Cyclone Rake Blog: Better Lawns and Gardens Using the Right Fertilizers and Pesticides

Monday, May 4, 2015

Better Lawns and Gardens Using the Right Fertilizers and Pesticides



It’s spring, and lawn and garden centers – as well as other big box retailers – are lining up shelf after shelf of fertilizer, soil amendments, weed killers and insect controls. So we thought it would be a good idea to review the basics before spending time and money on products to improve the lawn and landscape.

Fertilizers provide three essential nutrients for plants: Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K). The three numbers on a fertilizer label (like 10-10-10) tell how much N, P and K are available per 100 pounds of the fertilizer. Fertilizers come from different sources; most commercial fertilizers are produced using relatively low-cost, large-scale chemical processes. A wide variety of organic fertilizers are also available; these are usually more costly and often contain ingredients derived from animal proteins, byproducts of the rendering process.

Knowing what kind of fertilizer you need starts with knowing the nutrient content of your soil, and the nutrient requirements of your turf, landscape or garden. Soil testing will help you determine the soil’s needs; a good soil test will let you know how much fertilizer to apply. After that, fertilizer choices are largely based on your personal preferences, budget and landscape situation. One thing to watch: avoid over applying fertilizer or applying in situations when the nutrients are likely to leach or run off the soil, rather than soaking in and feeding your plants.

Soil amendments may contain nutrients; but amendments are usually applied to promote soil and plant health. For example, incorporating compost into a garden bed will provide some nutrient boost, but compost also increases organic matter in the soil and the soil’s ability to retain and drain water. Some soil amendments, like lime and sulfur, are added to change soil pH.

Herbicides (weed killers) may kill a broad spectrum of plants or more specific kinds of plants. Common lawn herbicides killing more specific plants include broadleaf weed killers and crabgrass inhibitors. Caution is urged when applying herbicides, especially broad spectrum herbicides, as they can affect both target and non-target plants.

Insecticides are substances that kill bugs! Like herbicides, insecticides may either kill a broad spectrum of insect life – pests as well as insects that can be beneficial to the garden – or be targeted more specifically (think: wasp killer). Biological insecticides usually involve materials and organisms that are derived from organic sources. An example is Bacillus thuringienesis bacteria, which can control caterpillars that invade broccoli, cauliflower and other garden crops.

No matter what kind of product you choose to apply to your lawn or garden, follow these “Good Practices” for responsible application:

1. Know what you need to “fix” or control – and apply the proper product rate to meet that need. Over application wastes product – and your money – and can even create potentially toxic levels of nutrients and pesticides in the environment.

2. Follow product labels. Always. Using products “off-label” is against the law.

3. Understand resistance. Weeds and insects can develop resistance to herbicides and insecticides. That means that what works this year may not work next year. Alternating products and methods of control will help avoid this problem.

4. Don’t underestimate elbow grease. Taking a little extra time to dig out problem weeds in a garden bed – or even a lawn – is a form of “mechanical” control. Really pesky weeds may require a mix of both herbicidal control and cultivation. Also, using a lawn vacuum like a Cyclone Rake will help. It collects the weed seeds as you are mowing – keeping them from spreading themselves around the yard.  Some insects may even be controlled by trapping – or plucking them off the plants they are attempting to munch!

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