Gardening Tip: What Kind of Fertilizer Should I Use? (Part 4)

Earthway Fertilizer SpreaderOK, so…you now know a little bit about fertilizers.  You’ve mastered N-P-K values and types of fertilizers.  And you have pretty good idea which fertilizers to choose.  The last piece of the puzzle is knowing how to apply them…and when.

The most important thing about applying fertilizer is to read the label and follow the directions.

The next most important thing is to appreciate that we live in the Phoenix desert where temperatures soar to a soul-scorching 110 degrees or more in the summer and the risk of fertilizer burn is high.  It’s a conundrum, I know…fertilizers can burn so we should apply them at the hottest time of the year.  Right.

But the truth is that using fertilizers inappropriately can cause plants to burn.  So here’s the best way to apply fertilizer:

  1. Thoroughly water the area you want to fertilize.
  2. The next day, apply your fertilizer in the late afternoon or early evening…especially in the summer.
  3. Immediately follow that application with another thorough watering.

How you apply them will be driven by the product itself and the label directions.  I use this same Earthway spreader to apply fertilizer pellets to our lawn.  It’s sturdier and much more reliable than anything I’ve ever purchased at a big box store.  For liquid fertilizers, I dilute them in a garden sprayer and spray both the soil and the foliage.

(Quick note:  Spraying the foliage quickly sends fertilizer down the shoots into the roots.  But unless you’re highly skilled or have a highly controlled environment, don’t spray foliage when it’s more than 90 degrees outside.)

Now, there may be a temptation to overfertilize.  I mean, hey…that plant has never looked better, so give it more…right?  But overfertilizing stresses the plant, making it much more susceptible to diseases and pests.  It’s kinda like using Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) in cows.  They’ll produce more milk, yes, but it puts both the cows and humans at greater risk for adverse health effects.

Finally…WHEN should  you fertilize?  Well, after forgetting what I’d fertilized and when, I put together a quick chart to remind myself.  I then turned it into a handy quick reference fertilizer guide for January-June and a quick reference fertilizer guide for July-December.


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