Question: What type of plant food is best for my plant?

Answer: The exact plant name changes, but the question is always the same. Really, it’s been my experience that folks make more work out of picking fertilizers than they really need to. It’s not that precise a science. You should have your soil tested every couple of years, just to be sure your plants’ needs are being met. However, some general comments will at least get you started. Examine any product that claims to be a fertilizer and you’ll see three numbers on its label. They stand, respectively, for nitrogen (leaf and stem growth), phosphorus (roots, flowers and fruit) and potassium (summer and winter hardiness). That would lead you to a high-nitrogen fertilizer for turfgrasses, lettuce and shade trees, for example. It would also suggest high-phosphate plant foods for roses, tomatoes and newly transplanted shrubs that need to regrow their root systems. What you may not know, however, is that Texas soil tests often show excessive amounts of phosphorus, especially after we have gardened in a specific area for several years, and especially if we’ve been adding high-phosphate fertilizers during that time. Don’t be surprised if the soil tests suggest you use a lawn-type (high-nitrogen) fertilizer for many or all of your plantings. In clay soils, it’s even common that the test suggests a nitrogen-only fertilizer. Trust the tests. One final thing: check the fine print to see how much of the nitrogen in the bag is in a slow-release form. Ideally it will be one-half or more.

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