Friday, May 30, 2014

Is Milorganite Better Than Fertilizer?

Another Dear Reader question:  Is Milorganite better than fertilizer?

Answer:  No...because Milorganite IS a fertilizer.  It's an organic fertilizer, created...well, you probably don't want to know.  Feel free to research that if you like.

Milorganite is a 5-2-0 fertilizer, which means it contains 5% nitrogen, 2% phosphorus, and 0% potassium.  The last doesn't mean potassium-free, merely that it's under 1%.

The other major advantages of Milorganite are high iron levels (4%) and the fact that it's organic--so it requires bacterial action to work, which increases the bacteria in the soil and encourages other life to come and eat the bacteria, releasing their resources for your plants.  And so on.  Rather than simply chemically feed the lawn and gardens, it encourages a cycle to start that will continue to feed them long after the Milorganite is gone.

Over time, most synthetic fertilizers will cause a reduction in soil organic matter (assuming that you aren't returning the clippings to the lawn, using mulch or compost, and so on).  Organic fertilizers increase soil organic matter, which increases water retention, fertilizer efficiency, soil life (which helps aerate the soil for you), and makes shortfalls of some resources matter less by binding them when available.

Overall, the organic method wins hands-down for lawn and garden care, but it can take some time to build enough soil organisms to process what you've added and to start the cycle of positive effects. Generally, I recommend applying in May, August, September, and October--and if this is your first time, you should notice a difference by October with the most casual inspection.  Closer inspection will show positive changes much earlier.

Which do I use?  A little of both in the gardens, pure organic on the lawn.  Even in the gardens, the organic feedings are the heavy-hitters.  My June garden application is due shortly, which will be around 18 pounds of Milorganite per thousand square feet.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Applied GrubEx

This is one of the few applications that I do where I wish I didn't have to do it.

Regrettably, Japanese beetles around here are numerous, rapacious, and incredibly damaging.  A few years ago I had several thousand square feet of turf "float" in early September.  Investigation underneath showed a sickening number of grubs (I couldn't count grubs per square foot as there were too many without removing them and putting them in a cup or something).

That was post Milky Spore and nematodes, so something went wrong.

That year I had to pull out the big guns.  Post that, I've decided to use the smaller weapons and stick with GrubEx.

Application now will have ample time to work in (it rained tonight), and will last well through the Japanese beetle season, which is usually worst for the first two weeks of July.

I'll put Bag A Bug traps out the moment I see the first beetles as well.  That will keep some from eating the cannas and reproducing in the lawn.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Removing the Kousa Dogwood

The Kousa dogwood definitely died.  If, by Memorial Day, there's no sign of growth or leaves forming, there's absolutely no doubt a tree has given up on you.

Out it came today.  Fortunately, I still had a leftover common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) that blooms purple parked in another part of the garden.  That was the one that originally donated the other three lilac bushes on the property, and has been dwarfed for several years now.

I removed that lilac and quickly transplanted it into the space left by the dead tree.  I strongly doubt the lilac will exhibit any shock (an hour after transplanting it still looks perfect in full sun on a warm day).  However, if it does, I'll simply keep it moist until it establishes fully.

Lilacs are faster growers, with growth rates of 12" to 24" a year being normal.  This exceeds the growth rate of anything except a very young Kousa.  They're also more winter-tolerant, which is good for the location in which I planted it, which receives a lot of blustery, cold wind during the winter.

The mature height of the lilac is smaller at 8 to 12 feet, but I don't mind giving up the extra height.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

There's More Than Milorganite

I notice from my search results that a fairly high percentage of people arrive here searching for application information or tips about Milorganite.  This is a good thing, and I'm very happy to see an organic fertilizer be this popular.

I do want to tell people:  there's more than Milorganite!  In some cases, these fertilizers may be better for your task, or cheaper for you.  However, they probably won't be easier to find.

Most grains can be used on your lawn or gardens, and you can get most of these at a grain mill if you have one near you.  Some Tractor Supply stores carry grains as well (although the price is generally not quite as good), and local farmer's co-ops may have these available as well.  It might be worth a little time to look around.

Corn:  Cracked corn or Corn meal is best, and I find that cracked corn flows through a spreader very much like Milorganite or a synthetic fertilizer.  Corn meal tends to be a little too powdery.  Corn, as I've mentioned, isn't a very good fertilizer.  If it were a synthetic, it would be labeled 1.65-, which is really low.  It is, however, an excellent soil conditioner and fungus preventative.  Since I discussed this back in April, I won't go too far into it here.

Soy:  Soybean meal is my heavy-hitter on the lawn.  It flows beautifully, and it's a pretty powerful organic fertilizer at 7-1-2.  Application on the lawn at 15 pounds per thousand square feet four times per season is sufficient to feed the lawn quite well.  Apart from its large nitrogen percentage, it has no other specific advantages.

Cottonseed:  Cottonseed meal is comparable with soybean meal in terms of nitrogen, but soybean meal is more prevalent in the northern states while cottonseed meal is more available in the southern states.  Keep in mind that cotton is treated with many pesticides, so the residues will be in the meal. This isn't toxic or a major issue, but the purest organic regimen may not allow cottonseed meal.

Alfalfa:  You may find this as horse feed if you can't find it as a grain.  At 2-1-2, it's weaker than soybean meal by quite a lot, and closer to corn.  However, the growth hormones in the alfalfa will help enhance root systems, and roses love alfalfa.  A handful a month will keep your rose blooming and looking beautiful.  For the lawn and gardens, limit alfalfa use to 10 pounds per thousand two or three times a season tops.  Too many hormones are not a good thing.

Kelp:  Kelp is harder to find, and tends to be expensive.  Kelp contains every single non-radioactive element and can be used to apply trace elements to the lawn, but isn't a substitute for a soil test or rebalancing your nutrient levels properly.  Besides this, kelp also contains growth hormones that will help out your root systems.  Roses, however, are fairly neutral about kelp and act about the same as they do with most other organic feedings.

Coffee Grounds:  You've been throwing them away for years.  Stop.  Toss them on the lawn instead, or into the gardens.  Sure, it's not a vast amount, but every little bit helps.  Earthworms love coffee grounds and seem willing to travel considerable distances to get them!  You can also contact your local coffee shop to see if they save grounds for people who want to compost them, and some Starbucks do this as well.  While minimal in terms of nitrogen and it tends to be difficult to gather enough to feed anything other than a postage-stamp lawn, these are free and a great soil conditioner.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

All done!

The plants are in, and the ones out front are growing like mad already.  The front marigolds will be putting out their second blossoms shortly.  Their second feeding was today.

I suppose this means I should get comprehensive pictures before things really take off.  It's always fun to see the comparison as the year rolls on.

This winter cost me the crepe myrtle's and butterfly bush's growth above ground, which is not unexpected.  We more or less had a Zone 4 winter here in (now) Zone 7A.  I've mentioned it before, but it bears mentioning again as I took down the fifteen foot butterfly bush and the eight foot crepe myrtle and discarded the wood (I can't compost larger pieces of wood).

The only things that remain are the few thick main trunks that I can't cut without a chainsaw or hand saw.  I'll borrow one of those and take care of this at some point.

I still don't know about the Kousa dogwood, but some research shows that I shouldn't give up hope just yet.  Kousa are late to begin with--as I knew--and ones that just went through a very cold winter are later still.  I'll give it at least two more weeks before assuming it died.

Iron vs. Fertilizer on the Lawn

Yet another Dear Reader question!

"Should I use iron or fertilizer on the lawn?"

Er...when and where?

Fertilization of northern lawns should be done about four times yearly for best results.  Assuming you're using synthetics, late May, early September, early October, and whenever growth stops for the season.  That last one will vary year by year as it depends on the weather.  For very cold regions, the September and October feedings may move back a few weeks to compensate.  Regardless of the timing you choose, put down about 1 pound of nitrogen per thousand square feet per feeding, so around 4 pounds of nitrogen per year, for most northern lawns.

While organics can technically be thrown around any time you like, a good off the cuff schedule is mid May, early August (this one is optional), early September, and early October.  Then winterize when growth stops.

Southern lawns differ and I'm not an expert, but I do know that Bermuda grass is a heavy feeder during the hotter months and doesn't want to be fed when nearing dormancy.

Iron differs.  Technically, you can spread soil-applied iron any time you like.  Functionally, you'll find that growth in spring is so fast you can't get ahead of its iron requirements and color suffers regardless of what you do.  One drop of iron before a rainfall in mid June should hold you through the summer when growth is slower, however.  Then apply again in fall when growth slows a bit from the early-fall surge.

Spray iron can be applied any day the temperature will not go over 85° F.  If it suddenly does, wash it off the grass or it may burn.

In the case of spray iron, you're applying so little iron at one time that you can do it whenever color fades.  For bluegrass, that will be fairly fast.  For fescues, fairly slowly.

Milorganite Green Up and Arborvitae

Two Dear Reader questions flowed in today, which is a first.  Both concern Milorganite, which is not surprising as most of my questions lately seem to.

1)  How long does Milorganite take to green up?

I'm going to presume you mean on the lawn, here, as other answers may differ a bit (I use Milorganite extensively in the gardens as well as on the lawn).  Milorganite contains considerable amounts of water-soluble nitrogen, plus the iron which is also water-soluble.  You may notice some greening in three days or so after watering in or a rainfall of a quarter inch or more.

However, much of the nitrogen is organic, and will never flood the lawn with nitrogen.  Over a period of about two weeks, the lawn will slowly become greener and richer in color.  This assumes the soil is never completely dry, and that you have the bacteria in the soil to process it (if you don't, you will after a season or so of using Milorganite or any other organic).

2)  How much Milorganite can I use on arborvitae?

This rule also applies to any other organic material you want to use on your lawn.  I'm pretty liberal about using Milorganite, soybean meal, cracked corn, and anything else I can get my hands on.  The rule does not apply for kelp, which should be applied sparingly to both lawn and plants.

Apply at about the same level you would on the lawn to a bit more, but definitely not much more than double the lawn rate.  While I break that rule on my own and apply a good bit more than that, my soil is well-balanced and entirely capable of handling any organic material that I give it.

You can repeat this monthly in April, May, and June (and again in late October if you want), but I'd skip the hottest months and September to give the plants sufficient time to prepare for winter.  New, soft green growth does need about six weeks to prepare for winter and harden off, so feeding in September is a bad idea regardless of what you use.

By late October the growth for the season is done and the plant has hardened off.  Nitrogen applied at this time will eventually become carbohydrates in the plant (via a rather roundabout method).

Friday, May 16, 2014

Floods in Organic Soil

One of the major advantages of a well-treated organic soil is its ability to hold water under a wide range of circumstances.  The photos below give testament to that fact.  It's been raining fairly hard since around 6 AM, and we've received 1.5 inches of rainfall so far.  The initial soil state was fairly dry and the rain was certainly welcome.

The first picture (click to embiggen) shows the water coming down the swale from the north and entering my property.  While fairly wide, about three or four feet, the water is only a few inches deep and not moving very quickly.  I wasn't going to step out into pouring rain to get the photo.

IMG 0293

This photo is of the southern edge of the swale as it leaves my property (again, click to embiggen).  As you can see, no water.  All of the water entering the property is being absorbed by the soil.  Even now, some time after taking the photos, there's only a thin trickle exiting.

IMG 0294

And a bonus shot.  This is the garden (click to embiggen, of course) in the rain.  I still have to clean up a bit, as you can see, but the plants are fairly happy with this weather.  Tomorrow will be sunny.

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Monday, May 12, 2014

Front's Done

The entire front garden and about two thirds of the back have been finished over the weekend and this evening.  While I see another night of insomnia ahead, I have some hope that Ibuprofin will come through for me again.

I'll get photos up once I've finished the planting and cleaned up a bit from all the mess.  I'm rushing because we're due to get several days of rain, which is very nice weather to adjust the plants to their permanent homes in the gardens, plus lost time for planting.  Things are in a bit of disarray at the moment.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Milorganite and Lime

I regret that I'm aching rather badly tonight and having some insomnia because of it.  This will teach me not to sit on my ankles in the grass for hours, planting until dark.  Or it won't teach me anything, which is much more probable.

But it does give me time to answer another Dear Reader question before my Ibuprofin kicks in and I grab a few hours of sleep.

"Can I put down Milorganite and lime at the same time?"

Yes, you can.  Milorganite is an organic feeding, lime is calcium (and magnesium if you're using dolomitic limestone).

The two have no interaction and can be safely applied at the same time.  I just did this in my gardens, which require a calcium boost and also really need to be fed gently as the new plants go in.

There really isn't anything I can think of offhand that can't be applied at the same time as Milorganite. It's so non-interacting that I use it as a carrier to add micronutrients as the powder adheres fairly well to the Milorganite grains, enabling me to meter out micronutrients in amounts down to just a tablespoon per thousand square feet.

Lime is moderately interactive with many things and should generally be put down only with organic feeding and just plain water.  Lime and micronutrients should never be applied at the same time as forcing the soil to compete between calcium and (for example) manganese means the calcium will win hands-down and the manganese will be partially wasted.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Garden Planting Begins

Last night we fell to 41° so the plants were covered just in case.  As of this point, we look to be well past any danger of frost, although the weather can always surprise you and I'll keep an eye on it.  Last year, last frost was well past our normal safe date of May 15th.

Garden planting began this evening and I managed to get all the pots done (around 12) and a portion of the front garden (perhaps 200 square feet).  Planting will continue until I'm done, which will be quite some time in the future.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Calcium and Boron

This evening I applied 5 pounds per thousand of mid-grade calcitic lime to the lawn.  That will boost the calcium levels somewhat (and therefore raise the pH a little bit), which should be sufficient to offset the normal acidic drift through the season.

Once I finished that, several tablespoons of boron got sprayed on the (currently fallow) gardens. Boron is a touchy micronutrient, so only add it if you know exactly how to calculate the amount to use and only if a soil test tells you that your boron levels are low.

Boron is used in meristem development in the plant--basically, plant stem cells.  Without it, cells don't differentiate well and are less efficient than they should be.  Boron also has many other uses in the plant.

Then the gardens stopped being completely fallow as I planted the cannas and dahlias.  Although still chilly, and with a slight chance of a very patchy frost tonight, both are planted below-ground where temperatures won't drop significantly.

The cannas and dahlias should sprout in about two weeks, with blooming beginning as early as late June.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Calcium and Milorganite

I stopped off at Home Depot this evening for lime, but ended up using a bag of Encap calcitic lime that I had left over.  The gardens have been treated with 7 pounds per thousand, enough to raise the pH somewhat and counter the acidic influence of the Miracle Gro that I use to boost things in there.  Late in the season, I'll add another shot of limestone to work over the fall and winter.  The goal for the gardens is a pH in the 6.3 to 6.5 range, perfect for most plants.  The current pH is 5.9, which is tolerable for everything I grow.

While I was at it, I also applied 11 pounds per thousand of Milorganite to start off the season.  I'll most likely be planting next week, so that will kick in and feed the plants through June.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Does Corn Meal Work on Fungus?

'Tis the season, another Dear Reader question.  I just finished throwing the tarp over the plants (the temperature, which wasn't expected to drop, is currently dropping like a rock), so fortunately I have a moment to answer this.

Corn meal has plenty of advantages for your lawn (and gardens), although I do tend to put down cracked corn instead of corn meal.  The cracked corn flows more like a commercial fertilizer, although it takes longer to work.  In either case, it's a great soil conditioner and wonderful way of adding organic matter.  It's not such a great feeding at 1.65-0.65-0.40 and I'd use soybean meal instead if feeding the lawn is your goal.

But to the question:  does corn meal work on fungus?

In one word:  yes.

In four words:  yes, but not quickly.

Corn adds trichoderma fungi to your lawn, which love to hunt down and eat other fungi (they're more or less the helpful little vampires of the fungal world).  Like any other biological agent, they take time to reproduce enough to gain an advantage over the disease fungi.  And like any predator, their reproductive cycle is slower than the fungi they hunt.

As a curative, corn meal will work, but additional damage may be done while you're waiting.  If you're simply trying to make certain that your summer patch problem isn't quite so bad, adding it now will help.  If it's July and you have summer patch running rampant and destroying your lawn, choosing a chemical control is certainly going to be faster, more effective, and leave you more lawn.

More or less, I consider corn meal a preventative, but not a particularly good curative.  While you can use it as a curative (and it is completely organic), it's not going to be fast.

Soil Tests Back!

My 2014 soil tests are back!  You can click on the below to embiggen it into something you can read.

Soil Test2014

This is a soil that's been heavily organically treated for years now, and had its resources rebalanced every time they even think about dropping.  I'm also fortunate to have a soil that balances in the textbook perfect pH range of 6.2.

In the lawn, a whisper of calcium would be a good idea this year.  Mostly it's to keep the calcium levels from slipping as the saturation percentage shows that the amounts are in the perfect range.  I can use a little more calcium in the garden as most of my plants find higher calcium levels to be optimal.

Other than that, the lawn requires only maintenance levels of boron (almost nothing) and the garden requires a slight bit of boron.  The potassium level will be ignored this year; it's too difficult to meter it that finely, but both soils will probably require a little bit next year.

My phosphorous levels are extremely high.  I'll avoid phosphorus sources on the lawn this year, and keep additions in the garden as minimal as I can.  High P levels aren't an issue, but the lawn only requires about 200 and the gardens approximately 1,000.  Higher phosphorous levels in flower gardens keep them blooming at peak performance.

Can You Use Too Much Ironite?

This question materialized from a Dear Reader.

Yes.  You can use too much ironite.

While you're unlikely to burn the grass from the nitrogen levels, which are extremely low, Ironite is very rich in iron and other micronutrients.  The iron is also unlikely to cause issues, but may cause some interesting changes in your soil pH, so a soil test is recommended.

Overloading soils with micronutrients unless you know exactly what you require is never recommended.  While some are fairly harmless, others can cause issues up to and including the inability to grow any plant for a period of many years.

Here's the ace kicker.

"According to information provided by the Ironite Products Company and published by the Washington State Department of Agriculture, it contains 4380 parts per million arsenic and 2940 parts per million lead."

Even if it contained less than one percent of that, I'd avoid use on my lawn and gardens.

Hardening Off Continues

So far, the plants have successfully tolerated nights as cold as 40°, pouring rain, fairly high winds, and bright sun in warm weather.  While a few of the flats are mildly sunburned, it's nothing significant.

At this point, I've pulled them out a few feet to see more sunlight.  The weather forecast has changed and tonight's weather will be warm enough to leave them outside.

Unfortunately, it looks like we may have a slight risk of frost next week (the week of the 12th), so I'll hold off planting.  Generally, planting starts early as soon as I'm certain the forecast is clear of cold weather.

I have two pots in my office that I did plant, with a dahlia and a red salvia.  Those can stay indoors as long as possible, and they're on a sunny windowsill.  While stressful, the plants shouldn't have an issue with a week or so in that location.