Tag Archive | Fertilizer

Wet vs Dry Fertilizer

Dry fertilizers are easier (and quicker) to apply, especially when large areas are involved, and though they are slower to take effect, they last longer. In most gardens, wet fertilizers are used for foliar feeding, sprayed directly on plant leaves for immediate uptake. They produce rapid results, but their action is short-lived.

Dry fertilizers are usually mixed with soil before planting. Later in the season they are used as side dressing, spread in a narrow band about a foot away from growing plants and then scratched in.

Ideally, dry fertilizers break down slowly, providing a steady stream of nutrients with minimal danger of root burn, weak hypergrowth, and other problems caused by too much, too soon. In practice, however, this doesn’t always work out. Dry chemical formulations are highly soluble, and while they are more durable than liquids, they disperse rapidly in warm, wet weather. They can work well, but it is important to use minimum amounts, mix them well with the soil, and keep them away from plant roots.

Most organic amendments, on the other hand, are minimally processed. They must be broken down by weather and soil microbes before the nutrients they contain are available to plants. While there are exceptions, as a general rule these natural products pose none of the dangers of rapid breakdown, and unlike chemical fertilizers, they offer long-term soil-building benefits. But there’s no denying they’re slow to download; you have to plan well ahead.

Summer Lawn Fertility

by Sharon Morrisey, consumer horticulture agent for Milwaukee County

Research by University of Wisconsin turf specialists suggests new recommendations regarding summer fertility for lawns. An application of lawn fertilizer around the Fourth of July might be warranted.

This recommendation is made for:

  • Lawns less than 15 years old
  • Older lawns that have not been regularly fertilized for the last 15 years
  • Lawns where the clippings are collected, rather than left on the ground

This summer application is in addition to fertilizing around Memorial Day and Labor Day. Each application should provide 3/4-1 pound of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn, but follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on the bag.

Fertilizer applications should be followed by watering or applied just before it rains.

Do You Feed Your Trees?

tree-970850_960_720Here’s a question that tends to divide folks right down the middle. When it comes to the wisdom of feeding trees, expert opinion is sharply — in some cases acrimoniously — divided, but the weight of modern practice is increasingly in favor of the dictum that less is more.

A small amount of fertilizer is fine. It will help compensate for the absence of natural fertility that tends to distinguish lawns (where all the leaf litter gets raked up and there is no understory to speak of) from woodlands (where the trees are nourished by lots of decayed plant material).

Fence_and_tree_lined_lawn_Little_Laver_Road,_Essex_EnglandBut before you go out and buy tree food, remember that the small amount needed is likely to be already present as a by-product of fertilizing the lawn. Once you get into adding more than that, it’s likely you will do more harm than good — if you do anything at all. The harm comes because fertilizer pushes the tree into making lots of tender, soft growth. It’s lush, it’s green, it’s very impressive, and it’s also highly vulnerable t insect attacks, climate stress, and the myriad fungus diseases that would be thwarted by tougher tissue.

The doesn’t-do-anything-at-all situation results from putting the food where the tree can’t get at it. Most of a tree’s feeder roots are in the top 10 to 18 inches of soil, and most of them start near the out edge of the canopy (the drip line) and spread outward from there. That means using an injector to put the eats down deep is not going to do much except pollute the groundwater. And spreading the tree’s meal close to its trunk will be just as fruitless.

The bottom line: keep feeding to a minimum unless the tree is in a container where it cannot possibly find nourishment on its own. And if you do use fertilizer on a landscape tree, spread it in a wide band that works out from the drip line.

Naturally Weed-Resistant Lawn

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

Back Yard Vinyl Fence Outside Grass Lawn NatureEveryone wants the perfect sea of smooth green lawn with nary a hint of weed, bare spot, or discolored grass. Alas, easier said than done! However, here are 5 steps that will help create a beautiful and naturally weed-resistant lawn.

  1. Prepare the soil. Though they are seldom thought of that way, expanses of mown grass are actually very intensive gardens. Loose, fertile soil of the right pH is even more important for good lawns than it is for tasty tomatoes or lavishly blooming shrubs.
  2. Invest in the best seed, use enough of it, and plant it at the right time. The first defense against weeks is a turf that is thick enough to prevent them from getting the light they need to sprout and grow. The grass won’t be thick if you’re stingy with either quality of quantity, and it won’t fill in properly unless you give it a proper start.
  3. Think long term. Be sure the seed mixture comprises grasses that will be long lived, such as red fescues and bluegrasses. There should be only a very small amount of rye grass, if there is any at all. Rye grasses grow quickly, helping the lawn to look good fast and preventing the growth of some weeds. But because they are up so quickly, they steal nutrients, water, and light from slower-growing but more durable types. As a result, newly established turf has a lot of rye in it. This is fine for a short while. But even perennial rye dies out within a few years, and when it does it leaves a whole lot of room for weeds to move in. A sprinkling of rye can be used if you are the impatient type. But you’ll have better long-term weed control if you go for the slow stuff and hand-weed for the first year or so while the good grasses are settling in.
  4. Adjust the mower to the season. No matter what height you like your lawn, letting it get a bit shaggy in summer — a good 3 inches tall — will cut down on weeds. The taller gras provides more shade, keeping the grass roots cool and healthy while making it harder for weed seeds to sprout and find the light.
  5. Don’t water if there’s a drought. This may seem counterintuitive, and it isn’t entirely true: if you have an endless supply and can water the lawn thoroughly, by all means go ahead. But if water is limited, you’re much better off letter the lawn go dormant than trying to give it “just enough to stay alive.” Grasses naturally lie low and turn brown during droughts. They aren’t dead — they’re just sleeping. A small amount of water won’t be enough to keep grasses green, but it will keep the lawn green, because the watered weeds will thrive

Organic Weed & Feed

For those of us who become frustrated at the growth of weeds in our lawns when we’re using organic fertilizers, there is one help: corn gluten meal, a by-product of corn milling. It is quite high in nitrogen, which makes it a good fertilizer for grass. And it will prevent weed seeds from growing.

But — there’s always a but — that’s it. Corn gluten kills by drying up the baby sprouts as soon as the seed cracks open. It has no effect on perennial weeds (other than to encourage them) or on annual weeds that are already growing.

Furthermore, it must make good contact with the weed seeds in order to kill them, not a problem on bare soil but a tricky proposition if the grass is reasonably thick. It works best when the soil is warm, by which time many annual weeds have long since been up and about. And it lasts for only about six weeks, so you have to apply it frequently.

All that said, corn gluten is a relatively benign fertilizer, and it can help control annual weeds if you use it faithfully, from spring to fall, for a couple of years. It is nontoxic and, in home-garden quantities, safe for the environment.

Organic “weed and feed” for Lawns

Many gardeners are worried that the products being used to keep that beautiful lawn are, in fact, endangering the environment. With that in mind, then, there is a constant desire to use less damaging chemicals but, at the same time, retain a beautiful lawn. One solution may be corn gluten meal, a by-product of corn milling. It is quite high in nitrogen, which makes it a good fertilizer for grass, and it will prevent weed seeds from growing.

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Corn gluten meal being applied by a broadcast spreader

Corn gluten kills by drying up the baby sprouts as soon as the seed cracks open. However, it has no effect on perennial weeds or on annual weeds that are already growing. Furthermore, it must make good contact with the weed seeds in order to kill them — not a problem on bare soil but a tricky proposition if the grass is thick. It works best when the soil is warm, by which time many annual weeds have long since been up and about. And it lasts for only about six weeks, so you have to apply it regularly.

Corn gluten is a relatively benign fertilizer, and it can help control annual weeds if you use it faithfully, from spring to fall, for a couple of years. It is nontoxic and, in home-garden quantities, safe for the environment.

flexrake-cla329-classic-hand-dandelion-weeder_1508272

One of my favorite hand tools for “popping” those weeds out of the lawn

There is no panacea, however — you cannot go totally organic and control 100% of weeds in your lawn unless you have some handy tools for digging out the weeds. There are a lot of really good hand tools to help you tackle those weeds, though, and maybe a cleaner environment for our kids and grandkids is worth the extra effort.

 

Don’t get rid of those leaves!

NeaveFall2The weather has been beautiful — the weather has been rainy and cold.  Welcome to Spring in Wisconsin! On those days that are beautiful, have you been cleaning out your gardens, lawns, and under your trees?  All of those wonderfully dried leaves are just waiting to be turned into nutritious compost for your gardens. Compost provides the perfect amount of food for every plant — including essential nutrients not found in commercial fertilizers. Raking compost into your turf improves the structure of the soil under your lawn. If you think that plants need chemicals to survive, just look around you!  The woods, plains, and wildflowers sustain themselves without any man-made materials.

It all starts with shredding those leaves! Whole leaves take quite a while to break down on their own, and tend to mat together.  Whole leaves just sit there cold in compost piles.  Not only don’t they help — they can actually prevent the composting process.  Shred them up, though, and you create the perfect compost makings. Remember, though, that shredding decreases the volume by a factor of ten. In other words, 10 bags of whole leaves can be shredded down to the point where they can all fit in one bag.

imagesThere are a multitude of publications that help you with the dynamics of what to use for composting, how to compost, what to add, what not to add, etc.  You can use commercially manufactured compost bins, fenced-in piles, garbage cans studded with drainage holes, or simple black garbage bags — all of these solutions and more work to create quality compost as long as you’re using the right ingredients! My favorite book is Mike McGrath’s Book of Compost, which is written in plain English in a light and humorous style. There’s even a chapter on vermiculture (composting using worms). [Note: for more information on vermiculture, see our previous post here.] Another resource is a pamphlet produced by the UW-Extension Master Composter program, which can be downloaded and printed here.

Dark, nutrient-rich compost

Dark, nutrient-rich compost

Don’t be afraid to start composting — it’s easier than it looks and you can start small. You don’t have to make enough compost for all of your gardens — just set a goal to make enough for your container plants, or for one container! Your lawn and gardens will thank you for the nutrition, and you’ll save the money you would have spent on expensive fertilizers.

Storing Your Tools and Supplies for Winter

clean_toolMake sure to properly care for your tools for winter so that they’ll be in good shape in the spring. Clean hand tools, shovels, rakes, and hoes before putting them in storage; it’s easier to do the job now than wait until spring when the rust and hardened soil are harder to remove.

  1. Wash or wipe off excess soil; use a narrow putty knife to remove hardened soil. Or soak soil-encrusted tools in water and scrub with a wire brush.
  2. Remove rust with a coarse grade of steel wool or medium-grit sand paper. Add a few drops of oil to each side of the tool surface, and use a small cloth to spread it over the metal. This will help protect the surface against rust.
  3. 2003536302Sharpen the soil-cutting edges of shovels, hoes, and trowels to make digging easier.
  4. Check the handles for splinters and rough spots. Use sandpaper on rough, wooden-handled tools; coat with linseed oil.
  5. Make sure the handles are tightly fastened to the shovel, hoe, or rake. You may need to replace or reinstall missing pins, screws, and nails.

PesticideStorageAs you’re working to properly store your tools for winter, take a moment to locate, organize, and safely store fertilizers and pesticides.

  1. Always leave pesticides in their original containers. It is illegal — and unwise — to transfer them to a different container.
  2. Pesticides should be stored in a locked area, away from pets and children.
  3. Store granular formulations in cool, dry locations.
  4. Liquids should be kept out of direct sunlight and freezing temperatures. Freezing and UV can diminish the effectiveness of some products.

Finally, you should store your lawn mower properly so it, too, will be ready to go in the spring.

  1. Empty the gas tank, or fill it with a gas preservative. The gas can be emptied by running the motor until it eventually runs out of gas. If you’re adding a gas preservative, run the motor for a few minutes to mix the preservative and gas together.
  2. Disengage the spark plug wire for safety.
  3. Drain and replace the oil. This should be done at least once a year; check your owner’s manual for specific instructions.
  4. Clean off any dirt and matted grass.
  5. Sharpen the blades or make a note to do so first thing in the spring before mowing season begins.
  6. Buy replacement belts, spark plugs, and air filter as needed and store them until spring.

By caring for your tools and supplies properly each year, you’ll save a lot of money and will be ready to “hit the ground running” each spring.

Written by Vicki