How to feed your plants – give them a balanced fertiliser

By Andy McIndoe

As growth starts in spring

As plants start into growth, after the dormancy of winter, it’s time to think about feeding to get the best results from your garden in the coming season. Winter rainfall (we’ve certainly had our fair share of that in the UK) washes soluble nutrients from the soil which can leave them in short supply for plants at a critical time. Insufficient nutrients mean slower, weaker, growth which can result in disease and fewer flowers. You will undoubtedly be planting some new shrubs and perennials too; these need the right nutrients in the soil to get them going, so using the best fertiliser at the time of planting is important.

Add fertiliser  when planting

Availability of nutrients varies with soil type. Light sandy soils, shallow chalk soils and stony, gravelly soils that drain freely lose nutrients faster than soils like clay which are made up of fine particles. These hang on to nutrients more efficiently and are more fertile. Soils rich in organic matter re also better at hanging on to nutrients and supplying them to plants’ roots. The organic matter breaks down in the soil into a sticky substance containing humic acids or humates which hold the soil particles together loosely and trap moisture and nutrients. That’s why gardeners keep shovelling compost and well-rotted manure onto the soil to improve it.

Organic chicken manure pellets

There is a bewildering selection of fertilisers, organic and inorganic on the market. We are led to believe that organic is better; but is it? Organic fertilisers, derived from something that was once living release nutrients slowly, but the nutrient content is usually low and can be variable. Inorganic or chemical fertilisers usually release nutrients quickly and contain higher amounts of specific nutrients. Their contents can usually be analysed more accurately.

Roses are greedy feerers

The ideal situation is to have the best of both worlds: an organic-based fertiliser with enhanced nutrient content which includes all of those plant nutrients that are required in smaller amounts, but are nonetheless essential for plant growth and performance. I should also mention that ericaceous plants such as rhododendrons and camellias need specific fertilisers; they are fussy feeders and cannot cope with the high nutrient levels of general fertilisers.

Vitax Q4 professional

I often extol the virtues of Vitax Q4 professional. This is a balanced general fertiliser which contains all the vital plant nutrients and the trace elements that are essential for growth, flowering and fruit production. It is slow release and ideal to apply when the soil is moist at the beginning of the season. I use this when planting and around shrubs, roses, perennials, fruit trees and on the veg plot. A couple of handfuls sprinkled onto the soil surface and worked in gently with a border fork or hoe around a shrub is all that is required. This is an organic-based fertiliser with added nutrients.

Fuchsia 'Tom West'

I also use Vitax Q4 professional to add to growing media that I’ve used for growing bulbs. When I remove the bulbs from pots in spring I tip the growing medium into a barrow, add a few handfuls of Vitax Q4 professional and mix it up. I use this for potting seasonal bedding plants or even longer term subjects in containers. Vitax Q4 professional is not always recommended for use in pots, mainly because you can overdo it. Personally I do use it as a top dressing on permanently potted subjects – just a handful and then top up with some fresh growing medium.

Vitax Q4

Vitax Q4+ is a progression from the original fertiliser. This contains mycorrhizal fungi and is ideal when planting. These fungi develop into a mycelium which forms an association with the plant’s roots increasing the roots’ ability to absorb water and nutrients, so aiding establishment. Vitax Q4+ can also be used in growing media to promote strong root growth and development.

Tumbler tomatoes

Of course all solid fertilisers need to break down in the soil to release their nutrients; organic fertilisers do that slowly. So what if you want to supply readily available nutrients to your plants to get them going and give them a real boost? Some plants, such as tomatoes, are greedy feeders and need topping up with nutrients throughout the season. In these instances you use liquid fertilisers: ones that you dilute in water and apply. The nutrients are in solution and are therefore readily available to the plants.

Vitax Q4 Premium liquid Flowers and Fruit

Vitax Q4 Premium liquid fertilisers have been specially developed to give your plants all the benefits of Vitax Q4 straight away. Different formulations supply nutrient balance specifically for tomatoes, flowers and fruit, and vegetables. These liquid fertilisers contain organic nutrients for longer lasting feeding. They contain seaweed to stimulate plant growth; seaweed is also reputed to make plants more resistant to stress from lack of water. They also contain humates for healthy root development and water and nutrient uptake. So even if you have poor soil or tired growing media lacking in organic matter these fertilisers deliver essential humates.

Vitax Q4 Premium Vegetable Feed

Vitax Q4 Premium Flower and Fruit Feed is high in potash, the main plant nutrient required for flower and fruit production. Potash also helps to harden growth, potentially making foliage more resistant to disease and weather. Premium Vegetable Feed is high in nitrogen for leaf development and phosphate for roots. I know phosphate is lacking on my poor, sandy soil that’s why I always get hopeless results with crops such as beetroot and carrots. My potatoes do reasonably because I add plenty of nitrogen-rich compost and manure. Potatoes are stem tubers, not roots, so they need nitrogen for best results.


Even if you use Vitax Q4 as a general slow release fertiliser at the beginning of the season the Vitax Premium liquids range will really help to give your plants a boost. Just dilute in the watering can and apply when watering. It’s ideal for pots and containers and on all newly planted subjects.

To get more information about fertilisers and lots of helpful gardening hints visit:




Andy McIndoe

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