip. Roses are protected against rose midge. Cane
borers often start to drill a rose cane protected with Cygon and quit after
about 1/4 inch without laying eggs. Maybe they do not like the taste of the
Sometimes I add a growth hormone, or a soluble seaweed to the brew. You can
add your own magic components.