Those of you getting ready to set transplants in your garden should remember what Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies used to say, "everything goes better with a little spring tonic." For your plants, spring tonic is root stimulator, not a snort full of Granny's moonshine.
In the early spring when soils are cold, plant roots do not readily absorb nutrients and water. As the soil gradually warms, the roots become more efficient in absorbing nutrients and water. The root stimulators or starter solutions provide a mild fertilizer application along with water around the plants' root zone where it can be easily taken up and used by the plant.
When putting new transplants in the ground, a starter solution or root stimulator is a mild fertilizer that helps the plants get established. Most root stimulators are high in phosphate, which is important for early growth and root development; however some nitrogen is important as well.
The importance of using root stimulator is increasing because many transplants being produced are now grown in "light" mixes -- holding very little nutrients and relying on fertilizer mixed with water to allow the plants to grow. When the plants get to the garden centers and other marketing locations, the fertilizer solutions are often not used.
So when you purchase these plants they need some fertilizer to keep up their vigorous growth. Be sure to follow label directions on any commercial root stimulator that you buy because you can damage the plants if you apply it incorrectly.
If you want to be like Granny and make your own: mix 2 to 3 tablespoons of fertilizer in a gallon of water. (Note: garden fertilizer will not completely dissolve in water so mix it up a few hours before use to allow the fertilizer to leach out into the water. Granny calls it "letting it breathe").
Use about 1 cup of water (containing the root stimulator or your own special batch) around each plant when it is set in the ground. Then sit back and watch what a little spring tonic can do.
-- The Garden Calendar is sponsored by K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County office and written this week by Master Gardener Bill Padgett. For more information call the Master Gardener Hotline, 843-7058, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.