Gardeners’ World: Monty Don stresses downside of overfeeding plants ‘Gaining nothing!’

Gardeners World: Monty Don's advice on topiary

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In a recent episode of Gardeners’ World, Monty Don was taking viewers through the various feed options for plants, flowers and crops. Those watching a home saw the presenter explain the benefits of the three main nutrients and his advice for when it came to getting the best results. But Monty was quick to warn gardeners from overfeeding and not following instructions. 

“This business of feeding a plant, giving it what it wants, I know can seem a mysterious, if not tortuous process,” Monty began. 

“And I’d like to just simplify the whole question of feeding. 

“And there are three main nutrients that have dominated plant feed, whether it’s agricultural or horticultural, since the Second World War. 

“These are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. NPK,” he revealed. 

“So if you have nitrogen, for example, that will boost the green growth, the foliage. Grass is the obvious example, and if a plant is short of nitrogen, it will be stunted and may well start to turn yellow. 

“And a really rich source of nitrogen to feed plants comes from manure; horse manure, cattle manure. 

“You need to make sure it’s well-rotted because it’s too rich otherwise. But also typically chicken manure. This is chicken manure in pellets,” Monty said. 

“The second ingredient, P, phosphorous, is essential to encourage germination, root growth and the ability of the plant to take up other nutrients. 

“Sources of that – bonemeal is a traditional source. You can also get rock phosphates that you sprinkle onto the soil and that will help the uptake. 

“The final element, which is potassium, is potash, influences the development of flowers and fruit. 

“This is wood ash, and I add this around my fruit trees, gooseberries, for example,” the gardener discussed. 

“You can buy mixtures of pellets that you can add and you can make your own feed which is rich in potassium from comfrey. 

“If you grown comfrey plants, harvest the leaves, fill a bucket with them, steep that with water, leave it for about three or four weeks and then drain it off. 

“You [then] get a rather foul-smelling, slightly brown, treacly liquid, which you then mix with water. [It] makes a very good feed for boosting flowers, fruit and root development.” 

But there was an alternative which Monty spoke about: “Nettles make a very good high nitrogen feed as well as having potassium. 

“In the end, nothing is better for soil than good organic matter and especially garden compost. 

“But if you can’t make you own feed, you can’t make compost, if you’re going to buy a feed, you can’t go wrong if you use a basic tomato feed. 

“You will find that every plant feed label has the proportions of NPK on it, but a tomato feed has a high proportion of potassium and that’s really good to promote masses of flowers and lots of fruiting. 

“And I’m a great fan of seaweed, and I feed all my containers with a weekly liquid sewed feed from about June onwards,” he told viewers. 

“Don’t overfeed. You’re gaining nothing!

“Don’t mix it up and stronger than it says, and you never need to feed more than once a week. 

“What you want is a healthy plant and not on that grows fast and then flops,” Monty advised. 

Gardeners World airs Friday nights at 9pm on BBC Two.  

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