Answers to your gardening questions
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Welcome through Fred's Garden Gate! When our three wonderful and perfect kids (well…nearly perfect) fledged some years ago, we thought the days of "Why…why… why?" were behind us. Since joining the throngs of modern purveyors of gardening answers, however, that questioning word continues to pop up almost daily. Why won’t it grow in the sun? Why do I have to fertilize? Why do you put so much compost in your garden? Why don’t you use a rototiller like the rest of us? Why do I get all leaves but no flowers? Why?…why…why?
There are many other "whys" of course, but the ones above are favorites of mine. Let’s take a brief peek at my version of the answers to those five frequently-heard questions.
Why won’t it grow in the sun?
Well, the short answer is that it's ancestry has probably been growing on the floor of the Asian, African or South American rain forest for thousands of years! Some plants have tissues so tender and delicate that, if placed in the usually roaring-hot sun of summer without protection, they’ll scorch, bleach or stunt. In any event, shade-loving plants may survive in the sun…but you may not like how they look!
Notable examples include 1.) Ligularia "The Rocket" which, in spite of what the label says or where some "nurseries" display them in pots, absolutely despise sunshine. They’ll limply hang and look like pure ‘ol death warmed-over. And 2.) several varieties of hosta ("Zounds", "Lunar Eclipse" and "Frances Williams" to name a few) whose leaves will either fiercely scorch or pucker to a fair-thee-well if they get more than a few fleeting minutes of even early morning direct sunshine. Imagine what they'd look like in bright sun!
Why do I have to fertilize?
This one’s a no-brainer—and yet I hear it all the time. A popular variation: "Oh! You mean I have to feed it?" Yet those same questioners wouldn’t think of going more than a couple of hours without food! Well—yessss!—the poor thing needs food. Without proper primary nourishment, it’ll sit there and do nothing. No new leaves; no flowers; no fun at all! And I’m not talking miracle-working "blue water" here. That stuff is like a refreshing sip of sweet iced tea on a hot day, not the kind of nutrition that "sticks to their ribs." Worse, the plant usually only gets that two or maybe three times a year (if it’s lucky). That’s not what they had mind. They want a continuous and balanced supply of meat ‘n potatoes plant food, not an infrequent splash of liquid. (Fertilizers, A Special Report.)
Why do you put so much compost in your garden?
Organic matter (compost, aged manure, etc.) in soil retains moisture and vital nutrients and ensures that soil health remains vibrant and biologically powerful. Rich, high-compost garden soil is loose, airy, easy to cultivate and pull weeds from. Plants glory and thrive in soil to which generous annual helpings of compost are added. Flowers are bigger, more abundant and more brilliant in color. Fruits and vegetables are healthier (for the gardener), more abundant and very tasty. And you’ll not be buying nearly as much fertilizer. No, [insert popular liquid fertilizer brand name here] is not all you need!
Why don’t you use a rototiller like the rest of us?
Used to have a rototiller. Nice one. Trusted and believed in the noisy, smoky and awkward thing. Until I realized one day that it couldn’t possibly till deeper than 5 or 6 honest inches—and that’s stretching its ability. Even the "big" bruisers hauled around by several-ton tractors don’t go deeper than maybe 8 or 9 inches. Oh, yes…I know what the advertising and tractor driver says: "Yessir! It’ll cut right down to a foot or better. You bet!" Don’t you believe it. Sure, if the operator goes back over the same patch over and over again, it may go a little deeper but I’ve seen first-hand the pounding and bludgeoning soil endures at the hands of repeated abuse by rototillers—and results still cannot hold a candle to a good, sharp, 12-inch spade and some elbow grease.
Why do I get all leaves but no flowers?
Here’s an ultra-condensed lesson in fertilizers. Nitrogen (always the first number in the fertilizer formula) is for foliage. Nitrogen does very little for flowers. Phosphorus (always the middle number) is for flowers and fruit. Phosphorus doesn’t have a whole lot to do with ample, lush foliage; just flowers (and seeds). Potash (always the last number) is for strength, winter survivability, disease resistance. When plants look good but have few – if any – flowers (or fruit; or tomatoes), it’s probably starved for phosphorus but gets bunches of nitrogen. (Fertilizers...They don't have to be complicated.)
What’s the all-time favorite of most vegetable gardeners? Even ones who've growing veggies for decades? A truckload of soupy, seedy, fresh barnyard manure. Fresh manure is high in nitrogen. That’s the ammonia odor. Then, likely as not, those professed experienced veggie-growers go by the local farm 'n garden shop and pick up a sack of urea nitrogen with a formula of 45(N)-0-0! That's really high in nitrogen. Popular liquid wonder-foods for plants have lots of nitrogen as well. Nitrogen is for foliage. Get the picture? Remember: plants want a balanced, "steak ‘n potatoes" diet...not a steady fare of weak, chemical-laden iced-tea!
Another key factor in "all leaves but no flowers" is soil pH (acidity/alkalinity). Strongly acidic soil binds phosphorus so plants can’t access it. No phosphorus = no fruit or flowers. Simple. Bring the pH up to where plants want it anyway…and flowers and fruit will come. (Soil pH — a complete discussion of soil pH, its importance, and its relationship to successful gardening.)
You'll find much more in your complimentary copy of Keys to the Garden Gate!
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