Simplify plant feedings in garden

Sunday, May 5, 2002

Many gardeners buy special foods for their plants, but it's rarely necessary. Roses really don't need "rose food" any more than any plant might need vegetarian or kosher food, or fish emulsion on Fridays.

Plants take up the bulk of their nutrients as ions (charged atoms or groups of atoms) that dissolve in water in the soil. Organic fertilizers release these ions slowly, through decomposition. Chemical fertilizers are already in ionic form, ready to be used (but also subject to being washed away before use).

All plants need healthy doses of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, and lesser amounts of other nutrient elements.

Add compost to soil

True, leafy greens hunger for a little extra nitrogen, flowering and fruiting plants for a little extra phosphorus, and roots crops for a little extra potassium. But unless a soil is an infertile sand where neither crop rotation nor some weed growth has kept nutrients in balance, specific foods don't usually have to be tailored for specific plants.

An-inch-thick layer of compost spread over the soil could provide all the nourishment most garden plants need for a season. Garden plants pressed into sustained production -- such as rose bushes that flower all season long -- or extra-succulent vegetables like celery might need an extra push. For such plants, a sprinkling of soybean meal could provide that boost.

A feeding regimen of soybean meal and compost is good for all plants. Plants don't need haut cuisine, just plain, wholesome food.

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