Spring fertilization and voles
We’re well into spring in our neck of the woods. Most of the berries have bloomed and set fruit, and the canopy trees are leafing out. Even those smart natives, such as muscadines, pawpaws and persimmons, are leafing out. With our recent rain, the plants are really going to take off.
Is there anything I should watch for with our unusually warm winter?
It is time to make sure your plants are being fertilized adequately for their optimum growth. Check for vole and rodent damage. Begin pinch pruning tips to encourage lateral branching. Get ready to savor your first homegrown fruit.
In the rest of the column, I discuss spring fertilization and voles.
What do you recommend for fertilizing my useful plants?
Around here, mid-April is a good time to start your fertilization program. I recommend a balanced organic fertilizer for most of the plants we grow – something like Fertrell 5-5-3 works well and is readily available from Fifth Season and other suppliers of organic gardening products. For blueberries and other acid-loving plants, we recommend HollyTone or cottonseed meal. See the package for recommended amounts.
Add other amendments if needed by your plants. For example, some that need extra lime in our acid soils are pawpaws, figs, cornelian cherries, pears and apples. Apply the fertilizer and lime in widening circles as the plant’s root system grows over time.
Be sure to soil test regularly to make sure soil fertility problems aren’t a limiting factor in your plants’ growth or production. You can get a soil test kit from your local agricultural extension agent. If your soil test shows that your soil has adequate levels of phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, etc., then you can move away from the blended fertilizers and focus on ensuring that the soil has adequate nitrogen in spring and early summer to support the spring flush.
Aarggh! That is most likely vole damage for sure. First, check subsurface around the new plants and see if you detect any tunnels. If not, press down hard on the planting soil around the other 5 and keep them well watered and the mulch pulled back for now. If you find any current damage, dig the plants back up and put them back in pots temporarily for what comes next.
A permanent physical fix is to get several bags of ‘vole bloc’ from a local garden center. Mix it into the planting soil for each plant at their recommended rates or use it straight up as a subsurface physical barrier around a new plant. Vole block is an expanded rock product that has sharp particles that physically discourage vole and mole burrowing by cutting their little paws and noses. Do this for all your new plantings and maybe even your garden beds when the rascals start eating your herbs and vegetables. Mix the vole block into the planting holes and replant your plants with that amended backfill, firming the backfill more around the plants than usual. Poor man’s ‘vole bloc’ would be to add about 50% crushed gravel (sharp, rather than round) to the hole’s backfill up to 6” out from the plant, with a 1-2” layer of gravel at the bottom of the hole. With blueberries, be sure to use granite gravel because limestone has too much calcium, which would harm the blueberries.
That blueberry stem likely won’t make it unless it has a few roots attached. It certainly won’t root in water, so plant it out in a shady spot with moist well drained soil and see what happens. I wouldn’t give it very high odds of surviving in any case.