Over the years a vast mythology has grown up around the magic of fertilizers. The head gardeners of the pre-war estates had their very own secret potions. Today you will discover feeds that are claimed for being ideal for everything in the garden.
The fact is very much less exciting. All nutrient-providing ingredients need to be reduced to exactly the same simple compounds before the roots are able to absorb them. This means the nutrients in the liquid fertilizer containing organic salts can be immediately there for the plant roots, on the other hand the plant foods locked up in a coarsely-ground organic mix may need to wait months before release.
There is not a good or bad here, the required speed of release and the ideal balance of nutrients will depend on the soil type, the season as well as the plant. No single fertilizer is the perfect one in all situations.
Every gardening expert agrees that nitrogen, phosphates and potash needs 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 these provide nitrogen, and this organic nitrogen must be transformed into a simple inorganic form before it can be absorbed by the roots. This breakdown is performed by soil bacteria. It is important not to forget that these organisms are not usually active in cold, acid or waterlogged soils, so the speed of action depends upon your soil condition.
Some of the fertilizers are minerals removed 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 distinction between plant foods from synthetic or natural 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 nomally less expensive than organics and have become a lot more popular than the old-time favourites. Just one organic fertilizer, Bone Meal, has kept its place amongst the very best-selling plant foods.
Garden shops display a wide selection of solid fertilizers, powders or granules which can be sprinkled on your soil by hand or applied through a fertilizer distributor. Powders are dustier to apply than granules but are generally quicker acting. Sticks of concentrated fertilizer for insertion in the soil are also obtainable.
Liquid feeding means applying fertilizer diluted with water all 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 popular 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 particular active ingredient. It nearly always contains only one major plant nutrient, although a few (e.g Bone Meal) contain a tiny quantity of another one.
A compound fertilizer is based on a mixture of active components. It nearly always consists of 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 couple of 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 exists and spray in the evening when rain is not forecast.
Steady release fertilizers:
Many popular compound fertilizers contain both quick and simple slow-releasing sources of nutrients, so feeding goes on for some time. A real 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. The best known example is Urea-formaldehyde.
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