Years ago a cooperative extension educator made the analogy that feeding your landscape plants organics vs “standard” salt based fertilizers was the difference of feeding your family a meat, potato and vegie meal vs candy. The salt based fertilizers are used quickly, like candy with little residual, and the organics are a slow release mineral based meal. Alex Shigo, a tree expert from UNH explained in an article for the magazine People, Places and Plants years ago, that the salt based fertilizers actually burn the important microbes in the soil. There is a lot of marketing behind those salt based fertilizers, which are good for your annuals in pots, but over time detrimental to your expensive landscape plants. A healthy mature landscape can add 10-25% to your home’s value, according to real estate experts.
For lawns, trees, shrubs and perennials, using organic granular fertilizers makes a big difference in the health and vigor of these plants by feeding the soil with the natural meals and minerals, and increasing the beneficial microbes in the soil, which helps the plant’s immune system. Although the Nitrogen- Phosphorus and Potassium numbers N-P-K are much lower in organics vs standard fertilizers, the N-P-K is slowly released. We sell Vermont’s North Country Organics which can be used on the landscape as well as the lawn. A twenty-five pound bag of NCO Pro-Gro will fertilize 1250 sq. ft. of lawn. Trees and shrubs will take 2-6 cups, and perennials, a couple of tablespoons to a cup for big clumps of hellebores, daylilies or peonies. After a couple of years, the cooperative extension recommends using it half strength. We also stock North Country Organics’ Natural No-Phos: , 6-0-6, as our soils are notoriously naturally high in phosphorus, and there are communities and states that mandate (Maine, for instance) using a fertilizer with no phosphorus, as phosphorus is a leading pollutant in our waterways.
We also carry Espoma’s Tones: Plant Tone, Holly Tone, Bulb Tone and BioTone Starter, which are great for individual plants and smaller projects. Acid loving plants like evergreens and broadleaf evergreens benefit from Holly-tone and new plantings from the Bio-Tone Starter. I like to use the Bulb-tone on my spring flowering bulbs to insure they bloom year after year. Daffodils, crocuses, snowdrops, scilla, grape hyacinths, specie tulips, fritillaria will all spread and bloom better with an application of organic fertilizer at least once a year.
The other reason to use organics is the safety of your environment for your family, especially small children, and your pets. Exposing your environment to harsh herbicides and pesticides for the sake of a perfect lawn is just not necessary. Using organic fertilizers and compost will encourage robust invasive grass roots that will choke out weeds. If you are having issues in your landscape and are using organics, look at all of the cultural conditions: too much water off a roof or from irrigation, a neighbor’s dog that uses your lawn or shrubs as a restroom. When was the last time you added organic matter to your lawn or garden beds? Feed your soil with organics and the resulting additional microbes (good bacteria and fungi also known as mycorrhiza) will be beneficial partners with your landscape plants.