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A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Tuesday - July 05, 2011

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Shrubs
Title: What fertilizer can make potted plants flower in Austin, TX?
Answered by: Jimmy Mills

QUESTION:

I have a Lantana and esmarelda planted in large pots. They froze last winter but have both come back strong except they do not bloom even though I have fertilized. Is there something special I need to feed them to get them to bloom in pots?

ANSWER:

In checking our Database, I find that there are four species of Lantana that grow in Texas. The name Esmeralda is used as a common name for various plants, and is also the genus name of a group of orchid plants. In short, Mr. Smarty Plants isn’t entirely sure which plants we are dealing with.

However, fertilization may be at the root of the problem, so lets talk about that.  First of all, plants that have frozen and are trying to grow back are under stress. Generally, we recommend that plants under stress shouldn’t be fertilized. In your case, the plants seem to have come back and are exhibiting good vegetative growth, but you want them to flower.

The most common elements that are found in fertilizers are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), and fertilizers containing these three elements are termed complete fertilizers. Fertilizers differ in the relative amount of these elements that they contain, and this information is found on the label of the fertilizer container (bag, bottle, etc.) It is represented by three numbers, eg 1-1-1, or 5-10-5, or 3-1-2, which are the percentages of the elements; N, P, and K in that order. This link from The Great Big Greenhouse and Nursery can tell you a lot more about fertilizer.

You didn’t mention what kind of fertilizer you used, ie the ratio of N:P:K. In some plants, flowering is inhibited if the ratio of  N/P is too high. If you used a regular lawn fertilizer, the N/P ratio in your pots may be high enough to prevent flowering. This link to Central Texas Gardening has some good tips about proper use of fertilizers.

 

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