Wetmore's Gardening Advice - Frequently Asked Questions & General Gardening Tips
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General Gardening Tips - Common Topics:


The answers to many of the questions we get can be found within a few related subjects. These tips are designed to help you answer the most common gardening problems.



There are frequently asked gardening questions that do not fall into one of the four subjects discussed above. We will try and answer them to the best of our ability.



Q: What do the three numbers written on fertilizer containers stand for?


A: They stand (in order) for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. The numbers are the percentage of the fertilizer that is each substance. For example, 15-30-15 is a very common formulation of water soluble fertilizer. It is 15% nitrogen, 30% phosphorus, and 15% potassium. The remaining 40% are usually binders to keep the three main elements stable (Nitrogen is usually found as a gas!), although other nutrients such as magnesium are sometimes present. If so, they will be mentioned on the label in percentages, but not in the big three numbers.


Q: Which fertilizer do I need to use?


A: It all depends on what you are using the fertilzer for. Nitrogen is used to make chlorophyll, a green coloured substance which is necessary for the plant to make food for itself. Using a high nitrogen fertilizer will enhance the green colour of the plant and spur foliage growth.  Phosphorus is important for root growth, so high levels of this nutrient will help a new plant establish itself quickly and provide better water and nutrient uptake. It also enhances flower development. Potassium is useful for the overall health of the plant, from root growth to disease resitance and plant hardiness. A high potassium fertilizer is great as a preventative agent, protecting the plant from hardship.

        When establishing a new plant, root growth is most important. So fertilizers with high P & K numbers are best (15-30-15 and 6.5-26-26 are quite common). Established lawns use a high N fertilizer, as their roots are already established (25-3-3 is what we usually recommend). Usually you will find instructions on the bag itself to explain when and where it should be used, but if not ask an experienced gardener or garden centre speciallist for more details.


Q: How much sun do my plants need?


A: Plants are graded in three categories for sun exposure: full sun, part shade, & full shade. A full sun plant requires no less than six hours of sun a day during the growing season. Part shade plants only require 4 hours. Full shade plants require less than 4 hours of sun daily, and may even suffer if they get too much sun! Check the label to find the range that is suitable for that plant before you position it.


Q: What is topsoil?


A: Topsoil is the uppermost part of a mix of minerals and organic matter found in most areas. While the exact composition may vary greatly, it is always quite compact when compared to composts. It is created by the break down of organic matter (leaves, branches, tree trunks, etc.) and mineral deposits (rock outcroppings, rocks, etc.) over a long period of time. Most of the air pockets and loose sections have had time to dissipate. It builds up over time, its nutrients used by plants and insects until they are depleted. Topsoil is different than subsoil, the same material depleted and compressed over time by layers of sediment and more organic material. Good topsoil still has a great number of nutrients for use in growing plants. Depleted topsoil is essentially the same as subsoil, though not as dense, and is almost completely useless in gardening. A good sign is weed growth: good topsoil will have weeds if left alone for a few weeks; depleted soil will not.