As cold as it’s been, veteran gardeners are itching to get out and plant. We’re only a few weeks away from the “spring thaw”. It’s easy to ignore plants you already have when there are so many tempting new things to try in your garden. Before you add to your garden population by adopting the latest new varieties, you might want to make sure the plants you have already are properly nourished.

People tend to “set it and forget it” when it comes to perennials, shrubs and trees; in fact, one reason perennials are so popular is that you don’t need to re-plant every year. They just get bigger and better. That’s true up to a point, however your existing plants will perform much, much better if you simply feed them early each year with a good multi-vitamin, multi-mineral formula time-release fertilizer.

As plants grow, they gradually deplete all the nutrition in the soil. They compensate by expanding their root systems, searching for food, but eventually they will slow down and fail to thrive if you don’t replace the vitamins and minerals they use up. How long could you, yourself, survive if you didn’t eat regularly?

The best way to feed plants is gently and gradually, so they won’t burn. This is one reason why we recommend time-release granules or pulverized fertilizers instead of liquids like “Miracle-Gro”. Another reason is that plants won’t feed unless the soil is warm. Liquids will quickly wash away unless they are absorbed by the plant, whereas time-release granules stay in the soil until the plant needs them.

We particularly like the Espoma Organic “Tones”, like Plant-Tone, Holly-Tone, Bulb-Tone, Tree-Tone and so on. These are old-fashioned, fertilizer mill, powdered plant foods, specially blended with the “right stuff” for each category of plants. They can be applied right now, simply scattered on the ground around the base of each plant. The spring rains will soak them into the ground and your plants will start to feed as the soil warms up.

Liquid fertilizers tend to be very high in Nitrogen but low in trace minerals. Your soil is very likely lacking key trace minerals like Boron and Zinc, which are very important for healthy fruiting and bloom. Fertilizer blends like Espoma Tones will restore depleted soils, which is magic for any kind of plant. Complaints like “blossom end rot” and premature fruit drop are often caused by malnutrition. Simply adding nitrogen doesn’t really help, because the plant needs trace minerals and soil microbes in order to absorb nitrogen properly. “Tone” fertilizers include soil microbes, called mycorrhizae, which are essential for digestion.

Healthy root systems are the key to survival in the long run. We always mix powdered fertilizer into the soil when planting, but yearly feeding will help a plant build strong roots and stems that will see it through drought and cold winters. Now is the time, as you clean out your garden and before mulching, to scatter a quality plant food on the bare soil around your perennials, shrubs and trees. Be generous. Your plants will thank you later.

Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in landscape “makeovers”. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are online at For more information call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.