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Fertilizer - When and when not to apply? June 16th, 2020



A few days ago, I put out some tips on how and when to water. Today I thought I would out some suggestions on when and how much to fertilize. I see a lot of money wasted by over applying fertilizer and by applying fertilizer at the wrong time.

Lawns are the biggest acreage crop in Virginia and therefore one of the largest consumers of fertilizer. Many people throw large amounts of fertilizer on the lawn in early spring in order to have a lush green lawn. It looks pretty but it's not very good for the lawn.

A better way is to apply 3 applications of fertilizer in the fall and a very light application late March or early April in the spring. In all, you want to get about 5 pounds of nitrogen on the lawn for the year. I like to see 4 ½ pounds of that in the fall and the balance in the spring.

The reason for heavy fall, light in the spring is the fall application goes down to the roots and grows a strong root system over the winter. Fertilizer applied in the spring goes to the top of the plant. It makes you cut more often, if you catch the clippings the fertilizer is in the clippings you discard, and it weakens the plant. In the long run you will have a prettier lawn and a healthier lawn by applying your fertilizer in the fall.

Now, let's look at your vegetable garden and flowers. I have seen some beautiful gardens produce very little produce because they were over fertilized and over watered.

An example, we had a customer when we owned the garden center that built two small raised beds. He bought the best lumber, then bought all the material, from us, to mix and make his soil mix. He then bought the fertilizer and plants from us. By the time he planted the first plant he had invested over $3000.00 in that garden.

Lator in the summer he came in with pictures of his garden bragging about how pretty his tomatoes were. There was just one small problem he had not seen a bloom or tomato on the plants.

After asking some questions, I found out he was fertilizing heavily weekly and watering daily. The plants were growing so hard they did not have time to bloom or set fruit. Plants don’t grow and bloom at the same time. He ended up spending thousands of dollars for a pretty garden without any produce.

A better way would have been to fertilize lightly when he planted and maybe top dressed lightly about the time the plants bloomed. With a raised bed he might have needed to water weekly. I would follow that same fertilizer schedule if I planted directly in the ground. I would not water that often.

Containers I would handle differently. I would mix fertilizer with my potting mix and I would add fertilizer moderately about once a month throughout the growing season. A correctly potted plant drains well. When you put a gallon of water in the top you should be able to catch a gallon out the bottom in about 20 minutes. As it drains it carries the nutrients with it.

To sum it all up you can save money and have much better lawns and gardens by being judicious with both fertilizer and water.


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