It’s Already March and Time to Fertilize your Garden and Landscaping Beds

We are with you! It’s March and you’re ready to get into your garden and landscaping beds, especially after experiencing the cooler months of January and February. And in March, it’s a great time to lay the foundation for beautiful, lush gardens and landscaping. Let’s get started!

Spring “Clean Out” Time

First, we suggest cleaning out your garden area and flower & landscaping beds. Remove any fallen leaves, dying vegetation (such as annuals) and other vegetation that doesn’t belong. By cleaning out your beds, you’ll make room for new plants and enable your fertilizer to be most effective while avoiding waste. Don’t forget, however, some removed materials make for excellent compost next year!

It’s also a great to time check remaining vegetation for insects and other pests, including spider mites, thrips, stink bugs and aphids. Likewise, check your soil for grubs, cutworms and others. Treat by targeting the infested areas rather than a broad application that may damage healthy plants and soil balances.

Fertilizing your Garden and Flower & Landscaping Beds

Check local fertilization restrictions

Before you decide on your fertilization plan, check local governmental resources to determine what fertilization ordinances may apply to your area. The state as well as over 125 local municipalities have some type of ban, restriction or “black-out” period during which certain fertilizers may not be applied. For example, both Sarasota and Manatee Counties prohibit the use of fertilizers containing Nitrogen or Phosphorus between June 1st and September 30th.

These restrictions seek to prevent runoff of these nutrients into groundwater sources. The good news is, however, that most bans apply to Florida’s traditional “rainy season” and should not impact Springtime fertilizer use. 

Know your soil type before fertilizing

Knowing your soil type is also very important. Our sandy, coastal southwestern Florida soils often lack Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (N-P-K). In some cases, soils may have adequate Phosphorus despite lacking the others. As a result, we recommend testing to avoid over fertilizing. As many have found, poor growth and plant death often result from excessive Phosphorus in soil. Testing will also help you gauge your soil’s pH levels (i.e., acidity or alkalinity.) It’s recommended to choose plants suitable to your soil’s natural pH level. However, you can raise the pH level of your acidic soil using a lime treatment prior to planting. Unfortunately, lowering the pH level of an alkaline soil is extremely difficult and choosing plants suitable to a highly alkaline soil is the most practical approach.

What do you need to know about fertilizer?

Fertilizers fall within two types. Inorganic fertilizers contain mined materials or those synthesized from non-living materials. Organic fertilizers originate from plants or animals, the most common being manure. Within these fertilizers you’ll find Macronutrients, including Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Calcium and Sulphur. Likewise, Copper, Iron, Boron and Manganese are several of the Micronutrients available in most fertilizers. Soils need both types of nutrients to promote growth of helpful microorganisms within the soil and enable it to maintain adequate nutrient and moisture levels. These fertilizers can be fast-acting (i.e., immediate) or controlled-release where nutrients are slowly released over time. In southwestern Florida, a combined approach where 50% of Nitrogen is controlled-release should be used.

Understanding the fertilizer bag’s label is relatively simple. The three numbers, separated by dashes, reflect amounts of Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (or N-P-K). Ideally for southwestern Florida (and subject to your soil test), choose a Nitrogen to Potassium ratio of 2:1 (i.e., first and third numbers). The middle number (i.e., Phosphorus) should be as low as possible. Note, however, that fertilizer needs will vary based on what you plant and your soil type. And the needs of your flowers will vary from those of your vegetable garden and landscaping beds.

In general, landscaping plants typically require less fertilizer. These include perennials, shrubs and trees. On the other hand, phosphorus spurs the growth of vegetable roots. In soil where Phosphorus is low, a fertilizer offering a complete N-P-K would be recommended for vegetable plants. In such cases, fertilizer may be tilled in prior to planting or split whereby 50% is tilled in prior to planting while the rest is applied as sidedressing. An application of fertilizer with higher levels of Potassium is important for fruit and palm trees. In fact, Potassium deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency of palm trees in Florida and beyond often requiring a controlled-release fertilization process.

Applying your fertilizer

Once you’ve found the correct fertilizer for your needs, the packaging should provide you with adequate instructions on determining the amount you’ll need. Depending on the type of fertilizer, you can till it into the soil (as in composting), spray it on (foliar feeding) or apply as side dressing (alongside the row). Importantly, always keep fertilizer application at least ten feet away from an open water source or stormwater drains. And never fertilize before a forecasted heavy rain.

Your garden and landscape beds await!

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