Fertilizer Time: Don’t Be So Quick To Spread It

Source(s): Faith Peppers, Extension News Editor, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

What’s the first thing most homeowners are tempted to do when the world begins to bloom in the spring and their lawn is still winter brown?


But stop! Test your soil before you fertilize.

Using the wrong fertilizer or using fertilizer in the wrong amounts at the wrong time can actually harm your lawn or garden, said Owen Plank, a University of Georgia Extension Service agronomist and soil scientist.

If you have a low nutrient level and don’t put enough fertilizer out, or if you have a high test level and you don’t need fertilizer, you can adversely affect plant growth,” Plank said.

“This is particularly true with some turf grasses, like centipede,” he said. “If you overlime or over fertilize centipede, it can go into centipede decline, and over a few years you can lose the lawn.”

The wrong fertilizer on vegetable gardens can also induce problems.

“With vegetables, like tomatoes, one problem often encountered is blossom end rot,” Plank said. “Several factors can cause it, including inadequate calcium or too much nitrogen. You can induce blossom end rot with improper fertilization.”

Sometimes it’s a matter of timing.

“With certain grasses, the timing of the fertilizer application is critical,” Plank said. “A soil test also tells you what months you should fertilize your lawn.”

A simple soil test can help eliminate fertilizing mistakes and fertilizer waste.

“If a lawn had low pH and the owner didn’t know it, and applied a complete fertilizer to the soil,” Plank said, “nutrients like phosphorus would only be about 50 percent efficient. By knowing the condition of your soil, you can improve fertilizer efficiency.”

One easy soil test can be the fertility gauge for lawns, shrubs, trees, flowers and vegetable gardens.

“The two main reasons to conduct a soil test,” Plank said, “are to find out if the soil needs lime added and to find the relative fertility status of the site, which determines how much fertilizer will need to be applied to raise it to a sufficient level.”

The first step in soil-testing your lawn or garden is to drop by the county Extension office and pick up a leaflet that outlines the proper procedure.

“The leaflet will describe how and when to take the sample and what tools to use,” Plank said.

Once you gather a sample, return it to the Extension office to be shipped to the University of Georgia Soils Lab. Your sample should be analyzed and results returned in about seven days.

“For lawns and gardens, one basic test will take care of 99 percent of the situations encountered,” Plank explained. “That basic test determines the soil pH, lime requirement, phosphorous, potassium, calcium, magnesium, zinc and manganese.”

From the soil test, recommendations are made regarding the amount and type of limestone to use and what fertilizer grade (10-10-10, 8-8-8, etc) to use.

Spring isn’t the only time for soil testing. A soil sample can be taken any time, depending on specific circumstances.

“People wait until early spring to send the samples in, and that’s OK,” Plank said. “But for those who need to lime their lawns or gardens, it’s preferable to test in the fall. You can lime over the winter and it can start reacting, so when the growing season arrives, the soil pH will be favorable for good growth.”

A soil test provides homeowners information essential for growing strong, healthy lawns. A routine soil test made through the Extension office is just $6.00.

Center Publication Number: 18

Atlanta Urban Garden Program

Source(s): Faith Peppers, CAES- Office of Communications, The University of Georgia.

It is often said that gardening is good for the soul. Gardeners in Bobby Wilson’s Atlanta Urban Gardening Program find it’s not only good for the soul, but the mind and the wallet as well.


“The Atlanta Urban Gardening Program is more than just planting a seed and watching it grow,” Wilson said. “It’s about growing communities, training new leaders, feeding the hungry and homeless, establishing farmers markets and working with youths and adults through gardening.”

Wilson, an area Cooperative Extension agent for Fulton and DeKalb counties, is the coordinator of the Atlanta Urban Gardening Program. He came to UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences 16 years ago from St. Paul, Minnesota to get closer to his Mississippi roots.

“I really wanted to get back to the South,” Wilson said.

Since Wilson took over the urban gardening program, more than 200 garden sites have been established, and he has helped form community partnerships with the Atlanta Community Food Bank, the Federation of Southern Coops, the Buddy Valentino Foundation, the Sullivan Center and others. The vital partnerships have helped the program reach deeper into the community.

“This year alone we started 12 new gardens at local daycare facilities, public housing complexes and facilities for the physically challenged,” Wilson said.

In 1995, Wilson added the Atlanta Urban Gardening Leadership Program to the gardening program.

“The leadership program is designed to give community gardeners a leadership lesson, a gardening lesson and a chance to meet other gardeners from across Atlanta,” Wilson said. “From this program we also started an outreach program. We feed more than 300 homeless people once a month in an Atlanta shelter. We adopted a school in Costa Rica where we sent school supplies for two years, and we give coats and blankets to the homeless.”

The gardeners also are learning about business.

“Participants have learned business skills through our value-added products developed from our community gardens,” Wilson said. “We have our own labeled brands of pepper sauce, chow-chow, pepper jelly and scrub-a-dubs made from loofa sponges from our gardens.”

These products produced by the gardeners and packaged under their label, Atlanta’s Own Hot Urban Success, are available for sale by the community gardens and can be found in some restaurants in the metro area.

“The money from the products goes back into their local community garden program,” Wilson said, “It helps the gardeners learn that they can feed their families and make a little money from gardening.”

If you are thinking Wilson works with new city dwellers in expensive new lofts and high-rise condos, think again.

“Our community gardeners, who themselves are from underserved communities, feel they have been blessed and because of these blessings they know they can be a blessing to someone else,” he said.

“It wasn’t so much agriculture or horticulture as it was working with people. I enjoy working with people, and this is the ideal job for me: Working in communities throughout Atlanta. I get to interact with people from all walks of life,” he said.

Resource(s): Vegetable Gardening in Georgia

Center Publication Number: 236