What Is Organic Fertilizer?

If you read a number of web sites, especially organic gardening ones, you quickly realize that there are two basic kinds of fertilizer. There is the ‘synthetic fertilizer’ which you buy in bags. This fertilizer is clearly BAD! Then there is the good stuff; organic fertilizer.

What is the real difference between organic fertilizer and synthetic fertilizer? Is there a difference? The answer may surprise you.

variegated Lilly of the valley
Variegated Lilly of the Valley – by Robert Pavlis

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Something Stinks About Manure Tea

In may last couple of posts on manure tea and compost tea I explained why there is little or no reason to brew the tea. I am sure that I have not convinced all of you since the web is full of stories promoting manure tea as a good thing for your plants. If you want to brew some tea it  probably will not harm you or your plants, but it could; see the bottom section of Compost Tea.

If you must brew some tea, please do it intelligently. Don’t use commercial products!

Manure Tea bags ready for brewing your own.
Manure Tea bags ready for brewing your own.

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Soil Testing for NPK

Which fertilizer should you be adding to soil? How much fertilizer should you add? Why is my plant not growing well? These are all very common questions and a very common answer to them is; do some soil testing!

That may be the right answer, but there is much more to the story. Let’s have a look.

Soil testing for NPK
Soil testing for NPK

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Increasing Soil Acidity

There is a lot of advice on how to make make acidic soil both in print and on the net. You can use coffee grounds, pine needles, and sulfur to name a few. This advice has two problems. Firstly, the recommended product may not actually acidify soil. For example in Do Pine Needles Acidify Soil I show that pine needles do not make acidic soil. Coffee grounds don’t acidify soil either. The second problem is that before such advice is given it is important to know the soil types (ie soil texture) being treated. Let’s take a closer look at this.

acidic soil texture
Soil texture is important when trying to acidify soil

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How to Get Rid of Moss in Lawns

Lots of people want to know how to get rid of moss in the law, but a better question to ask is, “why does moss grow in lawns?”The most common response to this question is that the lawn receives too much shade and that the soil is acidic. The common advice is that grass will grow better if you limb up the trees and add lime to the soil to make it less acidic. Or you can spread a moss killer for lawns.

What about moss that is growing in a sunny area? What about moss growing in soil that is alkaline? There is much more to the moss story and the only way to really get rid of moss in a lawn is to understand why it is there in the first place.

How to get rid of moss in lawn
Mossy alkaline bolder at Aspen Grove Gardens

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Liming Acidic Soil – Adding Lime

Your soil is acidic and you would like to change the pH so that it is less acidic. The universal advice is to add lime to the soil ie liming your soil. Lime is alkaline and it will neutralize the acidity of the soil and make it more neutral. Adding lime certainly works – but there is a catch!

Liming acidic soil
Anemone Pamina at Aspen Grove Gardens

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Do Pine Needles Acidify Soil

This is an old gardening myth that just won’t rot away!

This common, incorrect, advice goes as follows: if your soil is alkaline (ie has a pH above 7) and you want to make it more acidic, add pine needles to the soil. Since pine needles are acidic they will acidify your soil. This advice is very prevalent especially for growing acid loving plants such as azaleas and rhododendrons.

Pine Needles Acidify Soil
Do Pine Needles Acidify Soil?

There are two important questions to ask. Firstly, are pine needles acidic? Secondly, do they acidify the soil? Let’s have a closer look at both questions.

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Compost Tea

Compost Tea has become a very popular topic. The following is a quote from Fine Gardening (ref 2):

Gardeners all know compost is terrific stuff. But there’s something even better than plain old compost, and that’s compost tea. As the name implies, compost tea is made by steeping compost in water. It’s used as either a foliar spray or a soil drench, depending on where your plant has problems.

Why go to the extra trouble of brewing, straining, and spraying a tea rather than just working compost into the soil? There are several reasons. First, compost tea makes the benefits of compost go farther. What’s more, when sprayed on the leaves, compost tea helps suppress foliar diseases, increases the amount of nutrients available to the plant, and speeds the breakdown of toxins. Using compost tea has even been shown to increase the nutritional quality and improve the flavor of vegetables. If you’ve been applying compost to your soil only in the traditional way, you’re missing out on a whole host of benefits.

Let’s look at the facts.

Compost Tea
Aerated Compost Tea

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Soil Amendments – Don’t Amend Before Planting

Almost every book, and most web site tells you that you should amend your soil before planting a new plant. This seems to make a lot of sense. Few of us have perfect soil and we don’t want to put our new expensive plant into poor soil. If we amend it, the plant should grow better? That’s a common garden myth.

amending soil
Person Tree – don’t amend soil before planting

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