Beware of rust

A few years ago, I participated as an expert witness in a case involving a lawn- and grounds-care company and its supplier. Apparently, an employee sprayed iron fertilizer on shrubs in foundation plantings of several houses in an elite Potomac, Md., neighborhood. The shrubs were growing directly against the sides of the houses, which were painted white. Unavoidably, the white-washed walls got sprayed with the iron intended for the shrubs. And you know what happens when iron oxidizes-it turns to rust. Those large white houses were turned into large rust-colored houses, prompting the homeowners to sue for damages. The lawn-care company, in turn, sued its fertilizer supplier-the deeper pocket-claiming that it should have placed a warning on the chemical label. The case came down to a question of whether it was common knowledge that iron fertilizer caused discoloration when sprayed on houses. The judge on the case ruled that it wasn't common knowledge, and the manufacturer should have put a warning on the label. I suppose the supplier also should be required to include a warning on the label that the product can cause injury when dropped on someone's head from higher than a second-story window. What really surprised me about this case was the fact that neither party in the case really cared much about the outcome. Both were covered by insurance, so the case was really between the two insurance companies. This issue focuses on fertilization.

Are you a liquid- or granular-product applicator or both? Some prefer liquid, and others swear by granular programs. Each formulation has its pros and cons. Dr. Beth Guertal, soil fertility specialist at Auburn University, examines the plusses and minuses in our opening feature, "Liquid vs. granular: What works for you?" (page 14).

Would you like to find a method of applying just the right amount of fertilizer to plants under your care while practically eliminating the need for labor to apply it? Fertigation may be the method you're looking for. Fertigation involves injecting fertilizer into your irrigation system and applying the fertilizer-enriched water to your turf, flowers, trees or shrubs. Fertigation allows you to supply your plants with just the right amount of fertilizer they need whenever you irrigate. And by allowing irrigation water to carry the fertilizer to your plants, you don't have to devote labor to applying the material. Find out more in "Fertigation offers ease and efficiency" by Dr. Grady Miller and Eric Brown (page 17).

Fertigation offers a way to spoon-feed your irrigated areas with fertilizer, but if you want to fertilize individual trees with pin-point accuracy, it may be better to apply your fertilizer as a liquid injection into the rooting medium. Dr. Rex Bastian, director of technical services for The Care of Trees, takes you through a step-by-step lesson on liquid-injection tree fertilization (page 46).

If you opt for granular fertilizers, you no doubt have a fleet of walk-behind spreaders to apply the material. If you're in the market for a new one, check out our "Equipment Options" department. We feature walk-behind spreaders, and you'll find a wide array from which to choose. Whether you use a drop or broadcast spreader, you'll also need to accurately calibrate it to meet your target application rate. In the accompanying article, Chris Burrows, with the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture, reviews the steps you should take to properly calibrate your spreaders (page 42).

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