To Fertilize or Not to Fertilize; That Is the Question Dear Gardeners

Shakespeare's Hamlet said "To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them? "

Is it nobler to give your plants some food before they turn yellow and appear to be on death's door? Or is it a stronger gardener who waits for the enemy's approach and then takes arm against the sea of trouble?

The next decision is whether to take an organic or chemical approach. Organics are said to feed the soil and chemicals are said to feed the plants. Organic gardeners believe that if you feed the soil your plants will be healthier.

Microorganisms in soil break down organic fertilizers to make nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and trace minerals available. Typically, organic gardeners use products such as cottonseed meal, fish emulsion, manure, compost, mushroom growing medium and sludge.

Chemical fertilizers are produced from inorganic materials and soil scientists believe that they harm the health of soil by reducing the population of microorganisms. Chemical fertilizer supporters say the plants can’t tell the difference.

Chemical fertilizers can be designed to quickly target a specific deficiency. The numbers on the container indicate percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus and potash.

Starter solutions are diluted chemical fertilizers, usually called something like quick start. OSU Fact Sheet 6007-4 provides a recipe: Add two tablespoons of 19-46-0 or 12-24-12 or 10-20-10 fertilizer to a gallon of warm water and dissolve thoroughly. Apply a cup of the diluted fertilizer to each plant; avoid contact with plant stems.

Organic fertilizers contain smaller amounts of the three primary plant requirements and take longer to change soil fertility.

Organic fertilizer products make use of otherwise destructive manures while growing healthy vegetables, fruit and flowers.

Composting chicken waste into garden fertilizer helps resolve a local problem for Oklahoma. Brands to look for include Earth Smart and Back to Nature. Local places to buy it include Carson Borovetz Nursery in Muskogee and Green’s Elevator in Checotah.

Organic greenhouse growers use foliar sprays of diluted fish emulsion and seaweed. Some studies show that spraying organic fertilizer directly onto the leaves and stems of vegetables increases the amount of produce and prevents disease, pests and parasites.

Use foliar sprays when the temperature is below 80 and the air is humid. Mist the underside of leaves since the nutrient carrying canals (stomata) are there.

Scotts makes two of the most popular chemical fertilizers for home use, Osmocote and Miracle Grow. Use Osmocote for a three-month, slow release fertilizer and Miracle Grow for soil or foliar-spray through a hose attachment.

Miracle Grow is ammonium phosphate, urea, potassium chloride, boric acid, copper sulfate, iron, magnesium, zinc sulfate, and sodium molybdate.

The tiny Osmocote balls are made of chemicals and soybean oil. Soil warmth releases the chemicals.

Steve Solomon’s recipe is: 4 parts seed meal, one-fourth part agricultural lime, one-fourth part gypsum, one-half part dolomitic lime (optional 1 part bone meal, rock phosphate or guano, one half part kelp meal).

Muskogee Farmers Association (411 Talledega ST) and Munding Milling (429 South G) carry some of the ingredients.

If you prefer to use an organic product but do not want to lug and mix 50-pound bags, Daniels Plant Food is available as a liquid concentrate. Made of seed extract, the product has soluble organic nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, amino acids and trace minerals.

Allan Armitage uses Daniels to mist plants in the sustainable greenhouses at the University of Georgia. Daniels is available at Southwood Nursery in Tulsa.

In Milwaukee, microorganisms are used to treat the city sewage. Milorganite ( processes the city sludge into fertilizers used on home gardens and golf courses. Its nutrients are 5% Nitrogen, 4% Iron, 2% Phosphate and 1% Calcium.

The county extension offices are seeing an increase in gardeners bringing in soil samples for testing. At $10 it is probably the best way to save money in your garden because when the information comes back, you add only what your soil needs.

Take action! Keep thy plants from the sleep of death.


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