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Fertilization and Bio Stimulants, Weed and Feeds  By Jerry Naiser Aust

in, Texas

When to Fertilize                                              Free analysis and price quote

The quick answer: Only when the plant is actively growing.

In conversations with many people through the years, I have come to realize that there is a overall misunderstanding of fertilizers. First of all, fertilizers are not food. Plants make their own food through photosynthesis, which utilizes the light from the sun, to create sugar from carbon dioxide and water. All plants eat is sunlight.

To be healthy, plants require sixteen nutrients, which are the same for all plants. When a plant is deprived of any of the sixteen, the plant becomes sick and die. This rarely happens because most of these nutrients are already present in the soil. There are times, when some of the nutrients are not there in large enough amounts or aren't available because of the high PH of our soil, because of the large amounts of limestone in our soil. This is where fertilizers and bio stimulants come in. Simple, fertilizers contain varying amounts of macro nutrients, which are the three numbers that you see on the bag that you buy. These numbers represent in this order nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). There are also very small amount of micro-nutrients.

Fertilizers generally contain large amounts of the macronutrients, with very little micronutrients, while bio-stimulants contain little macronutrients, with a greater quantity of Micronutrients, and also  beneficial fungi known as Mycorhizae. This works in a symbiotic relationship with the root system, drawing in moisture and nutrients for the plant, and in return the plant feeds it carbohydrates.

How do we use them?

Of the sixteen essential nutrients, three of them (carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen) are obtained from water and air. These elements are always available, and we do not need to be concerned about them. The other thirteen are absorbed by the roots. The thirteen essential mineral elements obtained from the soil are divided into three groups, based on the amount of nutrients that are needed by plants.

The nutrients that are used in very small amounts are called micro-nutrients or trace elements. These include boron, chlorine, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, and zinc. Acid loving plants have trouble obtaining iron in Austin because our soil is so alkaline. The secondary nutrients; calcium, magnesium, and sulfur, are used in greater quantity and deficiencies are more common. Sulfur is often added to most good quality fertilizers that are sold for acid deficient soils, such as ours, as a buffering agent. At Real Green, we add the sulfur ourselves, to all fertilizers and bio stimulants we apply.

Nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) are the macro nutrients, that are necessary in the largest quantity. Although these nutrients are required in greater quantity, they are of no more greater importance than the micronutrients. People tend to focus on these macronutrients, because of the quantity they're are used. Often times these nutrients, both macro and micro are in the soil, but are unavailable to the plant, because of over fertilization with products that have a  high salt content. Which brings us back in full circle to the importance of a soil test first, to know where you are, and where you need to be.

Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, pH and Compost

Nitrogen – Nitrogen forms new cells and is essential to total plant development.  A shortage of nitrogen halts plant growth and cell production.  Symptoms of nitrogen deficiency are a yellowish brown color along the veins and tips of leaves, stunted growth of the plant or paleness in color on older leaves.  Too much nitrogen can cause tall, spindly plants that easily topple over and nitrate poisoning (look for a strong red tint to the leaves).  Nitrogen is also essential to the compost pile, as it aids in the breaking down of old plant residues. Good sources of nitrogen include: blood meal, cottonseed meal, fish meal, soybean meal, rabbit manure and tea grinds.  You can also grow a cover crop of legumes in the fall to raise the nitrogen level for the next springs crop.

Phosphorus – Phosphorus produces vigorous seed and root development.  A shortage of phosphorus slows cell division and results in stunting of growth and late maturity of the plant.   A symptom of phosphorus deficiency is spindly plants with purple streaks in the stems.  Since phosphorus moves very slowly in the soil, it is essential to have it available during early plant development. Good sources for phosphorus include: bone meal, rock phosphate and colloidal phosphate.  Incorporating organic matter (compost) into the soil makes the phosphorus present more readily available to the plants.

Potassium – Also called Potash, this nutrient helps produce strong and sturdy stems.   It advances root growth and helps plants resist disease and cold weather.  A shortage of this nutrient causes stunting and stem weakness.  Symptoms include a yellowing of leaf edges and yellowing of the leaves veins.  This nutrient must be available during early plant development.  Good sources of potash are: cow manure, compost, granite meal, greensand and wood ashes.

pH - pH is a measure of acidity or alkalinity on a scale of 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral. The pH of the soil affects many elements, including nutrient availability, plant nutrient uptake, and microorganism activity.   Because soil pH affects many factors, it is important to maintain proper pH throughout the growing season.  Considering the complexity of factors involved, the recommended soil pH for each individual variety is very important.  Regular pH testing will allow you to make informed decisions if soil pH adjustment is necessary.

  • For soils that are too acidic, add lime to the soil in the fall.  Some sources of lime are: Dolomitic limestone.  This will raise the pH of the soil while supplying calcium and magnesium.   Apply in late fall for next years crops.   Hydrated lime will provide quicker results because of the smaller particle size and is especially useful for raising the soil pH quickly.  Be aware that hydrated lime may cause severe injury to young plants. Apply at least 3 weeks before planting your crops.  Wood ashes (not charcoal ashes) can also be added to acidic soil to correct the pH level.
  • For soils that are too alkaline, add powdered agricultural sulfur, aluminum sulfate or iron sulfate to the soil for a quick fix.  For a long term solution, continually add acidic organic matter to the soil, such as peat moss, pine needles and oak tree leaves until the pH level is correct.

Compost – The single most important addition to any garden is compost.  Compost enriches the soil in the garden, promotes the development of beneficial insect populations, helps retain moisture and aids in stabilizing the pH level.  Every gardener should have a compost pile or bin near their garden.  Just about any plant material can be recycled into valuable compost, along with coffee grounds, crushed eggshells, cow manure and horse manure.  If you add lawn clipping to the compost pile, make sure they have not been treated with any chemical herbicides.  In the fall, make sure to shred any leaves before adding them to the pile.  Don't add diseased plant material to the compost pile or weeds that have gone to seed.

What This Has to do With Trees.

Lawn fertilization is applied on the surface, and rarely reaches the root system of a tree. Furthermore, many lawn fertilizers purchased on the retail level actually contain a post emergent herbicide. These fertilizers are called a “Weed and Feed”. These herbicides are targeted towards broad leafed plants (weeds) The big problem here is that trees are also broad leafed plants, and these herbicides can cause fatalities in trees. Some trees, such as a post Oak, will become severely ill after one application, while others, such as a healthy Live Oak, can withstand many years, of repeated  applications, before becoming ill. Another issue is timing; Pre-emergent herbicides should be applied when everything is dormant, while fertilizers are only effective when plants are growing.

Trees are targeted by many defoliating pests. These pests can completely strip a tree in a matter of days. A healthy tree, has the ability to replace this damage, as well as fight other fungal and disease problems.

Without foliage, a tree has no way of feeding itself. (transpiration cannot occur without foliage). In the past few years, heavy rains, saturated soils , insects and fungal problems, have reeked havoc on our trees. This necessitates the use of all available tools that we have in our arsenal to keep the remaining trees healthy.

Remember, it is easier to keep a healthy plant healthy, than to try to save a sick one. Test your soil, add the recommended fertilizer and/or Bio stimulant to your trees, in the proper amounts. If you don’t have the time to do it, we can do it for you. Call me (Jerry), or e-mail me: Jerry@RealGreenLawns.com

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