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Elinor Teague

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Elinor Teague
A note from Elinor Teague to the readers:  After writing gardening columns for the Fresno Bee for 18 years, it is a pleasure to be able to continue to offer readers gardening advice and tips here on the Fresno County Master Gardeners’ website. 

Readers’ questions and comments are always welcome.  Due to Covid the Helpline is working remotely by e-mail only.

 Questions? Send an email to mgfresno@ucdavis.edu 

Including photos is helpful.  We are looking forward to hearing from you!

 

Master Gardener’s website column November 2022

November 2022 MG website column by Elinor Teague

 
Prices for chemically-derived fertilizers have increased dramatically again this year.Although the U.S. produces most of the nitrogen and potash it needs for fertilizers, the price for natural gas used as an energy source in the production of nitrogen fertilizers has more than doubled this last year.This is especially tough news for farmers but home gardeners are also feeling a financial pinch.
 
This is a good time to encourage home gardeners to experiment with reducing fertilizer amounts, to learn to apply fertilizers more efficiently, to change over to organic fertilizers including kitchen waste compost, and to create healthy soil full of beneficial bacteria and fungi.
 
The less chemically-derived fertilizers we apply in our gardens, the less runoff of nitrogen and phosphorus will end up in our water sources and waterways. 
 
Gardeners often increase the recommended application rate of fertilizers in an attempt to speed up and boost foliage and flower production.Studies have shown that the most important factor in increasing a plant’s production rate is consistency of fertilization.Try cutting application rates in half but keeping plants on a regular feeding schedule.Note the results; if production, vigor and health are about the same or only slightly less then try cutting the application rate in half again.Judging how much to compost to dig in as a side dressing fertilizer is a little trickier.It may takeseveral months of observation over an entire growing season to find the right amount depending on soil type, water retention capacity and water delivery systems.
 
Fertilizers formulated with higher percentages of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium deliver higher amounts of those nutrients but those higher amounts often promote a rapid flush of new growth which is stressfull for plants.Granular formulation fertilizers release nutrients more slowly over longer periods of time than liquid formulations.To ensure that plants’ roots will quickly begin to take up nutrients irrigate the soil in the root zone thoroughly before feeding and again after feeding.Amend the soil in planting beds two to three weeks before planting with as much compost as you have the energy to turn into a depth of 12 inches-the depth of most plants’ root zones.Fresh homemade compost is best-but bagged commercial products will work.The beneficial fungi in the compost will quickly extend their amazingly long hyphae or water-absorbing threads into the surrounding soil, so try to disturb newly-amended soil as little as possible when planting.
 
Older drip emitters deliver water to small spots or areas near the emitter.Newer drip emitters including fan and umbrella-types deliver water in a circular pattern that surrounds the entire root zone around plants.For more efficient use of fertilizers apply them only in the areas that receive irrigation water.When deep irrigating fruit and nut trees with soaker hoses or bubblers on a hose apply a higher nitrogen fertilizer after harvest along the length of the soaker hose or next to areas watered by bubblers.Try reducing the amounts of high-nitrogen fertilizers by half for one season and then observe and note results for the next season.
Read Elinor's past articles