“If April showers should come your way, they bring the flowers that bloom in May.” – Buddy de Sylva.
“A gush of bird-song, a patter of dew. A cloud, and a rainbow’s warning. Suddenly sunshine and perfect blue. An April day in the morning.” – Harriet Prescott Spofford.
“April is the kindest month. April gets you out of your head and out working in the garden.” – Marty Rubin.
March weather offered both late winter and early spring conditions. The cool weather brought about after the first full moon following spring solstice allowed March to exit on the cool side. April is here – it’s time to complete spring planting and understand nutrient and fertilizer applications.
All plants should have the opportunity to enjoy favorable temperatures, sufficient air, proper light, enough water and adequate nutrients for survival. Most plants in our area need about an inch of water per week on the average to accommodate their metabolic and systematic needs. However, we cannot depend upon rainfall and nature alone to satisfy these needs. Thus, irrigation and fertilizer programs should be implemented.
Understanding nutrients and fertilizers is very critical in managing the needs of plants in the home landscape. Before any fertilizer application takes place, it is important to soil test to determine the exact nutrient composition of your soil microenvironment.
Randomly collect about one to two cups of soil from each zone within your landscape from the lawn to the flower areas to the special plants (roses, azaleas, etc.) to the trees and shrubs. Keep these samples labeled separately and place in a plastic bag which you will then place in a specific soil testing bag available from your county agent office.
Have these tested through this public agency for a nominal fee and allow time for the testing results to return to you. From these results, a determination can be made on the needs in each microenvironment. Soil tests can be conducted annually, biennially or every three years in the home landscape, depending on plant responses, soil chemistry and precipitation rates.
Plants need certain elements for survival, including carbon (C), hydrogen (H), oxygen (O), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), iodine (I), nitrogen (N), sulfur (S), calcium (Ca), iron (Fe), magnesium (Mg), boron (B), manganese (Mn), chlorine (Cl), copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), and molybdenum (Mo).
Carbon, hydrogen and oxygen are readily available and do not need to be supplemented. The macronutrients are the major nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) needed in the largest amounts and the minor nutrients (calcium, magnesium and sulfur) needed in medium amounts, both usually expressed in pounds per acre, per thousand square feet or per 100 square feet.
The micronutrients are iron, manganese, boron, zinc, chlorine, copper, zinc, iodine and molybdenum. Other micronutrients are needed but are usually present in sufficient amounts. Iron is needed in the largest amounts and is expressed in ounces per acre, per thousand square feet, or per hundred square feet. The others are needed in grams per area or in parts per million (ppm).
Nitrogen is not part of a soil test because of its mobility in the soil and volatilization characteristics. If necessary, tissue tests can be conducted to determine nitrogen levels, otherwise follow recommendations for subject plants.
A soil test should be conducted for pH, P, K, Ca, Mg, Fe and other micronutrients. The pH (potential hydrogen) identifies the degree of alkalinity or acidity of the soil. The pH range is from 0 to 14 with 7 being neutral (below 7 is acid and above 7 is alkaline). Most plants in the area grow between pH of 6.0-7.0, excepting acid-loving plants like centipedegrass, azaleas, etc, which prefer 4.5 to 5.5.
If your pH needs adjusting, add lime to increase and sulfur to lower. By maintaining your pH between 6.0 and 7.0 for most plants, calcium and magnesium will be readily available. As pH changes, so does the availability of nutrients. The soil test results will indicate what you need to do with pH, if anything.
The soil test results will further indicate the amounts of these nutrients present, and these will be either deficiencies, optimum levels or toxicities.
With the cost of fertilizer and plant health at a premium, you only want to apply what is needed. Ask the testing center for a recommendation for your particular plants for each sample tested.
If you haven’t soil tested, now is the time to do it. If you soil test regularly, then late summer or early fall would be ideal because any adjustment in pH takes a few months to achieve. Thus, this strategy allows time to make the adjustment before spring and new growth.
Complete fertilizers are those that contain amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (N, P and K). These fertilizers may also contain one or more micronutrients (see label on fertilizer bag), as well as an herbicide to kill weeds (a weed and feed formulation).
An incomplete fertilizer does not contain all three nutrients (N, P and K) and may be labeled as nitrogen, phosphorus, potash or iron fertilizers, as well as sulfur fertilizers and general micronutrient fertilizers. Most of the formulations that may be needed are readily available at your local garden center.
Fertilizer formulations contain active ingredients (the nutrients) and inert ingredients (the filler or the carrier). The analysis is the concentration of nutrient(s) in the bag.
For example, in a 16-4-8 fertilizer analysis (16%N, 4%P and 8%K), the percent active ingredient is 28% (16 + 4 + 8) with 72% (100% - 28%) as inert materials. Most fertilizer formulations to the consumer are packaged in 40-pound bags or less (five-pound bags for roses, flowers, etc.).
Understanding fertilizers is most critical from purchase through handling to application. Only purchase the amounts needed with little leftover. Read the label carefully and understand what it indicates to you.
Seek advice at all times. Use the right equipment to make your fertilizer applications to achieve correct rates and uniformity in application. Each fertilizer application should be watered-in successfully with approximately 0.5 inch of water. Whether you are fertilizing a large area (lawn or flower bed) or an individual plant, be sure to follow recommendations closely and carefully.
Realize that specialty fertilizers exist for special plants like centipedegrass, roses, azaleas, camellias, annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs, lawns, etc. Using specialty fertilizers on your specific, specialty plants will get the best results offering the highest degree of safety to the plant.
This short lesson in nutrients and fertilizers is only a sample of the knowledge to be learned about managing the nutrition of your plants. May this small degree of awareness stimulate your desire to learn and ask questions, encourage you to further apply your gained knowledge and bring you to further realize that environmental stewardship and sustainability are at the foundation of all your home landscape activities.
“The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” – Romans 8:16-18.
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will.” – Romans 8:26-27.
Dr. Eddie Seagle is a Sustainability Verifier, Golf Environment Organization (Scotland), Agronomist and Horticulturalist, CSI: Seagle (Consulting Services International) LLC, Professor Emeritus and Honorary Alumnus (Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College), Distinguished Professor for Teaching and Learning (University System of Georgia) and Short Term Missionary (Heritage Church, Moultrie). Direct inquiries to csi_seagle @yahoo.com.