Pacific Northwest Gardening forum: New guy needs some help

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Photoman509
Jun 8, 2016 9:35 AM CST
I just tested the soil in my garden and the ph was fun the nitrogen was very low which I know is an easy fix but the potash and phosphorus were both very high and i'm not sure what to do about them? I have already had plants planted in the garden for over a month and they just aren't growing as quickly as my plants usually grow which is what made me go to test the soil in the first place . I know I should have tested it before I planted the plants but I just bought a house and I've had a lot going on and it just happened this way anyone know how I can fix it ?
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Name: Mary
Lake Stevens, WA (Zone 8a)
Near Seattle
Bookworm Garden Photography Plant and/or Seed Trader Plays in the sandbox Region: Pacific Northwest Seed Starter
Winter Sowing
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Pistil
Jun 10, 2016 3:54 PM CST
Hi Photoman-
It is good that the potash and phosphorus are high. Sounds like you do need nitrogen, so then it just depends on if you like regular chemical fertilizer or have decided to go with organics. Composted manure is probably a good source of N for you but I might do a shot of chemical fertilizer myself.
It seems to me you checked the nutrients because your plants are not growing well.
A large part of this could be it is just too cool still.
Tomatoes and peppers and other tropical plants are really stressed when it gets below 50 degrees-around here even this last week it was still dipping below 50 often at night. They get stunted, don't grow, and look like yours. It may have been a bit early to set them out, unprotected.
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Jun 10, 2016 10:33 PM CST
Hi Photoman509. Welcome to NGA and the PNW!

If you're on the coast, I bet you will love the climate! (Unless you are committed to growing full-size tomatoes and peppers and want them to ripen outdoors.)

>> nitrogen was very low which I know is an easy fix but the potash and phosphorus were both very high

Others know organic methods, I know chemistry. So my answer may not be a "good" one or easy to make fully safe for plants, but it's the fastest and cheapest (unless you have free compost and manure, though those do add P and K along with the N.

Also, I;m just guessing that "low N" is the problem for slow growth. Y'know, those plants don't LOOK like they have SEVERE lack of N. I would expect all-yellow lowest leaves, and some necrotic lower leaves, as the plant scavenges N from old parts to support new growth. (N is a "mobile" nutrient.) There may be other, or additional reasons for slow growth.

If you go with chemicals, which I would for the first year or two in a bed with new and questionable soil, pick one with the lowest second and third numbers, relative to the first number. But you probably know that. "N-P-K"

If you can find urea, that's most concentrated nitrogen I know of, unless you have a tank truck of ammonia handy.

It's 46% N!
"Urea (46-0-0) usually has the lowest cost per pound of nitrogen ...".
Even ammonium nitrate is only 34-0-0.
http://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/publication/AG_2...

Urea is CO(NH2)2, and it turns to ammonia in the soil. So turn it under and/or water it in quickly, or you'll be fertilizing the wind!

Too much will burn your roots in a flash, so sprinkle THINLY and water it in and/or till under. Better, dissolve it in water and irrigate with that. Avoid spraying on leaves unless VERY VERY dilute.

You can sprinkle pellets THINLY on the surface if you water heavily or rain enough to dissolve (more than 1/2").
And, if I were you, I would not place urea TOO close to the plants. Let it diffuse the last few inches into the root zone.

It tends to convert to ammonia and blow away if you just sprinkle on the surface.
"When a urea particle dissolves, the area around it becomes a zone of high pH and ammonia ..."
http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/nutrient-management...

What's a safe application rate? Today I'm not finding informative sources, but once upon a time I read this:

Max recommended spread rate: to avoid burning: no more than two pounds per 1,000 sq ft.

Counting on my fingers,
2 pounds / 1,000 sq feet =
0.3 OUNCE per Square YARD =
1 gram per square FOOT

I would start with 1/4 of that. Apply and repeat, maybe once or twice a week until the condition is corrected.

THINLY! And dissolve in water first. Then water it in.

I wonder how your beds got that way? What did you make the soil from, and how recently?
It sounds quite fertile except for the low N.

I'm going to make a wild guess ... did you put a bunch of sawdust or shredded paper into that soil, and turn it under? That can create a nitrogen deficit that lasts until the microbes have eaten most of the unbalanced C that was added. Of course, microbes need N as well as C, and they can out-compete plant roots by a huge factor.

So the plants starve for N until the microbes slowly scrounge up enough N to let them digest ALL the excess C in the soil.
Hence consider using something as potent as urea or ammonium nitrate (at first).

Try multiple small feedings once or twice a week until almost all of the (theoretical) sawdust is fully decomposed. Suddenly, one day, instead of feeding the soil microbes, you'll be feeding your plants. Then, hope THAT dose was small enough not to burn the roots.

As usual, it's good to try this on a small part of one bed first. Say, dose that small corner with 2-4 times as much as you are putting on the rest of your garden. If everything in that corner suddenly looks like it caught Ebola, you know the rest of your garden is 1/2 way there, or 1/4 of the way there. Reduce the dosage to the other parts but keep feeding (slower).

And water the dead corner a lot, to wash out excess urea and ammonia and acid pH, and hope you didn't go TOO far.

Compost is safer for plant roots. Even manure is safer, especially if composted first, and low in salinity and herbicide residue and weed seeds. And they add C (organic carbon) to the soil, which is crucially necessary for soil life, unless there is WAY too much C, in which you have a nitrogen deficit that can be tricky to fix quickly.

BTW - if "cold" is the main problem, or a too-early planting-out date, you could put hoops over those pretty raised beds and cover with plastic. That'll warm them up! Or floating row covers will give some warmth. Is it practical to wrap plastic film AROUND a tomato cage?

BTW, if you put a location into "Your Profile", everyone will know whether you're on the (cool, wet) coast or (hot, dry) inland.
Click the "head-and-shoulders" icon in the upper left corner,
"Change your public profile",
"Your location"
scroll down to the bottom
"Save Your Changes".

Several of those fields appear in every forum post (upper left corner), so you can personalize your posts if you want.
The "Location" and "Your USDA hardiness zone" are the most useful ones, so people don't keep asking.
I think a "last avg frost date" and "first avg frost date" would be handy, but less often.

If you're in a part of the PNW as cool as mine, cool nights will be chilling those tomatoes' toes!

Have a good weekend!

Photoman509
Jun 20, 2016 3:27 PM CST
Thanks you guys! I am Greenacres Washington just outside Spokane . I bought two truckloads of "garden soil" From a landscape supply in the valley. I had done this with my previous beds several years back it was a different company that closed down the soul I got from them was amazing! I guess I did plant pretty early this year because it's been so nice so it probably was the cold weather I hope. With my previous beds the store oil was always so good I never had a reason to test it I tested the soil because they weren't doing well and when I saw how high the phosphorus and potash were hi I immediately figured that was the issue. I will cover it up and give it some more nitrogen and keep you guys posted thanks a lot I appreciate it !
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
Image
RickCorey
Jun 20, 2016 6:05 PM CST
Until proven otherwise, I'll guess that "store-bought soil" with high P & K but low N, is 1/13 to 1/2 sawdust. Because that's very cheap and would cause such unbalanced fertility.

Did the soil test say anything about "lots of organic matter is present"?

Think of it as "they gave you a lot of compost with that soil, but it just hasn't yet had time (or N) enough to finish composting.

Adding N gradually can't hurt, and if the problem really is N-deficit caused by too much C, it will eventually cure itself, and added N will speed that up greatly.

Photoman509
Jun 25, 2016 10:11 AM CST
Update garden is beginning to thrive with the warmer weather and added N. Thank you for your help guys! Thank You!
Name: Mary
Lake Stevens, WA (Zone 8a)
Near Seattle
Bookworm Garden Photography Plant and/or Seed Trader Plays in the sandbox Region: Pacific Northwest Seed Starter
Winter Sowing
Image
Pistil
Jun 25, 2016 10:07 PM CST
Yay!
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
Image
RickCorey
Jun 27, 2016 10:29 AM CST
Good news.

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