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COLUMN: Fertilizing this week? Make sure you use right stuff

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By Cheryl Steenerson

Hey, it’s May. Have you seen all the wildflowers popping up all over the place? The blue phlox are my favorite. Everything seems to be coming alive these days and it sure makes me smile. You never know what a rough winter will take out.

These multiple summer droughts and winter ice storms can take their toll on all plants. Plants flowering now are putting everything they’ve got into put on a show for us. The least we can do is help them along with a little food.

Fertilize now with the appropriate stuff. Certain plants require certain fertilizers to feed them properly. Conifers (pine trees) need a special mix. So do azaleas, rhododendrons and hollies. If you just need a general store bought fertilizer, then look at the numbers on the front. They tell you the percentage of the nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) and that’s important.

Nitrogen works on producing more green leaves. Potassium powers up disease resistance and root development. Phosphorous feeds the fruits of the harvest or flowers and root growth. Think of the three numbers like this, “Green, roots and fruits.”

Look on the container to make sure that it is a slow release type. Otherwise, it’s like a feeding frenzy for piranhas. Also, too much fertilizer isn’t good for us or the environment. Nitrates get into the water system and too much of it can cause some serious health problems, especially for infants and the elderly. When they get mixed with pesticides they can form cancer-causing compounds called nitrosamines.

Organic fertilizers are slow release and break down easily. They’re made from natural plant or animal materials or of powdered minerals or rock that release their nutrients over a period of a few months. Fish meal and blood meal are high in nitrogen. Greensand, wood ash and kelp meal adds potassium. Bone meal and gypsum provide phosphorous.

Application rates for organic vary so a good book is invaluable. We’ve got several at the library that will give you the application rates per square feet of garden. Rodale’s Garden Answers has a great chart that spells everything out for you.

The other day a reader reminded me of another important soil factor that backyard gardeners must keep in mind. You do not want to grow vegetables next to your house if you treat for termites. The chemicals used are extremely toxic and can last for many, many years in the soil. You should also use gravel as mulch around the house if you have a concern about termites.

If you want to plant around the house then build raised beds. These are box-like frames that allow you to add your own dirt. Just be careful if you use wood for your frames. Treated wood is chocked full of chemicals that leech out, adding arsenic and chromium to the soil your vegetables feed from. If you must use treated wood then line the wood with a plastic liner barrier.

I’ve been meaning to tell you all that the e-mail address provided here by The Anderson News has not been working for me for almost one year now. For some reason my computer won’t access the site.

I’m sorry that I haven’t responded if you wrote to me. I haven’t gotten them. Please just send your questions to me at csteenerson@live.com.

Now, even if it’s a sunny weekend, don’t forget the Humane Society’s annual Shot Clinic is this Friday night at the Glensboro Fire Station and Saturday afternoon at the Health Department.

Be sure to bring dogs on a leash and cats in a carrier. All breeds are welcome.

Happy growing.