Over the years a huge mythology has grown up around the magic of fertilizers. The top gardeners of the pre-war estates had their very own secret potions. Today there is feeds that are claimed for being ideal for everything in your garden.
The fact is a lot less thrilling. All nutrient-providing ingredients have to be reduced to the same simple compounds before the roots are able to absorb them. That means the nutrients in the liquid fertilizer containing organic salts are often immediately available to the plant roots, on the other hand the plant foods locked up in a coarsely-ground organic mix may have to wait months before release.
There is not a good or bad here, the desired speed of release and the ideal balance of nutrients will depend on the soil type, the season and the plant. No single fertilizer can be the best in all situations.
Every agriculture expert agrees that nitrogen, phosphates and potash has to be added to your soil. The fertilizers that provide these nutrients are described as either 'organic' or 'inorganic'. Most authorities agree that both kinds do important but rather different jobs.
These materials are of animal or vegetable origin. Most of them provide nitrogen, and this organic nitrogen must be changed into a simple inorganic form before it can be absorbed by the roots. This breakdown is performed by soil bacteria. It is important to remember that these organisms are not usually active in cold, acid or waterlogged soils, so the speed of action depends on your soil condition.
Some of the fertilizers are minerals extracted from the earth - Chilean Nitrate is every bit as natural as Bone Meal. Others are manufactured and they have earned the titles of 'synthetic' or 'artificial' fertilizers. Plants are unable to tell the difference between plant foods from natural or synthetic sources - breakdown to the same nutrients occurs before any uptake by the plant.
Inorganics are generally quick-acting, providing plants with a boost when used as a top dressing. They are usually less expensive than organics and have become much more accepted than the old-time favourites. Just one organic fertilizer, Bone Meal, has kept its place amongst the very best-selling plant foods.
Garden shops exhibit a wide selection of solid fertilizers, powders or granules which are sprinkled on top of soil by hand or applied through a fertilizer distributor. Powders are dustier to use than granules but are generally quicker acting. Sticks of concentrated fertilizer for insertion in the soil are also available.
Liquid feeding means applying fertilizer diluted with water around the plants. In the beginning it began with soaking bags of manure in a barrel of water, bottles of concentrated liquid fertilizer then became fashionable and in recent years soluble powders have taken pride of place. All are applied through a watering can or hose-end diluter.
A straight fertilizer is based on a single active ingredient. It nearly always contains only one major plant nutrient, although a few (e.g Bone Meal) contain a small quantity of another one.
A compound fertilizer is based on a mixture of active elements. It nearly always contains all three major plant nutrients, although a few contain only nitrogen and phosphates.
Several foliar feeds are solid, either as leaf-feeding fertilizers or mixed with pesticides as multipurpose products. When sprayed onto leaves the nutrients enter the sap-stream within in a few hours, even where root action is restricted by poor soil conditions. A useful technique especially for Roses and sick plants. For optimum effect ensure that sufficient leaf growth is present and spray in the evening when rain is not forecast.
Steady release fertilizers:
Many standard compound fertilizers contain both quick and straightforward slow-releasing sources of nutrients, so feeding goes on for some time. A true steady-release fertilizer, however, is a complex chemical which provides a prolonged supply of nutrients as it breaks down in the soil or as the outer coating dissolves. One of the best known example is Urea-formaldehyde.
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An amazing quantity of my time is spent in my garden, but as I am getting older and things have become harder to do. I have decided to use a company called Landscape Gardeners. So far they have given me all the help and advice that I have asked for. I still do a bit of pottering around my own garden.
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