Soil, Mulch & Fertilizers
The first step in all gardening is quality soil and proper soil preparation. No matter what else is used, a garden needs a good soil conditioner consisting of decayed organic matter. Organic matter will improve many problem soils. It will loosen clay soils to improve drainage and airflow. It will hold moisture and nutrients close to roots in sandy soils.
Two products are especially useful in filling this need – sphagnum peat moss and reed-sedge peat (Michigan-type peat). Both products are high in the organic matter needed by soil to hold moisture and store plant food for gradual root feeding.
Sphagnum peat moss is the remains of a spongy type of northern moss called sphagnum. It is available in compressed bales from 6 cubic feet down to 1 cubic foot. Also available are small case-goods for use in flower pots and planter boxes. It must be soaked before using. Reed-sedge peat is the remains of a variety of swamp plants such as sedge grasses, reeds, etc. It is a velvety dark-brown product, which does not need extensive soaking. Reed-sedge peat comes in 25 and 50lb. bags as well as smaller quantities for use in flower pots and planters.
Mulch is a ground cover that protects ground temperature, reduces evaporation, prevents erosion, controls weeds and enriches the soil. Several kinds of mulch are available, each with different characteristics that must be suited to the particular application.
Among the general types of mulch are:
Organic (such as peat) – keeps soil surface as much as 10 degrees cooler than exposed soil. A thick application will halt weeds, but it needs to be refreshed each year.
Clear Plastic – heat to the soil; keeps moisture from evaporating; stimulates early plant growth but may also stimulate weed growth.
Black Plastic – warms the soil; protects fruit of vines from rot; can increase yield of many vegetable crops.
Brown Paper – lowers ground temperature; discourages weeds and is biodegradable.
Aluminum-coated plastic and aluminum foils – soil temperature and repel aphids.
If you are interested in plastic mulch, there are a few more facts you should know.
First, soil must be damp when plastic is applied and it will require subsequent waterings. Further, plastics may concentrate enough heat during a sudden hot day that plantings underneath will die.
One major advantage of all commercial mulches, regardless of composition, is their ability to keep weed seeds away from desirable plants.
Ace carries a variety of different fertilizer types to meet your specific lawn needs. Stop by any of our 3 Ace locations to speak with a lawn expert.
Wondering if you need fertilizer? Here’s the answer.
All lawns are deficient in nitrogen because grass quickly uses up the natural supply; some also need phosphorus and potassium. Fertilizers help to replace these ingredients for a healthier and greener lawn.
The Three Common Types of Fertilizers
There are three common types of fertilizers: natural organic, inorganic and synthetic organic.
Natural organic fertilizers, such as manure, do not dissolve in water. They are converted to usable forms by microorganisms in the soil. They help to create proper physical growing conditions, but can add disease or weeds to the lawn.
Inorganic fertilizers (ammonium nitrate and ammonium sulfate) do dissolve in water and become readily available to plants. They can cause fast growth for a few weeks, but can also cause foliage burn if improperly applied.
Synthetic organic fertilizers (ureafoam, methylene urea) provide a combination of slow and fast release of nitrogen, combining the best of the other two kinds of fertilizer.
Other Types of Fertilizers
Dry fertilizers come in several forms, which combine all three nutrients and can range in weight from 14 to 70 lbs. for a typical-sized lawn.
Simple-mix fertilizers are mixtures of the three primary nutrients in a bag. The granules differ in weight and texture so that the heavier ones may work toward the bottom of the bag or spreader. The result is uneven distribution.
Pelletized fertilizers combine all the nutrients into semi-rigid pellets or capsules. This does not ensure a steady release of nutrients unless slow-release sources are included in the pellets.
Trionized fertilizers have the three nutrients bonded into a lightweight carrier such as vermiculite. Nutrients are uniform throughout the granules.
Polyform fertilizers require no added carrier, resulting in the lightest-weight fertilizers. A mixture of the three nutrients is screened to uniform size, putting a high proportion of nutrients into the bag.
What in the World Does 10-5-5 Mean?
Have you ever taken a look at a bag of fertilizer and wondered what that three-digit number on the front meant? Every fertilizer consists of three nutrients, which are always listed in the same sequence to make up a three-digit formula. Each ingredient serves a separate function in enriching soil and stimulating plant growth. Listed in order they are:
Nitrogen (N): this is vital to plants for foliage color and density and for root growth. This is the primary nutrient that needs to be replaced.
Phosphorus (P): for seeding development, cell building and root growth.
Potassium (K): assists plants in forming starches and proteins and helps them resists disease and environmental stress.
Each of these three nutrients is designated by a number – a percentage of the pounds of each per hundred pounds of fertilizer. For example, a vary common 20-10-5 formulation means there are 20 lbs. of nitrogen per hundred pounds of fertilizer, 10 lbs. of phosphoric acid and 5 lbs. of potassium. In a 50 lb. bag with the same formula on it, there would be 10 lbs. of nitrogen, five of phosphoric acid and two an a half of potassium.
While formulas vary the most common are 20-10-5, 5-10-5 and 10-6-4, but others being offered include 24-6-6 and 23-7-7.
When you select a fertilizer, remember the purpose of each ingredient and relate the percentages to the needs of your plants and/or lawn.
How To Figure Out How Much Fertilizer You Will Need
Most fertilizers indicate on the package the number of square feet the will cover, but to help figure out the amount you will need, take the size of your lot and subtract the square feet of the house, garage and driveway.
How Many Feedings?
Can you get along with just one application of fertilizer? Yes, but the lawn won’t be very healthy. Two feedings are minimum, although most turf experts believe three feedings – or more – are best.
When only two feedings per year are done, they should be done in the early spring and early fall. Each feeding actually serves a different purpose in helping grass grow. A late winter feeding aids the lawn in early greening and building roots. The late spring feeding builds tillers or sideshoots that help fill in bare spots in the lawn. A midsummer feeding makes a lawn more drought resistant. The fall feeding helps grass build more sideshoots or tillers and underground stems or rhizomes to thicken up a lawn. It is considered the single most important feeding of the year.
Apply fertilizers in both directions to avoid streaking or missed strips.