DIY - Proper soil balance using fertilizers and lime

This is a rather boring subject but oh so important when it comes to your lawn and plant health. As a landscaping, gardening and yard care provider I am constantly observing how our accounts are looking, we take random soil samples throughout the year to determine the status of your properties for our fertilizer program. As a landscape yard maintenance provider I also visit and drive many hours a week to inspect and observe our accounts, it’s important to me that we be consistent so I end up in just about every area of town from South Salem, to Keizer, West Salem to Dallas, Independence and Monmouth, weekly.

In this article I will discuss the balance of your soil in relation to how you fertilize your lawn. As a landscape maintenance company we are on a year around seasonal schedule with our applications, there are just certain treatments that should be done at certain times when the soil is just right, from temperature to saturation levels it is all a very complicated science that I’m sure some of you don’t have time to try to figure out, so let me try and simplify.

Soil PH

Soil PH is a range of numbers from 0 to 14 that is designed to judge the amount of acid vs. alkalinity that is in the soil. Optimum PH for clay soils in our region would be about 6.5, most lawns will be in the 5.5 for very heavy clay to 6.5 for the more sandy loam that in this area can be imported from the Willamette river bottom.

Lime

If you soil test you will get a print out and usually a recommendation for how much of the elements that are needed to bring your soil into balance, you can go to the OSU extension site and they will provide you with a list of laboratories to send your sample http://extension.oregonstste.edu/catalog

As a rule I will apply about 50 pounds of product per 1,000 sq ft per year on most lawns. I use Calpril, it is priled and more readily available to the plant, straight Lime or Dolomite is a powder product and difficult to spread uniformly, this is why the Calpril was developed however there is only about 35% of the actual Lime available within a 50# bag. Dolomite in the powder form could take years to work down through the soil thus the reason for the pelletized forms of Dolomite as mentioned, and unlike most nitrogen fertilizers the Dolomite moves much slower through the soil.

Products - trade name: Calpril (Calcium Carbonate) 100% organic, will begin to break down immediately. You can also find other products with Calcium in them, I went to Fred Meyers and Lows and they have a product called Sweetener or sweet, it is basically the same product as the commercial grade Calpril only in smaller #20 pound bags, so you end up paying a little more for the product, as with any retail store. Another good source is the agricultural stores, Ag west supply in Rickreal, Wilco farmers in Stayton, or Coastal farm in Albany will have a much better selection of fertilizer and carry the Calpril product in 50# bags.

Fertilizer

The main function of fertilizer is that it adds Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium along with other minor nutrients to the soil. the little chewy things called microbes break up and avail it to the small roots and nodes of plants, the plant then absorbs the nutrients in through the root system and thus feeding the plant. We use mainly granular fertilizers, I have tried using liquids and have had some results and will talk about that in a later article.

When fertilizing for grass I use a 50% slow release fertilizer for most of the season, you can also use the same fertilizer for plants, it’s all about the same, in fact most lawn fertilizer that is slow release will have more available Nitrogen for the plant at a lot less cost, you know how marketing is, so Rhododendron food is relatively the same as lawn food.

Always turn the bag over and read the label, take for example an off the shelf brand of fertilizer from Lowes, Fred Meyer or the local garden store, and it will tell you the following. The first % of N listed is the most readily available to the plant usually called ammoniacal nitrogen or water soluble nitrogen. Next is the slow release nitrogen called Sulfur coated Urea or just Urea nitrogen these are the slower release nitrogen’s, then followed by the water insoluble nitrogen that can be in any form also slow release. I have all of my fertilizers mixed at a local AG house, with the amounts of N P and K plus micro nutrients based on the different soil types that we have in our clients lawns.

Products- Scotts is a good brand, also Lilly Miller, to be honest you as a retail consumer  don’t have a lot of choices, of course if you E-mail or call me I will sell you a 50# bag of fertilizer at my cost if you want to pick it up at our shop.

Confusing? Yes I know and I haven’t even touched on the micro nutrients or application rates, who says that gardening and lawn care is not a science?

Year around application schedule example

February – apply Lime product at about 50 pounds material per 1,000 sq ft. most yards about one or two bags

April or May - first application of fertilizer at 1 pound of actual N per 1,000 sq ft ( see next blog about application rates)

June or July - second fertilizer application.

September - third fertilizer application.

November - last and final fertilizer application for the season, the most important application of the year.

Tips

  • Remember the difference between the slow release and fast release for lawn fertilizer, learn to decipher the percentages.
  • Lawn fertilizer, as long as it does not have a herbicide in it, works excellent on plants also.
  • Turn over the bag and study the label don’t just buy the best name brand look at what is inside, this will save you money and you will get used to reading the percentages.
  • Schedule your lime treatment for about February of each year, or anytime if you forgot.
  • Don’t over fertilize, you really can’t put on to much Lime but you can hurt your lawn if you over fertilize, more on this in next blog.

Upcoming blog, Fertilizer application rates and procedures, and Organic fertilizers...

Tim Barnes,
Westside Landscape

590 Greenwood Rd
Independence, OR 97351
Phone:  503-585-9517
Mobile: 503-991-0285
FAX:    503-606-0439

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