With the hopes that no more freezing weather hits Texas this spring, many people are eager to start laying out their plan for a landscape or refreshing their current beds.
Or, you may be dreading spending an entire day at your local lawn and garden store trying to decide which products will work best for your plants.
Making sure that you are using the right amount (and type) of fertilizer will help your yard thrive. But, applying fertilizer correctly and at the right time can be a complicated process.
Excess fertilizer use can cause "fertilizer burn," which results in plants looking dry and unhealthy. Too much fertilizer can make it difficult for plants to absorb water, causing them to stop growing or slow down growth. In some cases, over-fertilizing can even kill the plants.
If you apply too much fertilizer when gardening, heavy rain or over-watering can also send excess fertilizer into local storm drains, then into streams, rivers, and lakes, and ultimately into our drinking water.
When fertilizer ends up in the water, it causes an exponential increase in nutrients. Nitrogen and phosphorus are found in water naturally. But when the fertilizer's nutrients are added, it can lead to excessive aquatic vegetation and algae growth, leading to heavy growth in shoreline vegetation making swimming and boating difficult. Excessive algae growth can also cause taste and smell issues in drinking water that can't be removed during water treatment.
Fortunately, everyone can help reduce the threat of excess nutrients entering waterways by applying fertilizers in the right amount, at the right time, and with the proper method.
The best thing you can do is follow the directions listed on the fertilizer packaging. Avoid applying the fertilizer when high winds or heavy rain is in the forecast. Do not apply fertilizer too close to waterways.
One way you can determine precisely how much and what type of fertilizer to put on your lawn is to consult the Texas A&M Agricultural Extension Office's Fertilizer Calculators.
These calculators consider the recommended amounts of nitrogen, phosphate, and potash to determine whether the fertilizer is appropriate for your lawn or garden's nutrient needs and whether additional fertilizer or nutrient sources will need to be added.
But how often should you fertilize your lawn or garden? It all depends. Your region, what you are fertilizing, and your lawn conditions all play a role in the frequency of applying fertilizer.
Neil Sperry, a Texas gardening and horticulture expert, says that most quality fertilizers will last for 8 to 12 weeks or longer.
"For most warm-season grasses (St. Augustine, Bermuda, zoysia, etc.), you could fertilize April 1, June 1, August 1, and October 1 in most of the state," Sperry said. "In far North Texas, you could probably get by with three feedings on April 15, June 15, and September 15. The September or very early October feeding is one of the critical elements of good lawn management for any type of turf, so don't forget it. Cool-season grasses, by comparison, such as fescue and ryegrass, are fertilized in September, November, late February, and early April."
But both beginner and expert gardeners alike can make one choice this spring that will not only benefit their landscape but their local waterways as well.
Compared to most store fertilizers, compost is a more organic alternative to replenishing your soil's nutrients.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, compost is "organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow. Food scraps and yard waste currently make up more than 30 percent of what we throw away and could be composted instead. Making compost keeps these materials out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas."
Compost requires three ingredients:
- Browns (dead leaves, twigs, etc.)
- Greens (grass clippings, coffee grounds, etc.)
Besides using organic materials, there are plenty of reasons why compost should become a part of your landscape plan in 2022.
Compost has the unique ability to replenish organic matter within soil, slowly releasing nitrogen while positively affecting soil nutrient levels. While compost-generated nitrogen is released slowly over a couple of years, standard commercial fertilizers release nitrogen immediately and fade within a year. Compost makes the nitrogen available to your plants for an extended period by releasing slowly.
Compost also balances out the soil's pH levels, which is beneficial for both sandy and clay soils. If you struggle with sandy soil, the humus in compost can help retain more water and nutrients. Even heavy clay soils can benefit from compost, as it increases the pore space in the soil and improves aeration and drainage.
In addition to its soil benefits, compost will save water and money! The materials are better for local water quality and conservation than fertilizer. If you start implementing compost into your gardening and landscaping routine, you may be able to limit your fertilizer use after a few seasons of compost.
As compost also improves moisture retention in the soil, it decreases the need to water frequently. According to Take Care of Texas, compost reduces water usage by up to 60%.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to make compost at home at a small cost. Compost can be made from kitchen scraps, lawn clippings, newspapers, leaves, wood chips, coffee grinds, and most food products except processed foods, meat, or fish.
You can also purchase compost in the Brazos River basin!
A partnership between the cities of Temple and Belton and the Brazos River Authority has provided Tri-Gro compost and mulch to those who live in the central part of the Brazos River basin since 1990. Biosolids from the Temple-Belton Regional Wastewater System facility are combined with wood products from brush, limbs, and trees collected by the cities to create compost and mulch products. By using both products, the need for additional landfill space is significantly reduced.
Tri-Gro is "a treated sludge product," which meets the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality requirements for use as a soil conditioner and organic fertilizer. However, the products should not be used on crops intended for human consumption.
Tri-Gro mulch improves the appearance of flowerbeds, helps reduce weed growth, decreases soil temperatures during hotter weather, insulates plants when temperatures are cooler, and provides a quality walking surface on paths.
For both screened and unscreened compost, the cost of a cubic yard is $10.83 with tax. Check, money orders, and credit cards are accepted.
For more information about Tri-Gro compost and mulch at the Temple-Belton Wastewater Treatment Plant, click here.