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Fertilize on the ‘holiday plan’

Fertilize on the 'holiday plan'
Spring weather can be fickle, and all the agricultural weather forecasts that I reply upon say fickle weather may continue till about the middle of April. The newest eight- to 14-day outlook from the National Weather Service for March 27 to April 2 is calling for the probability of near normal temperatures and “leaning to” above normal chances of precipitation.

Since the first half of March was generally above normal, the trend for the rest of March is trending cooler. Farmers and gardeners should expect seasonal lows in the 20s as our long-term average freeze date is still several weeks away. Although we are still in El Niño, it is fading and the weather pattern is transitioning to La Nina, which usually means a warmer and drier than normal summer.

Ned Birkey
Ned Birkey

Insects that overwinter, such as alfalfa weevil and soybean aphids, are generally not active until tree buds break, says MSU Field Crop Entomologist Dr. Chris DiFonzo. Black cutworm, potato leafhopper, armyworm, corn earworm and some aphid species move (are blown) north from the southern states on warm gulf air streams. Early flights are then at the mercy of environmental conditions and heavy rains can knockoff or drown tiny insects.

Waterlogged soils can wipe out newly hatched corn rootworms. Spider mites and other sucking insects ramp up during dry periods.  Poorly timed or unnecessary insecticide application kill natural enemies (the good or beneficial insects). MSU and OSU cooperated on a recently revised Insect Management Guide, which is available to download at The newly revised 2024 Bt Trait Table for either field corn or sweet corn is available at:

Spring farm safety is important for farmers and motorists. Last week I saw a tractor on a busy county road and it had neither a Slow-Moving Vehicle (SMV) nor emblem flashing amber lights to warm traffic of a slow-moving vehicle ahead. Regardless of the speed, an implement of husbandry must legally have a properly affixed SMV emblem. Many accidents are caused by someone simply being in a hurry, whether that is farmers or urban drivers. Now it is illegal in Michigan to use a handheld device while driving. When farm equipment needs to make a left-hand turn, with or without a turn signal flashing, moving to the center of the road, prior to turning, should help prevent someone from trying to pass on the left.  My 41-year-old combine has turn signals as well as my 11-year-old tractor.

The spring virtual breakfast meetings began on March 21 with an early season weed control update from MSU Weed Specialist Dr. Christy Sprague. This weekly series is free of charge and runs on Thursdays from 7-8 a.m. until Aug. 8, with different speakers and topics every week.

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Lawn care people are out already like bugs. Most people want a nice, green, lush lawn, with no weeds, insects or diseases. For homeowners wishing to save some money, think about fertilizing on the “holiday plan.” This means applying one pound of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet, on or before Memorial Day and again on or after Labor Day. This could be followed by a half rate of nitrogen fertilizer around July 4, depending upon the heat and rainfall.

Remember the fertilizer listed on the bag is an analysis, such as 24-0-8, and these numbers are percentages of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (N-P-K), not actual pounds. To get one pound of actual nitrogen from this example, it will take 4 1/2 pounds of this particular fertilizer to get one pound of actual N, which is 24 x 4.5 =100 (percent) or equal to one pound of N. It has been illegal in Michigan since 2012 to apply phosphorus (the middle number) unless the lawn is newly seeded or sodded, or a soil test indicates a need.

— Ned Birkey is an MSU Extension educator emeritus and a regular contributor to The Monroe News.

This article originally appeared on The Monroe News: Fertilize on the ‘holiday plan’

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