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Year-Round Guide to Yard Care: Tips and Techniques for Healthy Lawns and Gardens

Discussion in 'Nature/Habitat/Garden Corner' started by OSimpson, Apr 22, 2008.

  1. OSimpson

    OSimpson Certified Master Naturalist

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    The Health of Virginia’s Waterways Begins in Your Backyard

    Green lawns, tall trees, bright flowers—Virginians love the outdoors, even when it’s just the backyard. The way you maintain your yard, however, can have surprising impacts on the natural world.
    You probably know that pesticides and herbicides are powerful chemicals that can injure wildlife if overused. But, did you know that over fertilization and erosion are major threats to Virginia waterways and wildlife?

    Carried with rainwater into lakes, rivers or the Chesapeake Bay, nitrogen from fertilizer feeds toxic algae to create dead zones where nothing else can survive.
    Sediment from erosion clouds waterways, preventing the growth of aquatic grasses—the base of the food chain for many fish and waterfowl.
    The good news is that you can help protect Virginia’s waterways and wildlife and still enjoy a vibrant, healthy yard. This guide will help.

    Arranged in a convenient seasonal format, it will help you decide what to plant and when to fertilize; it will help you restore ailing plants and enrich your soil.
    Many of the steps outlined in the guide will save you both time and money, making it even easier to enjoy your lawn or garden.

    Fertilizers are not plant food! This is a misnomer. Plants produce their own food using water, carbon dioxide and energy from the sun.

    The Six Macronutrients
    Plants need 17 nutrients for health but these six are the most important.
    Nitrogen (N): Building block for proteins, enzymes, chlorophyll and growth regulators; excess produces excess leaf growth with little fruit
    Phosphorus (P): Used in metabolism, respiration and photosynthesis; often lacking in acid and alkaline soils Potassium (K): Aids in starch formation, water regulation, disease resistance, chlorophyll development and tuber formation; found in potash
    Magnesium (Mg): Building block for chlorophyll, an enzyme activator; excess interferes with calcium
    Calcium (Ca): Needed for cell wall structure and cell division, an enzyme activator; excess blocks micronutrient absorption
    Sulfur (S): Component of proteins and amino acids, important in respiration; generally present in Virginia soil

    Fertilizer Analysis
    All fertilizers are labeled with three numbers. These three numbers give the percentage by weight of nitrogen (N), phosphate (P205) and potash (K20).
    Examples of commonly used fertilizers are 23-3-7 and 20-10-5. An “incomplete” fertilizer lacks one of the three nutrients.

    Cottonseed meal, blood meal, bone meal, hoofs and horn meal, fish emulsion and manures are examples of organic fertilizers. Organic fertilizers may contain lower concentrations of nutrients, but they perform important functions that synthetic formulas do not, improving the physical structure of your soil and promoting beneficial bacterial and fungal activity.

    Effects of Over-Fertilizing
    Not only is over-fertilizing a waste of time and money, it can do serious harm to the plants you intend to help. Fertilizers are salts, much like table salt. If tender plant roots are close to fertilizer granules, water is drawn away from these roots and they dehydrate. Over-fertilizing trees or shrubs, particularly with slow release fertilizer, can also cause them to keep growing into the fall when they should be hardening off for winter.

    TIP:
    Organic fertilizers are a source of slowly available, water-insoluble nitrogen (WIN). These slow-release fertilizers require fewer applications.

    Excess fertilizer poses a serious threat to water quality. Rainwater runoff carries it into streams and lakes, where it promotes the growth of harmful algae. Excess fertilizer can also leach into the groundwater supply.

    Avoid getting fertilizer on sidewalks and driveways so it is not washed into storm drains that flow into streams. To minimize leaching and runoff, provide your soil with holding power by planting groundcovers in bare spots.

    Nutrient Troubleshooting for the Garden
    Here are some common symptoms of nutrient deficiency. It is recommended that you test your soil and consult a professional before beginning fertilizer treatments.
    Missing Problem Nutrient
    Yellowing, especially of older leaves . . . . . N
    Yellowing of new growth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . S
    Yellowing between veins . . . . . . . . . . . . . . K
    Yellow leaf edges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Mg
    Leaves turn lighter green. . . . . . . . . . . . . . N
    Leaves turn brown or purple. . . . . . . . . . . P
    Brown leaf tips . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . P
    Brown leaf edges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . K
    Tendency to wilt . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. K
    Cupping of mature leaves . . . . . . . . . . . .. Ca
    New leaves irregularly shaped . . . . . . . . . Ca
    Reduced flowering . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . P
    Reduced seed production . . . . . . . . . . . . Mg
    Inhibited bud growth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ca

    Testing Your Soil

    It is important to apply the optimum amounts of fertilizer, lime and other soil amendments and to do so at the proper time of year. A soil test supplies valuable guidance for improving your soil. Perform a soil test every 3 to 4 years. If possible, test in the fall so that lime and other soil amendments can alter pH over the winter.

    Types of tests
    Soil test kits are available from your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office (find your office at www.ext.vt.edu). Follow the instructions when collecting a sample, complete the enclosed form, then mail the kit to Virginia Tech according to the instructions provided. Your results will arrive by mail, along with recommendations on what fertilizer or other soil amendments to use for specific plants. Results show pH and availability of phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium.
    Some nurseries also sell soil test kits for at-home use. Private testing companies can provide detailed reports but may be expensive.

    The accuracy of any soil test is a reflection of the soil sample. Be sure your sample is representative of the area to be treated. Using a stainless steel or chrome plated shovel or spade, sample the soil from 10 random areas, avoiding border areas such as those near roads, compost or brush piles, or under eaves. Place the samples in a clean pail or container and mix them thoroughly, then submit the combined soil for testing.

    How deep should I dig for a soil sample?
    Established lawns 2–4 inches
    Vegetable and flower gardens 6–8 inches or tillage depth
    Trees and shrubs 6 inches

    Common Soil Types in Virginia
    • Sandy soil is coarse and grainy. Sandy soil drains well but dries out rapidly.

    • Clay soil is very thick, like putty. It holds water like a sponge, but when it does dry out becomes hard and very solid.

    • Silty soil is between sandy and clay soil. It holds water but does not dry into a hard, solid mass.

    • Loam is the ideal mixture of sand, clay and silt. Through the addition of organic amendments, loam can become the perfect soil for your vegetable garden.

    TIP:
    Do not use brass, bronze or galvanized tools to collect soil samples because they will contaminate samples with copper and/or zinc.

    For More Info : VA Department of Conservation and Recreation
     
  2. JLC

    JLC Member

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    I get my organic "fertilizer" from Loudoun Milling right off of Rt. 7. I've gotten alfalfa meal and soybean meal from them.
     

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