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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date: January 16, 2003
Fertilizer lessons/lessens for new year
(RICHMOND, VA) - The year just started, though some people are already envisioning warm days and yard chores. Before that time arrives, some review may be in order.
Lesson number one: Fertilizers are not plant "food." People forget
from their student days in basic science class that plants produce their own
food using water, carbon dioxide and energy from the sun.
This common misconception makes people think applying more fertilizers to lawns
and gardens equals "better and greener." Fertilizers are salts, however.
If tender plant roots are close to the fertilizer granules, water is drawn from
the roots. Plant cells in these roots begin to dehydrate and collapse, then
roots "burn" or dry out to a point where they can't recover.
Lesson number two: All-important is applying fertilizer in the right amount
and at the proper time of year. Doing so maximizes nutrient benefits to plants
and avoids potential water quality problems.
Forget fertilizing in spring! Wait until summer to fertilize warm-season grasses
such as Bermuda grass and zoysia grass. Wait even longer - September through
November is best - to fertilize cool-season grasses like tall fescue, perennial
ryegrass and Kentucky bluegrass.
Lesson number three: Never apply more than one pound fertilizer per 1,000 square feet and never fertilize when grass is brown, or dormant. Take care to keep fertilizer on the lawn and not on the driveway or sidewalks. Chemicals that spill on impervious surfaces just get washed into the nearest storm drain to pollute creeks, streams and rivers.
All fertilizers are labeled with three numbers, which represent the percentage
by weight of nitrogen (N), phosphate and potash. Nitrogen is important for leaf
and stem growth; phosphorus is derived from the phosphate and stimulates root
and flower growth; and potassium, derived from potash, helps build plant tissue
and in chlorophyll production. A soil test is a good idea: some soils already
have enough of certain nutrients, in which case less fertilizer is better.
Slow-release fertilizers make these three nutrients available to plants over
an extended period. However, be careful when using a slow-release fertilizer
around trees or shrubs, because the later nutrient release may keep plants growing
into the fall when they should be hardening off for winter.
For a month-by-month guide to an environmentally sound lawn and garden or a lawn fertilizing brochure, contact the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation at 1-877-42WATER. Or call your local Virginia Cooperative Extension agent. Add hardy plants to your landscape - request regional (mountain, Piedmont and coastal) native plant lists from DCR, or contact the Virginia Native Plant Society at 540-837-1600.-30-