Saturday, October 29, 2011

An article from my weekly column years ago in the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News


With the mountains snow capped and the trees leafless, winter might seem an odd time to feed the soil that sustains your lawn and landscape. But here we just finished a month or more of holiday gorging while our poor landscapes starve in the cold! A famished landscape can’t enter spring ready to reveal its glory, so feed it now if you never got around to that all-important fall feeding!

Why now and not spring? All winter and spring long, each snow melt leaches those vital nutrients deep into your soil, nourishing the roots of your lawn and trees and perennials, while revitalizing your sleeping vegetable garden. A fall or even winter feeding creates a savings account of fertility that pays dividends like a remarkably early spring green-up of your drought-ravaged lawn, vibrant regrowth of snow damaged trees, lush roses in June, and a cornucopia of fresh produce and herbs all next summer. And fed with natural materials, your soil will begin to improve its texture and lower its alkaline pH, allowing earthworms and beneficial fungi and bacteria to convert it into a water absorbing ‘sponge’ plant roots will revel in. Packed clay and loose sand become, dare we dream it, SOIL!

Colorado’s soil is almost always too alkaline (“sweet”), which chemically “locks up” vital minerals like iron and manganese and zinc so that tree and other plants’ roots can’t absorb what is already there. But cottonseed meal, sold in 50 pound bags at feed stores supplied by Manna Pro, is a natural soil acidifier that steadily and gently corrects this problem that causes pale yellow leaves in trees and shrubs (“chlorosis”) and generally stunts health. Hey, you and I need minerals to be do our plants. Cottonseed meal allows soil to release those it contains already while also supplying the natural nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium lawns and trees and gardens need to be green and vitally healthy. A couple 50 pound bags on a standard sized lot, or spread about as heavily as parmesan cheese on spaghetti, will start this vital healing process.

For the main course, treat your lawn and the rest of your landscape to “menhaden fish meal” which contains abundant natural nitrogen for a lovely spring thickening and greening of your lawn and vibrant growth of all other plants. But it is rich in all the sea minerals that are the “trace elements” plants need usually missing from chemical fertilizers that may add a smidge of iron and sulfur and leave out all the rest. Again, buy the fish meal at feed stores in 50 pound bags and sprinkle it parmesan cheese-style all over your lawn using a broadcast spreader and by hand in your gardens. In cold weather that lovely pungent fish odor will be less “ripe” than in summer and fade in a week or so. Many of us swear by “fish emulsion” but that is mostly water....a bag of fish meal is ALL fish! Remember, eastern native American gardeners planted a fish below each corn seed because ocean fish contain all plant nutrients!

If your yard has been being drenched by herbicides and fungicides and insecticides, all linked to issues of human and pet and environmental health, revitalize your soil with a bag of ‘Ringer Lawn Restore’ from a garden shop as it contains beneficial soil bacteria that prevent and cure lawn diseases while composting fallen clippings and old thatch and mulch into compost. As time passes they will feed on your future soil feedings and multiply and help your packed, alkaline clay to acidify and loosen naturally so it can absorb and hold more water. Think of “Ringer Lawn Restore’ as the yogurt we all eat after being on antibiotics.

Hey, no feast is complete without dessert, so treat your lawn and beds to a couple 50 pound bags of “dried molasses” from a feed store. Your yard will smell like a cookie instead of a dead fish, and when spring comes those natural sugars and carbohydrates will feed the beneficial bacteria and fungi that together will turn your lifeless infertile soil into a living medium that your trees and lawn and gardens will all find new life in. Hey, if your kids lived on white bread and soda, what shape would they be in? Most chemical fertilizers are just as incomplete or even harmful to the soil your landscape arises from.

So even as we endure winter’s glacial march, go ahead and plan for spring and give your soil some “health food” for a change, and help your yard fight back against the cruel insults of that lingering drought. And what better way to thumb your nose at Old Man Winter than use his snows to guarantee a colorful, vibrant return of spring to your landscape?!

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