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Milberger's Nursery and Landscaping
3920 North Loop 1604 E.
San Antonio, TX 78247

Three exits east of 281, inside of 1604
Next to the Diamond Shamrock station
Please click map for more detailed map and driving directions.

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Side-Dressing Vegetables

You don't fuel a Jaguar with kerosene. You don't adjust a computer with a monkey wrench. High performance items require extraordinary care and special considerations. The same is true of the vegetable varieties recommended by the Texas A&M Extension service. The specific varieties that I am referring to are Tomato 444, Celebrity and Sun Pride tomatoes, bell peppers—Capistrano—and onions, especially the Super Sweet 1015Y transplants.

As I travel from place to place I am confronted by two categories of gardeners who have grown these recommended varieties. There are those who have had them for spring and fall for several years and have produced the largest quantities of the highest quality vegetables of any variety ever grown. Then there are those who have tried these varieties and had miserable results. What is the difference? The difference is high performance plant culture expertise. Those who fail with these varieties are using growing techniques similar to fueling a Jaguar with kerosene and adjusting a computer with a monkey wrench.

These varieties are the first high performance types ever introduced into this market. If they are treated badly they will produce badly. If they are pampered and "souped-up" they will be magnificent. What constitutes abuse of a high performance vegetable variety? The answer is lack of consistent, persistent care.

Consistency of care for a high performance variety involves a program of regular fertilization (every three weeks with ammonium sulfate, 21-0-0), preventive fungicide sprays (chlorothalonil products such as Daconil Fungicide or Fertilome Broad Spectrum Fungicide) every 7 to 10 days to avoid foliage damage and/or loss, insect control when needed and, in the case of tomatoes, supporting the vines off of the ground in wire-mesh cages. All of these cultural practices must be persistently adhered to if maximum production is expected.

Of all the requirements mentioned, the most abused of them is lack of a periodic fertilization schedule. It has often been said that the Tomato 444 tomato is specifically adapted to heavily manured gardens. Also, that Capistrano pepper fruit are consistently larger and four-lobed in heavily manured gardens, and that the largest onion bulbs ever grown were in a soil mixture of almost pure, well-decomposed manure.

This is not a difficult phenomenon to understand when we realize that manure is the original slow release fertilizer. Manure consistently "feeds" plants. Most gardeners accept the fact that three pounds of Slow-release 19?5?9 should be added to 100 square feet of garden area before planting, but very few realize that additional plant food is required on a regular basis if maximum yields are to be expected. Maximum yield insurance is called “side dressing”. The term side dressing simply denotes an application of fertilizer, usually one that contains nitrogen only, alongside the rows or in a circle around growing plants. This will insure a supply of nitrogen as the plant grows and develops and is particularly beneficial in sandy soils or in seasons of abundant rainfall, since nitrogen has a bad habit of being washed or leached out of the root zone area. Side dress with a slow-release fertilizer (19-5-9) during the growing season and water in.

Thus, side dressing offers three very important advantages. 1) Properly used, it helps prevent the delayed fruit set caused by excessive nitrogen too early in the season. 2) It significantly increases yields and 3) it results in healthier, stronger plants with fewer pest problems.

The rate and timing of your side dress applications is important. Unless otherwise specified, a full cup or one pound of a slow-release fertilizer (19?5?9) per 10 feet of row is adequate for most crops. Information concerning the best time to side dress specific crops is outlined below:

l. Asparagus:
immediately after the end of harvest.

2. Beans (snap, wax, lima):
after plants flower and set first fruit.

3. Beets:
when 4 to 6 inches tall, using 1 tablespoon of fertilizer
per 10 feet of row.

4. Carrots:
when they reach 4 inches in height, with 2 tablespoons of fertilizer per 10 feet of row. Repeat when 8 inches tall if tops pale.

5. Crucifers (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower):
every 3 weeks after planting.

6. Leafy Greens (lettuce, endive, mustard, spinach, collards, kale):
after several sets of true leaves are formed.

7. Okra:
3 weeks after harvesting begins.

8. Onions:
when 5 to 6 leaves are formed.

9. Potatoes:
when 6 to 8 inches tall.

10. Sweet Potates:
in June.

11. Sweet Corn:
when 8 to 12 inches tall at a rate of 1 cup fertilizer per 10 feet of row.

12. Tomatoes, Peppers, Eggplants:
when first fruits are marble?size, at the rate of 3 level tablespoons per plant, or l cup full of fertilizer per 10 feet of row. Repeat every 3 weeks.

13. Vine Crops (cantaloupe, cucumber, watermelon, squash, pumpkin):
when vines are 1 foot long at rate of 1 level tablespoon per plant or l cup full of fertilizer per 10 feet of row.

Whenever side dressing, avoid getting the fertilizer particles on the plant foliage and always water in thoroughly after application. Do not dump the fertilizer on the base of the plant but instead evenly distribute it several inches away from the base.

This principle of moderate but more frequent applications of fertilizer will also work wonders for your flowers and for your new landscape plants during their first three seasons of growth.

So if you plan to grow high performance hybrids, grow them right or don't grow them at all!