The end of this week will be the 4th of July weekend. The summer heat is here but it has taken its sweet time getting here. It's hot for sure but in another month we will be dreaming of the temperatures we are having now. Pretty soon the weatherman will just come out and say it's going to be 98° with the real feel of 108°. These temperatures change a lot about what I'll be doing in my yard. My focus will be more about water and survival than adding more to the yard. July will be my last month to fertilize my plants.
By the time August gets here it's just too much stress on the plants to push them any harder with fertilizer. I did the best I could to get the roots and plants strong by using milorganite on my lawn and plants. I was skeptical about milorganite at first with its low NPK ratio. The ratio is 6–4–0 meaning it contains 6% nitrogen, 4% phosphorus, and less than 1% potassium. Most lawn people are accustomed to seeing much higher numbers on the synthetic fertilizers that we've used for years.
The difference in this organic fertilizer is that it is very slow release, at least that's what I expected. What actually happened around five days after I covered about four of our five acres with milorganite Mimi asked if I had done anything different to the yard lately. I got lucky and got a nice, slow rain right after, actually during, the application. The lawn already had a new shade of green we liked. The landscape plants took a little longer, but eventually showed a very healthy green.
The smell gave it away too. Milorganite has a very earthy smell that goes away in a few days. That smell is why many people use it as an animal deterrent. It definitely will chase deer toward your neighbors and I think squirrels don't like the odor either. So I'm thinking this is the perfect way towards a healthy yard.
Milorganite doesn't burn plants like the synthetic types. I was throwing handfuls of it into my flowerbeds, shrubs, around the bases of trees. I put my spreader on the highest setting while on the lawn. I had to refill my spreader frequently and I had to walk fast.
Milorganite has an organically complex iron that delivers throughout the feeding program and it doesn't stain concrete like the synthetics do. I love that part. Many times when I used synthetic fertilizers I would be too late washing off the walkways, driveway and patio causing a terrible stain that would cause Mimi to give me the stink eye. I try to avoid that at all costs.
My application will last for 10 weeks. That means the slow release will provide even growth and better root development over a longer period of time instead of a sudden growth spurt and excessive grass clippings. Remember; the best defense against weeds is a healthy lawn. Slow release is also good for the environment. Milorganites nutrients release at a rate that plants can use making it less likely to leach into the groundwater. In our case, everything drains to the pond. When I used to apply the synthetic fertilizer and we would get the big rain eventually causing the fertilizer to flow into the pond, turning it an ugly color, and again I would get a good case of the stink eye. No way to hide the fact that I used that type of fertilizer, which she is adamantly against.
Milorganite is not new to the market. It’s been around for 90 years, but it’s taken me this long to use it and learn about it. Obviously I'm a fan.
Keeping my lawn, vegetable garden, and plant beds watered sufficiently is my focus now. All of the plants need to be watered deeply but the different areas need to be watered deeply at different frequencies. My vegetable garden will get watered. but only when it is really showing signs of thirst. I like to see a little wilt before I soak it down. I believe it helps to keep the fungus and blight problems minimal. The soil in my veggie beds is a soil water passes through more quickly than the soil in my shrub beds. I have to stay on my toes to not let it get too dry before watering.
My shrub beds rarely need water. The soil in those beds is great and I mulch them with pine bark on the interior of the beds. I use the ornamental sweet potato for cover on the outer bands of beds for weed control and it keeps the moisture in. I also get a bright chartreuse band around all of my beds and tree circles. I tried it for fun and we really love it. Who knows, I might use a combination of the Blackie sweet potato and the chartreuse margaritas sweet potato next year for a wild and crazy look. It makes a great cover.
As far as keeping my lawn watered, I believe running my lawn heads for a longer length of time less frequently has worked great in keeping the lawn healthy without causing fungus problems. I think a lot of people run their sprinklers daily for 10 minutes per zone or sometimes twice daily. I can't imagine that the water penetrates the soil around even a half inch, not really doing what it needs to do, which is to get down to the roots and even deeper. Deep watering is the other trick to a healthy lawn which will elbow the weeds out.
Depending on the soil under your lawn, I think two or three times a week for maybe 30 minutes per zone should do the trick. The rule of thumb is to run your lawn irrigation until you see water running off. That's when you’ve watered your lawn deeply enough. Everyone's soil will be a little different, depending on how the ground was prepared before the sodding or seeding was done.
I believe more plants are lost during the upcoming time of the year. We are diligent with our watering in July, maybe August, then by the time September gets here and football games start and we start seeing pumpkins in October, our driest month of the year. We are thinking fall. The plants are thinking "Please water us some more!"
We have to keep that water flowing until around November when the days get noticeably shorter, the temperatures go down and the rains begin to fall. If you stay religious about your watering through October you will see far less weed problems and a much stronger growth and health generally next spring. It's a fun dance that is well worth the effort.
Until next week, stay cool and stay safe in this heat. Work in your yard at the right times. Get to know where your shadows are in the time that you work in your yard so that you stay in the shadows as much as possible.
Allen and his wife Mimi are owners of Garden Works.