Chicken litter being sold as fertilizer

BACKYARD Q&A

March 24, 2002|By Dennis Bishop | Dennis Bishop,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Q. Chicken litter is now being packaged and sold as fertilizer for lawns and gardens. Do you know anything about the fertilizer?

A. It is called fertileGRO and is being sold as an organic fertilizer that contains 4 percent nitrogen, 3 percent phosphorus and 3 percent potash, along with several other micro- and macro- nutrients. The litter is collected from chicken growers on the Delmarva Peninsula and then heat-treated to pasteurize, sterilize and stabilize the material. The material is then pelletized so that it can be run through lawn and garden spreaders. It is being touted as a slow-release fertilizer that converts a potential pollutant into a usable and valuable commodity, and has apparently been certified for use by organic growers. It should be available through farm and garden supply stores.

Q. At a recent program, the presenter suggested that most retail potting soils do not drain well and should be modified before being used. Do you agree with this?

A. I was at the same program and thought that the presenter's argument was very strong. He argued that most potting soils are too well decomposed and do not contain enough coarse materials to facilitate drainage. He suggested mixing the standard potting soil in a 1 to 1 ratio with perlite, coarse sand or pine bark fines to increase the drainage. He also pointed out that sphagnum peat, which is sold in large bales, was superior to the peat-based potting soils sold in small bags. Because sphagnum peat is less decomposed than potting soils, it tends to drain better.

Q. My early daffodils have finished blooming. Should I cut them back to the ground before I plant annuals in that area?

A. No, it is best to let your daffodils grow and they will naturally die back to the ground in late spring or early summer. Over the next two months, they may look a little unsightly, but it is during this time that they will store food reserves in their bulbs. These food reserves are produced through photosynthesis in their leaves. They will use these food reserves to grow and bloom next spring.

THIS WEEK'S CHECKLIST

1. If your early-season shrubs, such as forsythia, have finished blooming, this is a good time to prune them.

2. A thin layer of compost spread over the garden now will help fertilize your garden plants through the summer.

3. Are you planning to put down a pre-emergent crabgrass killer? It should be applied very soon to reduce crabgrass this spring.

Dennis Bishop is an urban horticulture educator for the Baltimore office of the Maryland Cooperative Extension Services. If you have a gardening or pest problem, you can call the Home and Garden Information Center hot line (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 1-p.m.) at 800-342-2507. You can also e-mail questions, order publications and diagnose plant problems by visiting the Web site, www.agnr.umd.edu / users / hgic.

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