Urban sprawl poses a never ending challenge when it comes to home gardening. With housing developments sprouting up all over the country, the typical new homeowner has no way of knowing the soil quality of the land their house now sits on. Contracting, excavating and re-inventing land that was once rich with nutrients, more often than not, reduces the soil’s ability to provide proper plant nutrition.
Moving top soil and replacing it with new soil for personal landscape techniques can also be a problem. Because the new soil brought in is typically from many different sources, your neighbor’s soil may be rich with nutrients, while your own could be lacking in the proper nutrients needed for good plant growth. If you are a homeowner who has lived in the same house for years, you may also have similar issues with nutrient depletion. This comes from planting your garden in the same place year after year. On the same note, container plants have these same nutritional problems —maybe even worse.
In my opinion, healthy soil is the key to successful plant growth. Therefore, I recommend that all home gardeners find out what their soil condition is first, before investing lots of time, energy and money into their gardening efforts. This is easy to do since each county in the U.S. has a Cooperative Extension office that can perform a soil test for you.
Fertilization alone will not rectify your depleted soil, and can actually make it worse. Applying a traditional fertilizer week-after-week may create a toxic environment for your plants. Too much, or too little fertilizer on the ground may cause a binding of the nutritional elements like iron, boron and zinc, making them unavailable to your plants. Additionally, regulations are being put in place across the country to protect the water supply from the dangers caused by runoff of fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides.
I believe the best way to achieve great plant growth is through foliar application of micronutrients coupled with foliar applied or slow release fertilizers. Not only will you get clean, healthy food from your garden, but reduced runoff as well. Because you will be adding lower quantities of fertilizer and nutrition over an extended period of time, the pressures of runoff will be somewhat alieviated. While this is not a cure all, I do think there is merit in changing from the “If a little bit is good – then a lot is even better.” approach to fertilizing and feeding.
Nurturing that prized posession is inside every grower that I know. I was fortunate enough to participate in 4-H at a young age, and learned very quickly about the excitement of growing a massive pumpkin to win the state fair. By changing your habits to properly care for your plants, you will be able to enjoy the growth process that comes with it. Proper nutrition at appropriate intervals will allow you to see things like new growth, the treasure hunt for new buds that will turn into flowers, and the harvest of so many zuchinis that your neighbors will benefit from your very own prized pocessions.