Published on 06/16/97

Chilly Garden Plants Need Patience, Not Fertilizer

The cool, wet weather in much of the state, even into early June, may bring thoughts of cuddling up with a blanket. Many plants feel the same way.

"It's just been too cool for our plants to grow as we expect them to," said Wayne McLaurin, a horticulturist with the University of Georgia Extension Service. "We'll get some good growth when temperatures, especially nighttime temperatures, stay above 70 degrees."

But when many homeowners see their plants not growing as they should, they fertilize to give them a boost. "That's just about the worst thing you can do," McLaurin said.

Extra fertilizer can burn these young, tender plants, whether vegetables or ornamentals in the ground or in pots, before they get a good start.

When plants show burn symptoms -- black-brown spots, withered leaves or yellowing -- they're more vulnerable to disease organisms, too, he said. Disease-causing bacteria, fungi or viruses invade the plant where it's weakest. Already weakened plants often can't outgrow the infection and will die.

"Keep an eye on your plants and remove and destroy leaves or limbs that show disease symptoms," McLaurin said. "If you wait until the plants are devastated, you haven't got a chance to save them with any treatments."

To help fight diseases in young plants, make sure they have good air flow all around them and, when possible, aren't touching. Thin out thickly planted beds or rows. "That can help air flow and slow the spread of organisms, if they're present, from plant to plant," he said.

Check the soil and drainage saucers in all your potted plants to make sure they're draining well, too. Standing water can cause roots to rot, eventually killing the plant. Poke holes into the soil to allow air to move through the soil, drying the roots and providing vital oxygen.

McLaurin said spring and winter vegetables are faring well, though. Leafy greens are thriving -- cabbage, spinach, kale, lettuce and broccoli are doing fine during this unusually cool spring.

Only the summer vegetables are waiting for warm weather before they take off. Tomatoes, okra and squash show the least growth in this chilly spring.

McLaurin said even ornamental plants show little sign of normal spring growth. "They, too, grow better when temperatures rise and stay above 70," he said.

"You just need to have a little patience with the weather," he said. "When it warms up, your plants will start growing."