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Originally published Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 5:00 AM

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April fertilizer brings happy May azaleas and rhodies

Garden writer Ciscoe Morris recommends an April fertilizer feeding for acid-loving plants such as azaleas, rhodies and camellia, and likes the look of brightly colored geums.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Ciscoe’s Picks

Spring Fair Garden Show & Plant Sale: Nurseries, garden shops, landscape artists, workshops and display gardens. 2-10 p.m. Thursday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday, Puyallup Fairgrounds, $7-$10 (

89th annual Children’s Hospital Garden Sale: All proceeds benefit Seattle Children’s. Noon-6 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday, hospital administrative building parking lot, 6901 Sand Point Way N.E., Seattle (

The Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden Spring Plant Sale: Perennials, trees and shrubs. Garden admission free with plant- sale receipt. 2-3 p.m. Friday members only, otherwise 3-6 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday. Rhododendron Species Foundation Garden, west upper-level parking lot, Weyerhaeuser Campus, 2525 S. 336th St., Federal Way (

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In the Garden

Mid-April is a great time to fertilize spring blooming, acid-loving shrubs such as rhododendron, azalea, camellia, kalmia, hardy gardenia and pieris (sometimes called andromedas). These plants put on new growth soon after the flowers fade in spring, so an April feeding with a balanced fertilizer will promote increased growth, which normally leads to increased flowering the following year. Blueberry is another acid-loving shrub that appreciates a spring feeding. Fertilizing now encourages steady growth, heavy flowering and a bumper crop of berries this summer. It’s best to use organic fertilizers formulated for acid-loving flowering and fruiting shrubs when feeding these plants. Most acid-loving shrubs are members of the rhodie family, which tend to be shallow-rooted, and the nutrients in synthetic fertilizers are then immediately available to the plant. If the fertilizer is overapplied or if conditions aren’t quite right for nutrient uptake, the salts in the fertilizer can easily burn the roots. The nutrients in organic fertilizers, on the other hand, are available to the plant only after microorganisms in the soil act on them. This is a natural slow process that doesn’t create salt buildup, thereby not burning the roots. The end result is even, adequate growth.

Long-blooming geums

Geums make great additions to cottage gardens and mixed borders. Their vibrant cup-shaped blooms held atop slender, wiry stems combine spectacularly with ornamental grasses, plants with colored foliage and the blooms on shrubs and perennials. The flowers on several older varieties begin in early April and last well into June. Now, there are later-blooming varieties that flower from June until fall. The blossoms are bee magnets and come in vivid reds, oranges and yellows that can best be described as “hot, hot hot.” Every spring, all sorts of exciting new varieties show up at local nurseries. If yellow is your color, ‘Lady Stratheden’ produces spectacular double yellow from late April into September. Heat your garden display with ‘Fire Storm,’ producing an unbelievable number of sizzling orange double flowers from May through August. If you really want to catch everyone’s attention, the red ‘Flames of Passion’ blooms profusely from early summer until fall. Finally for a variety worth planting just for the name alone, ‘Double Bloody Mary’ pumps out its showstopping red blooms from early summer until early fall. Geums prefer a moist well-drained sunny location. Divide geums by replacing the mother plant with vigorous rhizomatous offsets every three or four years to guarantee vigorous flowering. Deadheading is rarely necessary, but once flowering is finished, cut back the spent foliage for a flush of attractive new growth.

Ciscoe Morris: “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING-TV.

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About Ciscoe Morris

Ciscoe Morris' column runs Thursdays. His show "Gardening with Ciscoe" airs at 10 a.m. on Saturdays on King 5.


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