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At a recent presentation on container gardening the speaker talked about the importance of fertilizer. Although fertilizing is not foreign to me, I had never heard about or used a water soluble fertilizer on my plants, which she recommended. Here is what I learned about water soluble fertilizers and I hope it will make your plants strong and happy.

Water soluble fertilizers are fertilizers that can be dissolved in water and are applied directly to the plant through drip irrigation and foliar application to increase nutrient use efficiency.

Plants acquire nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and other essential soil-based elements through their roots. But it isn’t until you fully water plants—or they get a good, soaking rain—that soil-based elements become accessible to your plants’ roots. Once watered, your plants’ roots draw in much-needed moisture and the nutrients present in the resulting soil solution.

Unlike their slow-release counterparts, water soluble fertilizers easily dissolve in water and allow for the instant uptake of nutrients. Some water soluble fertilizers are commercially available as concentrated liquids. Others are dry preparations. To use, you measure out some of the concentrated liquid or the dry ingredients and mix with water. Then, you simply water with the quick-release fertilizer mixture. Because the included nutrients are already in solution, they’re immediately available to plants.

You can use water soluble fertilizers on new seedlings, in well-established gardens, and everywhere in between. Want to kick-start very young plants? Start with a relatively weak nutrient solution. Want to induce early flowering or early fruit formation? Incorporate phosphorus and micronutrients like zinc and manganese into the fertilizer you apply. As all of your plants grow larger, you can provide a stronger, all-purpose mixture every couple of weeks. Ditto for routine feedings of houseplants and container gardens.

You can apply water soluble nutrients with a simple watering can or even an elaborate irrigation system. Want to use water soluble fertilizers with drip irrigation? Just be sure that your chosen fertilizer is thoroughly mixed first. (You might also want to strain it to remove any potentially clogging particulates.) If you have a ferti-gation system set up, the water soluble fertilizer is mixed into a bucket as a concentrate, then distributed through the hose line at a set ratio so you can water and feed simultaneously. Besides directing liquid nutrients to your plants’ root zones, you can also apply them to plant leaves as a foliar spray. For this use, check your product label for foliar application instructions and dilute water soluble fertilizers accordingly. Then, decant your mixture into a clean spray bottle. Foliar feeding is particularly helpful if you need to take quick, corrective action. (To avoid burning your plants, lightly mist foliage when the ambient heat and humidity are low—early mornings or evenings are best.) Water soluble fertilizers provide a greater degree of control in terms of the strength of the nutrient solution you provide and the frequency with which you provide it. What’s more, because organic water soluble fertilizers also contain many essential micronutrients and even beneficial microorganisms, they feed your plants and the soil. That puts you in a better position to combat common issues like insect pests, plant pathogens, and adverse weather events like record heat and drought. Best of all, no matter what you grow, you can choose liquid formulas containing combinations of essential nutrients to meet any special requirement of crops.

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