The first three numbers on any container of fertilizer are the percentage of Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K) found inside. They are always listed in that order, no matter the fertilizer. Nitrogen causes fast, green growth so the first number on the fertilizer bag should be the largest if you’re applying fertilizer to your lawn. The second is phosphorus and encourages blossoming, fruiting and root development. This number should be largest for flowers and vegetables. Potassium encourages disease resistance and cold hardiness. P and K don’t move very much in the soil. Nitrogen, on the other hand, leaches through the soil readily and needs to be reapplied several times a year on a lawn. It can also move into our ground water so don’t over-use it. If there is an S at the end of the numbers it means that sulfur is included in the bag that may help lower the Ph of our alkaline soil. Follow the label directions when applying fertilizer because too much can end up burning your plant and causing additional problems.

Plants do not need nearly as much water in May as they will need in August. Be sure to adjust your irrigation timer. Deep and infrequent irrigation will give you a healthy root system that will withstand the hottest days. It’s harder to overwater on sandy soil, but if you have clay soil, as many of us in the Treasure Valley do, it’s easy to kill plants with too much water. Roots need oxygen as well as water. If the roots are allowed to stand in a mucky, muddy situation, they will rot and not be able to pick up the water that’s there. Once the symptoms of overwatering are evident the problem is very hard to reverse. Drought is easier to correct unless the plant has gotten too dry. An established lawn should not be watered every day.

Pesticides include insecticides, herbicides and fungicides. Each year I get calls from people that have mistakenly sprayed weed killer on their garden thinking it was insecticide. Or, calls from people that spray insecticide on their garden right before it’s time to harvest, only to find out the wait time for a safe harvest is 10 days. Or spray round-up on their lawn thinking it’s weed killer. The print is small, but read the label. It will tell you exactly how to use the product. And protect yourself!

A final word about pesticides; before spraying anything, identify the problem. The other day, a friend told me she had been spraying her cherry tree for borers for years and the problem was only getting worse. No wonder. It wasn’t an insect problem, but a fungus. Spraying at the wrong time of year, or spraying for the wrong problem, is a waste of time, costly for you and the bad for the environment.

Garden questions? Send them to me at or listen to the D&B Garden Show on Saturday morning at 10 on KIDO, and give me a call.


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