Teague: Feed roses, citrus and lawns less fertilizer this year

FresnoFebruary 7, 2014 

Our short winter, when deciduous and most evergreen plants are dormant, ends in late January. We need to resume regular fertilization schedules for our lawns and gardens in mid-February when new growth really takes off as temperatures warm. But, when and how much do we fertilize when facing the very real threat of drought and limited irrigation water for our lawns and gardens?

Fertilization, especially with high-nitrogen fertilizers, promotes rapid green growth (leaves, foliage, grass blades). It is likely that our landscape plants and lawns will become semi-dormant as they struggle to survive the drought. If we combine the stress of forcing new green growth with heat and drought stress, we create greater risk of killing lawns and landscape plants.

I plan on feeding my roses, citrus and fruit trees at half the recommended rate for the first feeding in February and waiting to see just how severe a drought we might get before feeding again.

Here's a short list of what to feed this month with recommendations for changes in fertilizer amounts.

Roses: roses are given their first feeding of the bloom season when new growth is about 1 1/2 inches long, usually in mid-February. Many avid rose growers in the Fresno area use Bill Welzenbach's spring tonic formula that includes alfalfa meal, Epsom salts, gypsite and an all-purpose fertilizer.

If applying Bill's formula this month, cut amounts by half and then top dress the beds with a 3 to 4 inch layer of nitrohumus or compost. If applying just a fertilizer to your roses, feed at half the recommended rate, generally one half cup instead of a full cup.

Cool season lawns: feed fescue, perennial rye and other cool-season lawns this month with a high-nitrogen food such as ammonium sulfate, but cut rates by half. Cool-season lawns are fed monthly while they are actively growing in February, March and April (they are dormant during the hot summer). One spring feeding may have to suffice if we are in a drought.

Fruit and nut trees: feed fruit and nut trees as they come out of dormancy and start to set buds this month with a high-nitrogen fertilizer. Lawn food works just fine on fruit and nut trees. Apply half the recommended rate to avoid forcing new green growth.

Citrus trees are given their first feeding of the year between harvest and flower set; the exact timing differs according to variety. Apply one-third the recommended amount at that time and, again wait to see how much rainfall we receive before feeding again.

Note: Plant a Row for the Hungry is having their annual citrus collection from 9 to 11:30 a.m. today (Saturday, Feb. 8) at the Garden of the Sun, McKinley and Winery Avenues in Fresno. Donations go to the Community Food Bank. Freeze-damaged citrus cannot be accepted.

A free citrus class will be given by Rodney Sakaguchi and Ron Vivian at 9:30. Registration is appreciated.


Elinor Teague is a Fresno County master gardener. Send her plant questions at etgrow@comcast.net or features@fresnobee.com ("plants" in the subject line).

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