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Home & Garden: Fertilization and the importance of nitrogen

Curt Swift
CURT’S CORNER
Free Press Gardening Columnist
Senior female hands giving fertilizers to the plants
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto

Those of you with hobby farms might think about fertilizing your hay field in the near future. If your field is dedicated to grass hay, remember it takes between 30-50 pounds of nitrogen to produce a ton of hay.

Eighty pounds of nitrogen is typically applied per acre as soon as water is available in the spring. An additional 40 pounds of nitrogen per acre is applied after the first cutting; and if a third cutting is to be taken, another 40 pounds of nitrogen is applied in mid-August.

If there is alfalfa in the field, you may not need to apply any nitrogen as alfalfa, being a legume, has bacteria on its roots that produce its own nitrogen. Making the mistake of applying nitrogen to a grass-legume hay field or pasture will result in the death of the legume.



The same thing can happen to legumes you plant in your home garden. In areas where beans, peas, or other legumes are to be planted, applications of nitrogen should be avoided as this can reduce the yield of these vegetables.

The exception to the “legumes-need-no-nitrogen” rule is the pea plant. Only about 80 percent of the nitrogen needs of this crop is generated by nitrogen fixation. One-half pound of nitrogen per thousand square foot area should be applied at seeding if the soil test shows the nitrate nitrogen level is below five parts per million. This early application of nitrogen keeps peas healthy until the Rhizobia is able to generate sufficient nitrogen for this legume.



If you don’t have a soil-test report, it would be best to avoid any nitrogen application as your garden may already have adequate nitrogen and you certainly don’t what to overdo it. As always, dust the seeds of beans, peas, and all other legumes you plan on growing in your hay field or garden with Rhizobia inoculum. Your garden center or nursery should have this black, powdery material available.

If you haven’t had a soil sample collected and tested, you might consider doing this simple test. Soil sampling is usually worth the time and minimal expense it costs as it can save you the cost of fertilizer and often results in an increase in production.

Free Press columnist Dr. Curtis E. Swift is a retired horticulture agent with the Colorado State University Extension. Reach him at Curtis.Swift@alumni.colostate.edu, 970-778-7866 or check out his blog at http://SwiftsGardeningBlog.blogspot.com. He owns Swift Horticultural Consulting and High Altitude Lavender.


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