Saturday, March 3, 2012

Those-Those-Those Numbers Again!

"The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies" Gertrude Jekyll


Mountain Laurel

Just a wee note to bring you up to date on how things are going. Last night it was 25F and good thing everybody was snug under their covers! The bulbs, of course, were delighted and are popping up all over. First wave will be the tulips, now that the narcissus are fully grown. We have been enjoying our fireplace and our neighbors cleaning up their yard made us nice and cozy with those dead branches! We try to use almost everything we can salvage from our garden and there is so much garden waste from the wind and frost we make good use of it.

Well, yesterday we learned the unlock codes for the big three of fertilizer-Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium. I also mentioned there are other minor nutrients that plants also need. Let's look at those.

CALCIUM-MAGNESIUM-SULFUR- Some fertilizers contain these important elements, some do not. They are in most soils. Calcium and sulfur enter the soil in other garden products: lime(calcium), lime-sulfur fungicide and soil conditioner(calcium and sulfur), gypsum(calcium and sulfur), superphosphate(sulfur) and other soil sulfurs used to acidifying alkaline soils.

WHAT THEY DO- Calcium plays an important part in cell manufacture and growth, as most roots must have some calcium right at the growing tips. Magnesium forms the chlorophyll molecule in the cells of green leaves. Sulfur acts with nitrogen in making new protoplasm for plant cells.

IRON-ZINC-MANGANESE- Iron is essential to chlorophyll production. Manganese and Zinc seem to function as catalysts, or triggers to help absorb the other nutrients
Now that we know what makes up fertilizers, how do you choose the right one? The first thing to learn is the differences between the types of fertilizers. Let's look at some of the different types of fertilizers.

DRY FERTILIZERS- These are the majority of fertilizers sold. You sprinkle or spread them on plants, rake, scratch or dig them in. Dissolving when they contact water, the granules start their fertilizing actions quickly, and can last several months.

LIQUID FERTILIZERS- Easy to use, especially on container plants, and nutrients are available to the roots immediately. They are more expensive and less practical than solids because they must be applied more often and the roots use them up more quickly. All are made to be diluted with water. Some are concentrated liquids, others are powders or pellets.

COMPLETE FERTILIZERS- Any fertilizer that contains all of the primary nutrient elements- nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium- is called a complete fertilizer. Say a label says 10-8-6. You would know that this fertilizer contains 10% total nitrogen, 8% phosphoric acid and 6% water soluble potash.The higher the numbers in the analysis, the stronger the concentration of fertilizer. And the higher the concentration (of nitrogen especially) the less you apply at a time. But if you want only the benefits of say, nitrogen, you should choose a simple fertilizer.

SIMPLE FERTILIZERS- The simple fertilizer contains just one of the primary nutrients. Most common are the nitrogen only products, such as ammonium sulfate (21-0-0).

INCOMPLETE FERTILIZERS- These contain two of the primary elements such as a combination of N and P, N and K, or P and K.

SPECIAL PURPOSE FERTILIZERS- These are ones who do the guesswork for you. Examples would be 'azalea food' or 'camellia food' or 'rose food'.

ORGANIC FERTILIZERS- The word 'organic' simply means that the nutrients contained in the product come from the remains, part of the remains or a by-product of a once-living organism. For example- cottonseed meal,bone meal,manures, blood meal, etc. In general, the organics release their nutrients over a fairly long period. One drawback is that they may not release enough of their principal nutrient at one time to give the plant what it needs for its best growth.
Although manure is a complete organic fertilizer, it is typically low in N-P-K(1-1-1). Manures are best used as mulches or soil conditioners. We always mix our soil with either cured horse manure or chicken manure.

CONTROLLED RELEASE FERTILIZERS-  These beadlike granules are balls of complete fertilizer which are coated with resin. When moistened, the fertilizer diffuses through into the soil, a little bit with each watering.

STICKS, STAKES and TABLETS- These contain compressed fertilizers. You push or hammer sticks or stakes into the soil or drop tablets into holes. These release nutrients gradually, dissolving slowly in the presence of water. These are especially good for getting phosphorus and potassium into the root area of established shrubs and trees.

COMBINATION PRODUCTS- These are fertilizers combined with insecticides or weed killers or fungicides.

So when choosing, just remember what you are looking for- Nitrogen helps green leaves and foliage; Phosphorus promotes strong roots and helps flowers, fruits and seeds; Potassium brings healthy growth. Flowering and fruiting plants need higher phosphorus, while green shrubbery need less phosphorus but more nitrogen. Know your plant and then choose your type of fertilizer! If in doubt you can always consult sources online or the Sunset Western Garden book. After this, you have mastered the secret codes and now you're the one others look at in the garden section of the store!

A New York city yuppie moved to the country and bought a piece of land. He went to the local feed and livestock store and told the owner how he was gonna take up chicken farmin'. He then bought 100 chicks. "That's a lot of chicks" the owner commented. "I mean business" the city slicker replied.
A week later the city slicker was back."I need another 100 chicks" he told the owner. "Boy, you ARE serious about this chicken farming". The man replied "Yeah, I am, if I can get a few problems ironed out." "Problems?" asked the feed store owner. "Yeah", replied the city slicker,"I think I planted that last batch too close together."


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