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8:35 PM Tue, Sept. 18th

Easy-to-use foods create a better garden

Beginning April 8, I will host the tri-city garden hour from 7 to 8 a.m. on KYCA, 1490 AM. I hope you can listen in and help spur the conversation on during this hour-long show. I've never done radio other than 60-second commercials, but as an entrepreneur I'll try anything at least once. The starting point for each week will be this column. It's very difficult to capture everything within the few words of this column. This new radio show will allow me to expound my thoughts and further clarify my local garden experience. Listen in. I would love your support with this new garden show.

You'll find that your yard will erupt with the life of spring after the past few winter storms. It looks like spring weather is back, and now is the best time to feed the entire yard. A little bit of time and money spent now on this feeding will reap better flower colors, richer leaves and strong root growth for more drought-resistant plants for the rest of the year. The entire yard should be done, including trees, shrubs and flowers. I even feed my most prized natives in the yard.

Now let me explain. Fertilizer companies like to make this plant food thing very complicated. I have found my gardens are happiest with a balanced plant food that releases over a long period of time. If you are an organic gardener, you can stop reading now. I like organics, but you have to be a rocket scientist to be able to use them, and they're expensive. I have great respect for those of you who have figured it out. I have a great organic line at my garden center and would be glad to help you, but there is no simple way to great results.

I prefer slow-release fertilizer that feeds over a three-month period rather than a quick-releasing fertilizer that is gone from the soil within 30 days. I'll pay a little more for a slow-release fertilizer because it saves me in time, ease and reapplication later. That's why I like Fertilome Start-N-Grow.'It works great. I do it once this spring and again as the rains arrive in July. It's a great value. Each bag of Start-N-Grow will cover about 2,000 square feet of soil and is good for anything in the yard.

Humic Acid is one organic I strongly believe in because it makes a plant better resistant to drought years. I started Prescott gardening with my grandmother in 1976. We have always had unpredictable weather, and I've noticed that a plant with deep roots can weather any drought period with minimal care. Bugs eat and drought destroys the weak. Strong, vibrant plants come through long dry spells healthy and ready for the next season. An application of Humic Acid at the time of the fertilizer will promote a burst of roots deep within the soil.

Humic acid is sold by several names. I rarely see a package with humic acid on it. Packagers don't like this product's name, so they call it Soil Activator at my garden center. The basic product inside the bag is humic acid. If you want a deeper-rooted plant or are worried about water use in the yard, this is a must product right now. Anything to do with seed germination will benefit as well. Vegetable, flower, lawn and wildflower gardens will all have a better start and faster root development if you add Soil Activator to the seedbed.

Customers ask two questions when talking to me about fertilizers. First, "Do I need to work these granular foods in the soil or mix them with water?" The answer is chuck and go. Throw it under the plant and walk away. It will release as we receive more rains or as the irrigation system cycles. If you just can't stand this answer, go ahead and lightly rake this product in. In the long run I've found the results are the same.

The second question is asked, "Will fertilizers force my fruit trees to bloom earlier?" I've found fruit trees are programmed to respond to the length of day, daytime temperatures and how warm the soil is, not the bit of food you put on the ground. I can tell you this is the perfect time to feed plants. Warm weather is in the forecast, and after these past few storms plants will awake with or without the food you give them. They will be hungry, so why not encourage better growth and color? Remember, fertilizer feeds the existing root zone. Humic acid promotes a deeper root zone for stronger roots and better fruits.

Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.

Ken Lain is the owner of Watters Home and Garden Center and is an Arizona Certified Nursery Professional and Master Gardener.