Earlier this summer, while replenishing my fertilizer supplies at a local nursery, I came upon Jack’s Classic Petunia FeED. Made by the reliable JR Peters Inc, long known for its excellent assortment of indoor plant fertilizers, the clever name suggests petunia nutrients including chelated (ED) iron (Fe). The full label informs you that not only does the product contain chelated iron, it also contains an assortment of micronutrients, including chelated manganese, zinc and copper. Chelated minerals are more expensive to produce, but they are more readily available to the plant.
The guaranteed analysis of macronutrients is 20-6-22 (Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium). A 20% nitrogen number for flowering plants is unusually high: nitrogen is what produces healthy green leaves. Potassium provides strong, healthy roots, and a 22% value is the highest I’ve ever seen for applying to annuals. The phosphorus, which encourages flowering, is on the low side, but by no means inadequate. The manufacturer claims that the low phosphorus keeps the plant fuller. The product description also touts the fertilizer’s particular usefulness for hanging baskets and containers that are watered often. There’s probably some merit in the second claim, since nitrogen flushes through soil rapidly.
Still, I was skeptical. All those micronutrients in the product suggest that petunias prefer acidic soil, whereas my experience growing petunias is that they are quite comfortable in a neutral to alkaline soil. In the end, I decided to give my petunias a treat and try the product.
Last year I grew Original Wave petunias in containers and was thrilled with their performance. This year, simply due to the color combination I wanted, I selected Easy Wave petunias. I’m finding there’s a larger difference between the two than I imagined. So far (third week in July), the Easy Waves have shown much thicker stems, breaking more easily in strong winds. They also don’t seem to be cascading as much. I did shear them back by a third two weeks ago, and now they’re finally beginning to trail over the pot rims.
When the plants were still small, I began applying the Petunia FeED at the rate of one tablespoon per gallon of water every ten days. The plants became full fairly quickly, and the leaves remained vivid green and healthy. During this time, we had a fair amount of rain so it was an excellent test for the product’s claims. Then, by the beginning of July, the plants began to look weedy and unkempt. It was at that time I decided to shear back the plants, stop using Petunia FeED and switch over to another Peters formula–ostensibly for African violets–of 12-36-14 to give more encouragement to the flowers. That approach seems to be working well.
Consequently, my recommendation for petunias when using this product would be as follows: assuming you have your petunias planted by the third week in May, wait two weeks before applying fertilizer. Apply the Petunia FeED, wait seven days, apply more Petunia FeED, wait ten days then change over to a high phosphorus fertilizer. It’s also a good idea to have a low ratio, extended release fertilizer mixed into the container soil awaiting root growth.
Fortunately, given the high cost of Petunia FeED, it has other unexpectedly valuable uses. Due to its high nitrogen, low phosphorus content it is excellent for herbs. My basil plants are producing numerous deep green leaves without wanting to run to flower (thanks to the low phosphorus), and I’ve had several harvests so far.
The other application for which Petunia FeED is especially effective is on my tomato plant. Take a look at those perfect green tomato leaves in the photo to the right. I’ve never had such healthy looking tomato leaves. In addition to planting the tomato with a pair of Jobe’s Tomato Spikes, every three weeks I’ve been adding a gallon of water with Petunia FeED, since one of the secrets to growing tomatoes is producing strong leaves. It is leaves that manufacture food for a plant, after which the plant moves food to what are known as the “sinks”, or the heaviest food users–young new leaves, flowers and fruits. So the more productive the lower leaves in manufacturing food, the more productive the flowers and fruit.
In summary, I recommend Petunia FeED on a limited basis for trailing petunias and on a low maintenance basis for herbs, tomatoes and peppers. I could also envision using it as a quick pick-me-up for acid-loving perennials or small shrubs.