Ask the Chuckster: Spring fertilization

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Ask the Chuckster: Spring fertilization

It’s great being in the garden, and being outdoors in general, this time of year. I love engaging the pulse of plant and animal and soil life. We are fully in the time of unfurling as plants leaf out and bloom and grow. The insects have awakened, and our sweet birds are returning from their winter quarters to feast on them. I especially enjoy watching the cycle of life in my pond, where woods frog eggs laid in late winter has yielded a multitude of new tadpoles.

This is a great time of year to give newly growing plants some extra love and attention so they are strong and ready to optimize their seasonal growth in 2016. A little extra attention now can really pay off later. 

I keep hearing about the importance of micro-organisms. What’s your take on this?

In micro-organisms I trust. Healthy soil is a micro-ecosystem teeming with life- including a great diversity of fungi, algae, and bacteria: plant supporting micro-organisms,. Healthy soil teeming with these micro-organisms is the foundation of a healthy plant and that plant’s nutrition and pest and disease resistance. You can feed the microorganism in your soil that support woody fruit and nut plants, which prefer fungal dominant soils, by applying a 1-2” layer of woody, aged mulch out to and beyond the plant’s drip zone . 

I like to “wake up” the soil in the spring by spraying or drenching the ground with compost tea. This reinforces and feeds the micro-organisms in the soil. I usually make compost tea from high quality compost, but you can also buy it or the compost to make it from at Fifth Season Gardening and other local suppliers.

Spraying compost tea on the emerging leaves and branches provides some nutrition directly to the leaves, it also starts to colonize them with beneficial or inert fungi and bacteria so it’s harder for the damaging ones to take hold.

When should I fertilize my plants?

Definitely start now while the plants are in active growth. Fertilization is especially important for trees and shrubs in their first five years and also any that have had challenges in the past year and aren’t growing vigorously. Compost is helpful, but not sufficient. I like to apply a commercial organic fertilizer with plenty of nitrogen and phosphorus. There are several good blended organic fertilizer blends brands – Fertrell 5-5-3, Harmony, or McGeary’s with high N, and the various –Tone fertilizers are all good for spring maintenance and establishment fertilization. Holly-Tone for blueberries, chestnuts, and acid lovers.

In addition to fertilizer, consider what other amendments your plants might need based on their requirements and your soil. For example, apples and pears generally benefit from a topical application of lime and phosphate occasionally, and in some soils acid-loving plants may need some sulfur.

I want to move some plants in my yard. What can I do to help them through the process?

Make sure the plant you intend to move has been well watered for at least a few days prior to moving, so it is not water stressed. Plan to do any transplanting on cloudy days or prior to or in a good rainy period. I like to dig widely around plants, loosen as much soil as I can, and more or less bare root the plant out with lots of attached roots, which are immediately wet down, covered, and never allowed to dry out before being replanted. A post planting drenching with a liquid kelp solution, such as Nature’s NOG really helps plants respond to the transplant stress and get their roots growing again. Every time a plant is potted up in the nursery, we drench it with Nature’s NOG to help it along.

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