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February 03, 1985|GEORGE HARMON SCOTT

Spring is the most important time for fertilizing, and if you only fertilize once during the year, now's the time to do it. Since bacterial action is lowered considerably when the soil is cold, the soil will benefit from the nourishment of extra nitrogen. Besides, this is the time when all plants are ready for their big push, but if they lack nitrogen, they will not reach their potential. A liquid fertilizer may be suitable for pots and bedding plants that take nourishment through their leaves, but in general, a dry fertilizer is preferable. That is so because the rainy season is still with is, and a two-inch rain could carry liquid fertilizer below the root line.

On the subject of fertilizers, do plants really care whether they get their nourishment from chemical or organic types? Recent periodicals have printed articles reflecting university-based studies indicating that plants have no preference--that to the plant, nitrogen is nitrogen, etc. Although that may be true, an important consideration that could be overlooked is the long-term effect of chemical fertilizers on the soil. The constant use of such fertilizers could cause salt buildup, definitely not an improvement in the soil structure. The organic equivalent of a given amount of chemical nitrogen--as perhaps in cottonseed meal, steer manure or compost--would tend to improve the soil significantly over the course of years.

The cool weather that helps winter vegetables flourish will last for at least three and a half months more, plus unpredictable June. That means that there is still time for winter leaf vegetables such as spinach, lettuce and chard. There should even be time for the cabbage family, which includes cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli. There is little reason for early planting of summer vegetables such as corn, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and melons. They all like warm soil and will do little if planted now. Even plants growing well in flats will sulk if put into the cold ground. On the other hand, you can live dangerously-plant and hope for very warm weather.

Calla lilies (Zantedes c hia) are back in style again. The common white calla is available in nurseries now, more or less in three sizes: a dwarf, a regular medium and a giant. There is also one with a green-marked flower--Green Goddess--that is available at the Huntington Botanical Gardens gift shop. The golden calla with spotted leaves and the pink calla can be purchased as rhizomes now. The golden-calla flower spike is about two feet tall and stands above the foliage, but the pink-calla flower is often hidden by the leaves. Exciting new hybrids are being introduced from New Zealand. They grow to about two feet tall and are available in purple, pink, yellow, gold and red. Since they come from Down Under, where our wintertime is their summertime, etc., it may take them a while to adjust to a new climate schedule.

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