Fall Fertilizing 101

Many people are under the misconception that the best time to fertilize is spring. That’s true for flowers, but not so true for trees, shrubs and grasses, when actually the optimum time is in October and November right before dormancy when root systems are most active and most hungry for nutrients. What’s most lacking in their diet, what root systems crave the most is nitrogen. Administering fertilizer rich in nitrogen will help ensure evergreens stay green through the winter, lawns punch up healthy and green in spring and deciduous trees and shrubs fill in with leaves strong and full when the growing season gets underway.

Choosing a fertilizer
When selecting a fertilizer make sure it’s the slow release variety. This will give the roots adequate time to take up the food and should a heavy rain come and wash it all away, which happens occasionally despite our best efforts to feed during dry spells, slow release runoff is much less harmful to the Bay than its immediate release cousin. Speaking of Bay-friendly, organic is the way to go. At first glance, organic fertilizer seems to be more expensive; but read the label carefully and you will find that non-organics use a lot of salt and other fillers; in a fair comparison of the two, measuring actual fertilizer pound for pound, the cost is essentially the same.

Testing the soil
While it’s important to know when to fertilize it’s even more important to know what your soil is made of to ensure feeding the right fertilizer at the right amounts to achieve the results you wantand avoid mistakes. When it comes to fertilizing I like to say, “Timing is everything but testing is the only thing.” Testing should be done regularly, once every two years, because soil can change over time. I’ll give you an example. We had a client who had a bed of 45 roses at the bottom of a very green,  lawn-covered hill. The roses grew beautifully for many years and then, seemingly out of the blue, started to struggle. Come to find out, after testing the soil, the bed’s PH levels were very high and too alkaline for the roses to be happy; the reason for the high PH levels was the repeated liming of the grass, whose runoff was leaching into the rose bed. So we adjusted the soils, adding organic soil amendments to neutralize the soil. With a lower pH, nutrients from the fertilizer were available for plant root uptake, creating a successful diet for the roses to thrive.

Do it yourself or come to us
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of getting your soil tested before putting down fertilizer. In Maryland, we’re fortunate to have very responsive county extension services whose labs will do a thorough analysis of your soil samples for a small fee on a 4 to 5-day turnaround.  If you don’t have the time to collect samples or are unsure of how to do it and how to read the soil report once you get it, then consider Architectural Gardens. We can handle the entire process for you from collecting the samples and sending them in to the county to selecting and administering the right Bay friendly fertilizer, in the right doses, at the right time.  Whatever option you choose, your plantings will thank you.