Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Spring Fertilizing


Its Spring and Your Plants Are Hungry!  


Every year around this time, things around here start to explode.  The forsythias bursts into bloom and not too long after that our huge apricot tree in the front yard pops and is full of bees while casting the most beautiful aroma throughout the yard.  It hits me off and on throughout the day and is just amazing.  I love spring!  

These two events are a good reminder that spring has sprung and that your plants are breaking dormancy and will soon begin the rush of activity that is life as a plant.  As their cells wake up and they begin producing leaves and photosynthesizing, its good to remember that plants have nutritional needs and need to be fed.  So just like the fertilizers many of us put down on the lawn, our plants can really benefit from an addition of fertilizers as well. 

For a while now, I have tried to follow a more natural approach to fertilizers, especially in the garden.  So I am always on the lookout for organic fertilizers and products made out of them.  You can do all sorts of research and learn about blood meal and bone meal, various animal manures, green-sand, worm castings, the list goes on and on.  But, there is an easier way that I have discovered. 

The folks at Espoma make an amazing product line that is 100% organic.  They are available commercially at all the big box stores, though your may have to go to a garden center or nursery to find some of the specific mixes I am going to reference here. For today we will call them collectively, "the tones" as their product line is a variety of "tones."  Garden-tone, plant-tone, berry-tone, etc. They appear to have a formula for just about anything you might be growing. 

What I like about them most is the ingredients list.  I have and continue to do the previously mentioned research on organic fertilizers.  Some of the products listed can be hard to find at times and are expensive when bought individually.  But when I read the ingredients list on any of the "tones," I see all sorts of stuff that I am familiar with.  Blood meal, poultry manure, green-sand, etc. Its important to know whats in your fertilizer and I approve of everything I see being used in these products.  

There is one drawback though, depending upon your applications.  Since these products are made with organic ingredients, there is a bit of a smell factor to contend with after you first apply them.  But other than that they are amazing and my plants have responded well to them.  They don't disrupt the soil biology I have been working so hard to build, in fact they support it.  Organic sources of fertilizer like these take time to slowly break down in the soil, extending their feeding capacity for weeks during the first growth of spring.  In short, these are fertilizers that build soil. 

There is more to life than NPK


While it is important to understand it, there is much more to life in our soil and healthy plants than Nitrogen, Potassium, and Phosphorus. Trace minerals like cooper, magnesium, sulfur, boron, and a host of others all play a role in the development of plant structures and fruit.  In addition to the organic fertilizer mixes, which have a wide range of nutrients and elements in them,  there are three other main things that I add to our gardens and growing beds.  

Homemade Compost 


My homemade compost is loaded with all sorts of kitchen waste, paper products, chicken and rabbit manure, grass clippings, and the like.  This wide range of ingredients contribute greatly to the nutrient profile of our compost and I know that it is loaded with all sorts of good stuff for our plants.  In the spring like this, I like to throw some compost around the base of our establish plants as much as possible as an extra shot of spring nutrition for the soil

Azomite Rockdust


Rock dust is an important fertilizer and I love the fact that its mandatory NPK label is basically blank (0-0-0.2).  One might think that there is basically nothing in there....which is far from true.  Azomite rock dust is a concentrated collection of trace minerals that feed your soil and plants all season long.  It is an amazing addition to your growing spaces, especially those growing food.  Plants grown in soils fed periodically with azomite yield a higher mineral content since there are actually minerals in the soil available for them to use.  It doesn't take much, just a light dusting on your growing beds and then a quick shot of water to get it into the soil.  Its an amazing resource. 

Fish Emulsion 


The final thing that we use around here fairly regularly is fish emulsion, or fish fertilizer.  I have gotten to the point now where I buy the larger bottle because I know we are going to use it.  Fish Emulsion is made from the remains of fish.  They are fermented into this thick, goopy, smelly concoction that you mix with water and add to your soil.  The microbes and other biology in your soil will love it, as will your plants.  Like the other items listed, it does offer a small amount of NPK benefit, but its really the trace minerals where this fertilizer benefits our soil.  

Time to "Tone" your Garden


There are a wide variety of tone products, but I think they are pretty self explanatory.  I don't know that using one or the other would necessarily hurt your plants, but they are specifically formulated to meet the needs of a group of plants.  Here are the ones that I put down this spring and will continue to use off and on throughout the season.


  • Holly-Tone:  This one is listed for evergreens basically, so here I use it around the few evergreens we have planted.  
  • Plant-Tone:  This is the general purpose mix, good for just about anything that grows.  I use this extensively in our boarders and put it around all the bushes we planted last spring.  Peonies, dogwoods, day lilies, and everything else planted in our boarders got a shot of this stuff. 
  • Rose-Tone:  Like I said, self explanatory right.  I put this one around rose plants that I take care of. It also offers benefits for just about anything that flowers in your ornamental beds. 
  • Berry-Tone:  I found this one at the nursery and decided to give it a shot.  This was added to the strawberry and raspberry beds, and was also thrown around the base of our Honey berries. 
  • Garden-Tone:  This one is the grand champion for the veggie garden.  I add this to all my raised beds and growing areas in the spring and throughout the season.  I also use this as an ingredient in my potting mixes for starting garden seeds in the greenhouses.  It will stink up an indoor space if used in this way.... you have been warned. 

Application couldn't be easier.  I just take a small pot around the yard and sprinkle some fertilizers around the base of the plants.  I don't worry too much about how much I am putting down, I just try to not over do it.  I function on the something is better than nothing approach to fertilizing my plants and hope that the building of the soil ends up being the most important thing that we do for the health of our plants.  

I may hit them all again with another round toward the end of May to help them hold strong through the summer, but if I don't get to it, I won't stress.  These fertilizers will help build the soil community and feed the plants slowly throughout the season so if we don't get another round down, it won't be the end of the world.  Periodic shots of fish fertilizer and maybe compost tea will keep them going strong if I don't get to it. 

Whatever you choose to do, I hope you leave today understanding the benefits of focusing on building your soil.  Organic sources of fertilizer and amendments such as these do an amazing job helping with these efforts. Even if you don't use the products I do, find something organic to feed your plants and soil.  Mother Nature knows what she is doing, and with some guided help from us, we can get amazing results.

For those of you who are interested, there is more information throughout the posts on this blog. We also have some info over at our website which you can view here. There is loads of information about gardening, a whole section on animals and composting, and even some ideas about home remodeling!  We'll keep posting here on the blog, and do our best to continue to add more content to the website as well.


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