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Favorite Fertilizers
by Carla Allen
January 1, 2000

One of the most important jobs gardeners tend to in early spring is fertilizing. Awakening shrubs, lawns, perennials and trees appreciate extra food this time of year. There are basically two different types of fertilizers - organic and chemical. Organic fertilizers include compost, manure, bone meal, seaweed, etc. Chemical fertilizers are generally sold in a granulated form or are water soluble. Organic fertilizers have been gaining in popularity over the past few years.Gardeners who use these believe that if they feed the soil, the soil will feed the plants.

When referring to fertilizers one generally takes the NPK ratio into consideration. These letters refer to three major nutrients - nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. The first number pertains to the percentage of nitrogen in the mixture. Nitrogen is essential for green growth, thus lawn fertilizers feature a high first number. Phosphorus encourages flower and fruit production and good root development. Potassium is important for handling stress and withstanding disease.

Recently I called up several experienced gardeners in our area to see what their favorite fertilizers are. Ruth Pink and her husband have gained a reputation as garden ambassadors for the town of Yarmouth. Each year dozens of tour buses stop by their gardens on Seminary Street. Ruth says she owes the success of her gardens to their homemade compost. Each spring they spread several inches over the perennial borders. The roses are mounded up with compost in the fall. During the month of April this is scooped away and spread out around them.

Janet Dunne, owner of Dunne's Nursery in Hebron, likes to use bonemeal and composted manure around her perennials. She applies a slow release fertilizer to the shrubs and trees she sells in containers and uses 6-12-12 or manure for planted shrubbery on her property.

Ann LeBlanc, former president of the Yarmouth Garden Club, has extensive gardens on her property on Meadowbrook Drive. Her favorite fertilizer is pig manure which she usually buys in the fall from Melvin LeBlanc in Saulnierville. "It's a cold manure," she explained. It partially decomposes over the winter and comes mixed with wood chips. She has no reservations at all about using it to mulch right up against her plants and experiences great results. When she plants tomatoes she puts a trowelful in the hole before setting each tomato plant in.

She also uses Nature's Fertilizer (a mixture of pelleted blood meal, ground up chicken feathers & bone meal) and a composted seaweed product called Stormcast.

Ralph Burrill in Brooklyn has between 400 to 500 rhododendrons on his property. He's tried the pig manure before but found the wood chip content tended to dry out his soil too much. He prefers partially decomposed cow manure and obtains it by the truckload when he can, applying it around his perennials, daylilies and vegetable garden. He's pondering the advantages of having ground as fertile as his has become however. It seems to have attracted more moles. He believes the soil now contains more worms and bugs which feed these critters. His present control method consists of stomping on their more noticeable trails. He doesn't feed his rhododendrons regularly as they do not require a lot of fertilizer. When they look ‘hungry' he scatters either 10-10-10 or 17-17-17 slow release fertilizer about their base.

All of the above organic fertilizers contain low percentages of the primary nutrients. Homemade compost ranges from .5-.5-.5 to 4-4-4. Bonemeal has values of 1-11-0. Swine manure contains 2% nitrogen, 1.8 % phosphorus and 1.8% potassium whereas cattle manure is 2-2.3-2.4. Novice gardeners may wonder at the low nutrient percentages of these fertilizers, perhaps dismissing them for ‘higher' more powerful fertilizers. Remember the other benefits of organic fertilizers such as these however. Overall, they serve to improve the condition of the soil, holding water but also creating better drainage, permitting better air passage and increasing the activity and numbers of soil microorganisms.

Carla Allen is the editor of East Coast Gardener and a syndicated garden columist for four newspapers in Nova Scotia. She and her husband own South Cove Nursery located near Yarmouth, N.S. lchaim@mail.klis.com

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