A GROWING CONCERN: Phosphorous, the miracle drug of bulbs and perennials

IT IS SO appropriate that as we all begin our first week of September and the month of autumn officially begins, I write an article on the benefits of phosphorous.

Bone meal is the miracle drug of bulbs and perennials, but it is really phosphorous that is the miracle maker.

Bone meal is a readily available, easy-to-apply, very slow-releasing source of phosphorous and thus ideal.

However, in full disclosure, if you have dogs, they can and often will dig around in soil that has had bone meal applied to it.

Phosphorous is considered a major element, or micronutrient. It is the P of NPK (nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium) and is the macronutrient because of the amount required by plants for healthy growth and reproduction.

Excellent sources of phosphorous include compost and have the extra benefit of adding organic material to the soil.

Phosphorous is the miracle drug of gardening because it does several things for your plants.

First and foremost, phosphorous is a catalyst. It helps plants convert other nutrients into usable energy and building blocks for all functions.

Phosphorous also plays a large role in plant maturity and has a key role in photosynthesis, energy storage, cell division and cell enlargement.

Needless to say (but I will), phosphorous is critical in getting plants to grow and mature; thus, it is essential at the time of planting and with a yearly application in order to have plants successfully over-winter and thrive next year.

A huge benefit is that it aids greatly in stimulating root production and is why I advocate it so strongly at planting time and as a late-summer application on perennials to develop a great root system for next year.

It also improves flower production as well as increased stalk and stem production, so for your bulb plants, it is “heaven-sent.”

Another advantage of phosphorous is its ability to improve the resistance in plants to fend off against disease.

The reverse here is true; phosphorous deficiency stresses plants, making them more prone to succumbing to diseases.

And in general, the overall quality of a plant or crop (think orchard, lawn, flowers, vegetables) is dramatically increased by having the proper amount of phosphorous in the soil.

As with most things, an overabundance of phosphorous can cause problems as well.

High levels of phosphorous in watersheds, lakes and rivers can create “dead zones” by speeding up eutrophication, which is the reduction of dissolved oxygen in water.

As always, gardeners should have their soil tested so they know not just what their soil needs but how much.

These tests can be done very inexpensively by getting a soil test kit from the Clallam County and Jefferson County conservation districts.

They are easy to use, cost-effective and of great benefit to your plant’s nutrient needs.

I always believe that organic slow-release products are best precisely for minimizing “run off,” which we have learned here is a killer in bodies of water.

So as we move into fall, then winter, give your yard a real boost and apply the correct amount of phosphorous. It is a miracle drug of gardening.

Andrew May is an ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).

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