Strawberries need less fertiliser than heavy feeders such as corn or tomatoes. Too much nitrogen causes excessive top growth and creates weak plants that are prone to disease. Nonetheless, small amounts of nitrogen benefit strawberries, because the shallow soil layers where the plants feed lose nutrients quickly. Imbalances of potassium or phosphorous also could affect plant health and shift soil pH outside the best range for strawberries.
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Miracle-Gro All Purpose Plant Food dissolves in water for weekly or bi-weekly feedings throughout the year. Miracle-Gro's formula of 24-8-16 emphasises nitrogen and potassium. Potassium stimulates growth in all parts of plants by improving nutrient flow. Nitrogen increases the amount of top growth and gives plants a dark green colour. Too much nitrogen creates top-heavy plants without an equally strong root system. In strawberries, Miracle-Gro's formula could produce lush stands of weak plants. Applied during fruiting season, this imbalanced fertiliser could shift the plant's energy to vegetative growth and stunt berry development.
Testing the garden soil six months before planting allows accurate adjustments of soil nutrients to meet the specific needs of strawberries. Adding nitrogen, potassium or phosphorous to the soil changes the acidity, which should remain between 5.5 to 6.5 for strawberries. A proper soil test and advice from an extension service agent provide enough information to add the proper amounts of missing nutrients. Without a soil test, use a balanced fertiliser such as 10-10-10, recommends E. Barclay Poling of the North Carolina State University Extension. One month after planting, scatter 2.27kg. of 10-10-10 fertiliser over a 100-foot row. In August, before next year's buds form, repeat with only 1.13kg. of 10-10-10 fertiliser.
In home gardens, strawberries sometimes receive extra nutrients from lawn runoff. Strawberries planted along the edges of lawns could grow well with less fertiliser than usual. Where fertiliser applications could overlap, fertilise berry beds with 5-10-5 fertiliser at a rate of 2.27kg. for every 100 feet of row, says Ronald C. Smith of the North Dakota State University Extension. Border plantings don't need spring fertiliser if the lawn receives a spring fertiliser treatment, but feed second-year plants after the berry harvest in June, and again in August. If strawberries show light green leaf colour and poor growth in the spring, the bed needs fertiliser.
In soils already well-supplied with phosphorous and potassium, strawberries still grow better with light applications of nitrogen. Use a side dressing of only 0.68kg. of 33-0-0 ammonium nitrate fertiliser for 100 feet of strawberry bed, a month after planting the bed. Keep the fertiliser off leaves and stems to prevent burning the plants. Cut the August application to only 0.34kg. of 33-0-0 fertiliser. A light application of nitrogen in late summer provides essential nourishment while the plant forms next year's flower buds.
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