By Trey Pitsenberger, co-owner
Along with water, air, and soil, plants
need nutrients to survive. When plants have the other
ingredients but not nutrients, they may survive, but
often will not thrive. Plants will also be more susceptible
to pests and disease. In the foothills people will often
find that the plants they have grown will be come stunted
and not put on the growth that they have expected when
the soil is deficient in nutrients.
There are three nutrients that are most
vital to plants-nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium
(K). These are the macronutrients. There are other nutrients
called micronutrients. These would include iron, zinc,
copper, sulfur, boron, and manganese. The numbers listed
on fertilizer labels, such as 16-16-16, are the macronutrients.
They are always listed in the same order, N-P-K. Because
our soil is deficient in decomposing organic matter,
and little or no rainfall in the growing season, nitrogen
is in short supply. Lack of nitrogen will cause plants
to have yellow leaves, and reduced growth. Nitrogen can
be added to the soil and used quickly by the plant. Phosphorus
and potassium are needed by plants to form healthy root
systems and plant structure. They also help plants to
flower. Phosphorus is especially beneficial to apply
to our plants in the foothills, as our soil is naturally
deficient in that nutrient. Unlike nitrogen, which once
it is applied easily works its way to the deeper parts
of the soil and roots, phosphorus and potassium tend
to stay in the top layers of soil where they are unable
to be utilized by plant roots. This is why you should
always incorporate into the soil before planting a good
pre-plant fertilizer. That way the roots will be able
to benefit quickly from the nutrients.
Fertilizers are categorized into organic
and inorganic types. Organic fertilizers are often derived
from natural by-products. Compost, manure, bat guano,
blood meal, bone meal, cottonseed meal, alfalfa meal,
kelp meal, and fishmeal are some of the more common types
of organic fertilizers. Many organic fertilizers have
only one macronutrient in them. Bat Guano sometimes has
a listing of 13-0-0, meaning it only has nitrogen available
In-organic fertilizers can include types
that have an herbicide in them, such as weed and feed
for the lawn. Plants absorbing nutrients through there
root systems cannot tell the difference between organic
and in-organic fertilizer. The choice of what type to
use is a personal one.
Whichever type of fertilizer you choose,
it is important to use them according to the label instructions.
Use too much fertilizer and you can burn the roots of
plants, and even kill them. When in doubt use a little
less than recommended. Plants that do a lot of growing
all season, like vegetables, and flowers, need regular
feeding throughout their lives. Shrubs and trees that
do most of their growing in the spring generally need
a couple of applications during that time, and not later.
Lawns like to be fed when they are growing actively,
spring and fall.
Plants will give the most growth and be
most healthy if you make sure to add a starter fertilizer
high in phosphorus at planting time. Then add a good
general-purpose fertilizer on a regular basis throughout
the growing season. Liquid types, granular types, timed
released, organic, in-organic, the choice is yours. Keep
you plants healthy with proper watering and regular fertilizing.