Yes, you CAN fertilise native plants! And it will spruce up your garden and put that old ‘zing’ back into your plants.
Native plants, like all plants, appreciate some fertiliser and a bit of old-fashioned tender loving care from time to time.
However, you do need to be careful about what type of fertiliser you apply to your native garden. Australian soils are (on the whole) low in phosphorous, and so Australian native plants have adapted to the low phosphorous environment by becoming super-efficient at absorbing phosphorous in order to meet their needs. Hence, if you apply too much phosphorous, the plant will absorb too much and literally poison itself. A bit like taking too much medicine at once.
So, when you fertilise native plants you need to use a fertiliser with a low phosphorous content. Read the label on the packet, and make sure that the phosphorous (P) level is no more than 3%. Avoid using most farm fertilisers, since these are designed for farm crops (such as potatoes, maize, mangos etc) which are of course not native plants and hence usually have a phosphorous content which is too high for natives. However, if you buy a fertiliser especially for natives, you can safely apply it to all the other plants in your garden. It’s the natives that are fussy, not the exotics.
Once you’ve checked that the P level is safe (ie 3% or less), it’s really up to you whether you go organic or opt for a chemical fertiliser. However, if it is ‘zing’ that you are after, then you will need a reasonable level of nitrogen (N) and potassium (K) to produce an effect. Nitrogen will green your plant up and make it grow. Potassium will add colour and vibrance to the new growth. Levels of about abut 13-17% will produce good results without being too strong.
Just remember that, while too little may not have any effect, too much can kill your plant. So bearing this in mind, scatter the fertiliser lightly all through your garden bed. Don’t dump handfuls of raw fertiliser around the roots, as this will likely result in toxicity and death.
So go for it, and fertilise now while the rain is still around!
For more information, go to the Yuruga Information Sheet “Fertilising Native Plants” available from our website www.yuruga.com.au or at the nursery.
See you at Yuruga.
Happy planting (and fertilising)!
Peter and Ann