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Using leftover fertilizer

Q: I moved into my new house, I found that the previous owner had left several half-used bags of fertilizer in the garage. Does fertilizer go bad over time? If it is not safe to use, how would I dispose of it?

Barbara Carlstrom, Beacon, NY

A: Contributing editor Lee Reich responds: Chemically, fertilizer does not go bad over time. It might, however, cake up and become hard to spread. Breaking it up with a screwdriver and hammer should solve this problem. 

If you decide to use it, check the label to see if weed killer is included in the fertilizer, as it often is. In that case, you have to be more selective where you use it, if at all, to avoid damaging plants. It is possible that weed killer in a fertilizer could degrade over time, but it would be hard to tell how much. 

If the label is no longer legible, it is impossible to know the proper way to use the fertilizer. In that case, contact your local recycling center, which should have regularly scheduled dropoff days for hazardous materials.

From Fine Gardening 83, pp. 76