Ask a Master Gardener: Can I still fertilize this late?



Short-season vegetables like radishes need a fertilizer of 5-10-10 formulation in a band 2 to 3 inches to the side of a row.


Question: I'm a little late with my garden this year. Can I fertilize now?

Answer: It's still early in the season, though this has been an extraordinarily warm spring. However, most plants will greatly benefit from a reasonable feeding at this point.

If you're talking vegetables, they divide into two groups when talking fertilizers. There's the short-season ones (radish, spinach, lettuce, greens) and there's the long-season ones (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, corn).

Short-season vegetables need a fertilizer of 5-10-10 formulation in a band 2-3 inches to the side of a row. Long-season plants need the same mix, but a bit more. If you have scattered plants and not rows, top dress between plants and scratch it into the ground, being careful not to disturb the plant roots.

It depends on you as to what to use. There are organic as well as non-organic fertilizers.

Fruit trees normally do not need fertilizer. Shrubs and flowers, particularly ones that are fairly young, will benefit from a fertilizer boost. Read the directions for application found on all packages for amounts.

Q: I really don't understand how much water my plants need, and I need some information before the hot part of the summer comes.

A: Though we've had the warmest and sunniest spring that I can remember, the time soon will come when our plants will need water. Meteorologists say that our summers qualify as a drought condition, so it only makes sense we have to help our valuable plants out.

Once warm temperatures arrive and rainfall slows to only occasional, how long to water becomes an important question. And it depends on a lot of things. Here are some to keep in mind:

-- Most plants in Western Washington will need water in the summer.

-- Shallow watering is not good. It leads to shallow rooting.

-- You can water any time of the day, but you'll save money by not watering in the daytime, as evaporation is highest in the heat of the day. However, if you water at night you risk encouraging fungus. Best time to water is early in the morning.

-- The right amount of water is good. Too little is bad, as is too much. Apply no more water than the soil can absorb.

Plants need more water in warmer weather. Sprinkling them probably does more harm than good. Water deeply less often, only when by sticking your finger into the soil you find it dry as far as your finger will reach. Oscillating or wand sprinklers are great aids in your watering work.

It takes 11/2 inches of water to penetrate to the depth of 1 foot in loamy soil, 3/4 inch of water to do the same in sand, and 21/2 inches for clay soil.

Without water plants will not thrive, maybe not even survive.

However, air penetration between waterings is also necessary. Mild drying stress even helps with triggering bud set on flowering plants. So don't water every day or even every other day.

Experienced gardeners know soaker hoses or a drip system are great investments for their gardens. Equally beneficial is a mulch that slows the rate of evaporation. It can be organic (shredded leaves, bark, sawdust) or plastic.

A last note on watering: Any new plant, or plant that is 2 years old or less, must be kept well watered as it becomes established. This goes for any kind of plant-shrub, perennial or tree. Vegetables will need extra water, and plants in containers dry out quickly and may need to be watered a few times a day.

Q: I've heard there are some good apps for gardeners. Can you steer me to them?

A: There are so many! I will give you a few:

What's In My Garden? - $1.99.

Garden Compass - free.

The Garden Time Planner - free.

Landscaper's Companion - $4.99.

You can also ask gardening friends what apps they might use.

Many more come online every year, as developers are finally grasping the huge marketing potential of millions of devoted gardeners.


Master Gardener Kathleen Bander is a resident of Bellingham and life-long gardener. For more information on Whatcom County Master Gardeners, go to Ask a Master Gardener will appear in The Bellingham Herald weekly through the summer growing season. If you have a gardening question you'd like answered in the column, please email it to

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