Good “dirt” is essential for gardening success. Every gardener yearns for good, rich topsoil. To realize that, however, you may need many dollars and a dream. That’s because the builder probably scraped the topsoil away when he excavated to build your house. Some builders stored topsoil on site until your property was ready for landscaping. The rest sold it and it was hauled away to another job.
Have you priced the cost to return topsoil to your yard? I have, and it is expensive. So, we have to resort to other methods, like fertilization, to assure that your soil has the nutrients needed to sustain the plants in your landscape.
While the term “fertilization” has become the accepted term for replenishing soil nutrients, a recently coined term has begun creeping into our vocabulary – soil care. I prefer soil care to fertilization because it more accurately describes the actual fertilization process. Soil care also clarifies some serious misinformation when it comes to fertilization.
Over the years, many gardeners, garden communicators and even garden product manufacturers have referred to fertilization as feeding plants. The late plant physiologist, Dr. Alex Shigo (often referred to as the father of modern arboriculture), wrote and spoke extensively about fertilizer’s role in plant health.
Dr. Shigo said that fertilizer is not plant food. Plants make their own food by photosynthesis. Fertilizer replenishes nutrients and, in some cases, organic matter in the soil. Plants absorb these nutrients, which help them make food. I like to compare fertilizer’s role in plant life to that of vitamin supplements. Just as vitamin supplements supply the essential nutrients missing from our diet, fertilizer replaces the essential nutrients missing from the soil in which you are growing your plants.
I believe that, if you adopt the term soil care, you may actually be able to save money. You should test your soil, or have it tested, before fertilizing. If it is rich in all necessary nutrients and elements, soil care (fertilizing) may not be necessary. However, if you continue to refer to fertilization as feeding your plants, you will probably feel guilty if you don’t feed them, and this could lead to unnecessary fertilizer applications.
If you are unsure of whether your landscape plants and lawn need to be fertilized this spring, call a professional to test your soil. Not only will a soil test determine whether your soil needs fertilizer, it will also indicate which nutrients are deficient. This way, the fertilizer’s nutrient content can be adjusted to be sure only the needed nutrients are replenished.
Over my many years of conducting soil tests, I have found that nearly every lawn needs fertilization. This is because we mow grass, and the grass plants’ reaction is to replace the leaves (blades) of grass that were removed. For this, they need sun, water, and essential nutrients. Planting beds and the areas around the base of trees vary in their nutritional replenishment needs. If you regularly add organic matter like compost or mulch, nutrients will likely be at, or close to needed levels.
We want to take care of our plants, but one of the most important ways that we can care for them is to care for the soil that is so important to their health, well being and, yes, their very life.