January 2010: A Time For Growth

 

As we begin the New Year, I want to wish everyone a very good year. I trust that Christmas went well, and its purpose of giving and receiving was meaningful (more than just material gifts, but time spent with family and friends). We are caring for our aged mother (she will be 89 this year) and cannot be easily moved, so family comes to see us. So for a few short days the home is full, with my wife cooking away while I was recuperating from a “minor surgery” (I don’t think any surgery is minor, it all hurts!), so I was of no help at all. This time of year between Christmas and New Year is probably the only time that business, with the exception of retail, takes a much needed pause, so I hope you took one. Especially you ladies, you are the “stars” of the Christmas/Holiday season; so thank you for all you did, and continue to do.

 

The beginning of a new year means a fresh start, new ambitions, resolutions (that never seemed to get resolved) and in many cases the same routine as before, but at least we are more rested. For the plants, it is similar. Early spring is approximately a month to six weeks away (here in the Valley) and the plants have been dormant (resting), whether they are evergreen or deciduous, growth has been on hold or minimal. The plants are ready to grow, and will be responding to increasingly warmer temperatures. Many plants begin their bloom period, such as Azaleas, Chinese Fringe Flowers, Daphnes, etc. With the winter passing the plants via their roots are seeking nutrition to support their new growth; they’re “hungry.” I find that most of us are pretty good at feeding our lawns, but the plants are often neglected. Especially with drip irrigation, there is a “window period,” a specific time that we can feed them. We need the rains to dissolve the fertilizer so that it can seep into the soil. We do not want to apply it too early, no applications before February 10th. Ideally we want to apply it just prior to an early spring storm. Do not leave the fertilizer pills on the leaves of the plants, as they will burn. With this timing, the plants will receive maximum benefit from the application. The remaining spring rains help to take the fertilizer deep into the root zones where it will be the most beneficial. The only “downside” to this is that the frequency is limited to one application. Unless you have a small enough yard, then you can reapply in May and hose water it in several times. So as much as I believe drip is the best way to conserve water, it does have its disadvantages. So inherently there is a problem with giving our plants timely nutrition since we are limited to a specific season, and many of us have yards too large, making hose watering impractical.

As mentioned in previous articles my background is in the wholesale nursery field with my last position being held as a production manager (1989), with duties similar to a department manager. In the wholesale nursery field it was quite common to have fertilizer injectors connected to the watering lines. Every time we watered we were feeding the plants with minor amounts of fertilizer. This was a good system, growing plants to sellable size within a single season. The concern with it was the run-off making its way into the local creeks and streams. About eighteen years ago the EPA began restricting the water run-off from the nurseries. Each nursery had to recapture its own run-off and recycle it back into the system. This became an expensive process, not only to recapture but to neutralize the salt content, fertilizer and soil minerals, so that the water could be reused. In time the smaller nurseries went back to granule feeding. However the concept of fertilizing as you irrigate, or having the capacity of fertilizing at specific times through the existing irrigation system is a good idea and would solve the problem we face with drip irrigation.

Soon we will have new legislation that will begin to restrict residential run-off. I know we have being seeing more T.V. commercials showing us how our run-off of fertilizers and pesticides are being leached into our streams and rivers. Large lawns are by far the largest contributors to this. Why does leaching occur? The lawns and plants are unable to absorb all of the fertilizer given at the time of application. The run-off (including pesticides) leaches into our streams and rivers, especially with conventional sprinklers that irrigate beyond the soils ability to absorb. Hence it becomes a source of water pollution. This excess fertilizer and pesticides contributes to poor water quality. Especially phosphorous (the middle number in the ratio 15-15-15 e.g.), causes algae to grow out of control, known as “algae bloom” reducing the clarity and oxygen in the water. It is “junk food” for the algae causing the water to have a “green” hue. This increase of algae in turn has a direct effect on aquatic life, affecting the photosynthesis of the plants and could degrade drinking water supplies, or require more energy and chemicals to bring the water to drinking water quality. So regardless of the new regulations, this is a concern which affects all of us. We all rely on our water supply, and to keep it as pure as possible is only to our benefit. So since some leaching via run-off is inevitable (mp rotor nozzles help a GREAT DEAL in minimizing this, read July’s publication on my website) what can we do? What happens if we combine the injection system with organic fertilizers and pesticides?

If I was to invest in something it probably would be the Organic business. It is gaining momentum as is seen in the ever increasing selections at our stores. It is the way many of us are going, but how does it apply to landscape? Well for one and it is a major point, the run-off from organic sources will not be harmful to our environment. The materials used enter into the natural cycle of decomposition and return back to a simpler state. Another major difference is the amounts used. If you read the labels on granule products such as, Dr. Earth, Monrovia or other organic sources, you will see that the fertilizer rates are about half of the chemically (or synthetic) derived fertilizers. Why is that? The whole basis of organics varies from synthetics much like western medicine varies from eastern medicine. In general terms, with western medicine we treat the symptom, with eastern medicine the immune system is strengthened so that it can fight the infection. It is the same with organic biology. Synthetic fertilizers are already in a form that the plants can use, or require minimal breakdown from the soil microbes, hence the quick green and growth we see after feeding our lawns, passing the natural stages that occur with organic fertilization, which is to feed the soil first and then allow the soil to feed the plants. The soil is made up of many beneficial soil microbes, and bacteria which are the mechanism Nature uses for the nutrient transfer from the soil to the plants. By feeding the soil first, there is an increase in microbial activity. This increased microbial activity helps to make plants more resistant to diseases, drought, and insects while contributing to optimum plant growth. Also as this process occurs, humus is created. Humus increases the soil’s ability to absorb and retain water, reducing fertilizer loss and water usage, plus keeping the soil friable (workable) and productive. So in combining organics to an injection system we are receiving the best of both worlds, we are reducing harmful run-off and able to feed our plants on a regular or scheduled basis, allowing them to become healthy and strong. This is the point of landscaping and having a garden. The desire of one to enjoy the benefits of nicely landscaped yard, to see the humming birds and butterflies come, birds nest, and the diverse colors and shapes found in the flowers and leaves of each species, and to know that our enjoyment is not at the cost of our environment. To have organic produce from our own garden, knowing that it is healthy and tasty is a win win.

If you are interested in this method of fertilization, please fill out our form on our website, under “contact” and we will be in touch. The current line of organic products, are fertilizers, pesticides, soil conditioners and animal repellants (gopher, volts, deer, raccoon etc.) with more products coming in 2010. All of these products are pet and child-friendly. They also have great application to businesses, homeowner associations and retail. In finishing, do not forget your dormant sprays on fruit trees, winter pruning on roses and fruit trees, and bulb planting. Also, please remember we offer a Spring Start Up program where we do a complete check of your irrigation, sprinklers and drip, night lights to prevent burn-out/hot spots, pruning needs and treat plants and trees with a soil stable chemicals for aphid and weeds in the landscape. Hopefully in time we will have systemic organic products for aphid and weeds as well. So as always, thank you for reading and good gardening!

If you need help, please call Executive Care Landscape Management, Inc. at (916) 765-9040 or visit our website www.executivecareinc.com. I will be at the Northern California Home & Landscape Expo at Cal Expo in January, sharing a booth with Patio Perfections and also with Jensen Homes, I would welcome the opportunity to meet you in person. Executive Care Landscape Management, Inc. is a local full service landscape design/install and maintenance company.

 

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