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To feed or not to feed gardens - the fertilizer question
Published: 2/7/2022
As we approach spring, shopping aisles are lined with dozens of different fertilizers all promising healthier, larger, and faster-growing plants.

Unfortunately, these results are oftentimes unattainable or at least unsustainable. Plants require a variety of nutrients in harmonious balance to remain healthy. An excess of any one nutrient can be just as harmful as a deficiency in another nutrient. Also, some nutrients are less available if the soil’s pH value (which measures acidity/alkalinity) is too high or low.

With that in mind, treating soil with a fertilizer without first knowing the soil’s current nutrient levels, pH, etc. can be a waste of money, or worse, harmful to your plants. That’s certainly not to say that fertilizers are never the answer, but they’re best used in a targeted fashion once a soil test has demonstrated specific deficiencies.

SOIL TESTING: Thankfully, soil testing home kits are available to provide some information and samples can be submitted to a lab for even more comprehensive information. However, it’s important to keep in mind that low nutrients do not always require intervention. One should be looking to identify deficiencies within their plant population, rather than just seeking to raise low numbers on a soil test. Many soil tests and fertilizers are targeted toward agricultural applications, which emphasize short terms and high yields. A landscape should be more focused on long-term sustainability. Visit the following link for full procedures on how to collect and submit a soil test to Michigan State University through the local Extension Office: https://homesoiltest.msu.edu/get-started

MULCH OR LEAF LITTER AS AN ALTERNATIVE: Mulching - either with wood chips or leaf litter - can be an alternative to fertilizer and servers as a more gradual and natural way to direct nutrients to plants. It’s a way to simulate the nutrient input of the natural decomposition one would find on a forest floor, while still maintaining a tidy landscaped appearance. Mulch will gradually break down, thus bolstering the nutrients in the soil and improving the soil texture. Much of Novi is covered in heavy clay, which is often tightly compacted in urban spaces. Decomposing mulch and other yard debris making its way into the soil helps reduce that compaction, improves water infiltration, and supports the microorganisms working their magic near the soil’s surface. Mulch also helps retain moisture near the roots, regulates temperature extremes in the soil, prevents weeds from taking root, and protects plants from lawn maintenance equipment.