Challenges for “Gardeners”

16 02 2013

I’ve always thought that gardeners (when I started too) could put themselves into really tough spots cause there are more than a few circumstances where they don’t know what exactly to do.

Challenge: Identifying what plants look like and how they grow can lead to confusion, and even…..[ominous voice] death (by the gardenner pulling out a plant that is still resting from the winter).

Example: Before any of my shrubs started to releaf on their branches, I was convinced they were all dead.  My Ninebark, hydrangea and lilac in the front, all looked pretty rough.  However, the lilac livenned  up first with its tender green leaf buds and it gave me quiet hope relatively early in the spring.  As the lilac started to look more and more healthy, it made the other shrubs look more and more dead.  The hydrangea showed no life at all; the previous year’s grown was nothing more than crackley wood straws of dead branches.  The nineback, barely looking any more alive than that.  But the hydrangea just looked too dead.  So I pulled it.

Within a few days, I saw the ninebark had leaf buds on some of it’s not so dire looking branches.  A couple weeks later and it’s looking fairly healthy with some definitely pruning needed.  The hydrangea is buried in the compost pile, never to share its lovely blooms again.

Another example: After planting seeds, how the heck do you differentiate a melon seedling from a squash seedling from a weed?  It’s not always easy.  Frankly, telling small plants apart is often hard.  When I did seedlings for melons and squash, I had mislabelled one of the pots and I couldn’t even identify the seedling with PROPERLY LABELLED melon and squash plants right beside it.  “Thank goodness” it died when I put it in the garden because I didn’t know for certain what I was planting.

Challenge: How much and how often to water plants?

This is a tough challenge to resolve because each type of plant will have its own watering requirements.  As a general rule, you can’t go wrong with an inch of moisture on each bed every week.  It’s important to remember that when soil is compacted, water has a hard time penetrating it.  Watering your plants the right amount is great but if the water can’t penetrate the soil and it runs off to other veggies, or the footpath, what’s the point?

Like more than a few garden problems, this one can be fairly easily remedied with mulch.  Yup….just mulch.  Put a couple inches of hay down (or woodchips or a myriad other things can work) and inconsistent watering becomes much more forgiveable.  It’s still important to make sure the moisture gets right down to the ground and, ideally, still deep (you still do want to have a deeper root system).  But I found a layer of mulch saved more than a few plants.

Additionally, with water sensitive plants, I have used thick plastic juice jugs (those 3-4L units) buried to within an inch or two from the top..  I used milk jugs in the past but they were a bit weak and collapsed a touch when they were rburied.  The thick jugs, whose sides were dotted with 3 or 4 pin sized holes to let the water drain out slowly did a FANTASTIC job of getting water DIRECTLY to roots, thereby using water even more efficiently and, make it harder for weeks to be successful.

In terms of watching the plants, I keep a very close AND responsive eye on my plants).  If leaves start to droop or curl, I water those plants heavily and immediately.  I’ve also learned that transplants need to be good and moist for the first while they are in the ground if you want to ensure decent root development.  After a couple weeks of bidaily watering, it’s safe to back off but do ensure the plant are kept consistently moist during the crucial first phase.

Challenge: What fertilizer if ANY?

I don’t like using too much chemical fertilizers.  I’ve taken mostly to bone and blood meal as well as kelp (all of which are organic and non synthetic).  There are numerous other fertilizers as well; some dedicated to specific plants, some all purpose.  As a very general rule, the 0-0-0 formula is NPK (Nitrogen Phosphorus, Potassium).  The first number helps foilage and leaves; the second number is for good root development.  Be VERY conscious when applying high nitrogen fertilizers in your vegetable garden.  The third number, in my experience, seems to be good for “overall plant health” and helps plants with extracting other trace minerals from the soil.  But really, it’s those first two that are crucial.

Blood meal is high in Nitrogen, bone meal, high in Phosphorus, and Kelp is relatively high in potassium (as I understand it).  In the past, I have mixed this stuff in proportions that were VERY haphazard and made sense.  For the most part, I can’t say I had noticed how it affected any of my plants.  Well, except two….and those were two very important lessons on blood meal:

I used FAR too much bloodmeal on our nasturtiums last year.  We had such a tremendous amount of foliage the blooms were hidden for most of the year.  High nitrogen fertilizers will always make beautiful leafy growth… but ALWAYS at the expense of vegetable and fruit production.  Also, knowing that bloodmeal helps grasses grow (like corn), I put a light sprinkling on my lawn.  DO NOT DO THIS!!!  I read this year that it can burn the grass because it’s too complicated in how it affects the soil.




One response

18 02 2013

Alfalfa pellets are amazing! I get my 3 year old to chuck them all over the lawn, and I also put some at the base of my sad-looking tomatoes in June, and they perked up nicely after a couple weeks.

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