Fertilizers, Compost and Mulch – An Attempt to Simplify the Complicated Task of Nourishing your Garden
Fertilizer, compost, mulch. They are all good things for your garden, but what is what and what goes where, when? If you are like me, fertilizers and the like are a science mystery, and I really haven’t ventured past what my dad used in his garden.
So, let’s take a stab at it and solve this mystery.
First of all, are compost and mulch the same thing?
Although they can be interchangeable in a broad sense, as they share some features, they are not the same.
Think of it this way: mulch can act as a kind of jacket to your plant. It protects it by adding a layer between the hot air of summer and the roots, and preventing moisture from vanishing and drying out the plant. Over time that layer will be reclaimed by nature and decompose, allowing some nutrients to be released back into the soil. In this way it is similar to compost, but it takes a long time to get there.
Compost, on the other hand, is food right from the start, but it also grooms the soil into a looser and more beneficial home for good microbes and other critters that enrich the soil.
Fertilizer is just like vitamins for your plants; not really “food” but it provides the substances needed to build healthy tissues. Just like people, plants need different supplements depending on their physical needs and environments. This is where those numbers on general fertilizer bags come into play – but what do those mean?
According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the numbers are:
Nitrogen – for leaf growth and making plants greener. Plants that are almost all leaves need a lot of nitrogen, so look for a fertilizer with a high first number. Most lawn fertilizers are high in nitrogen.
Phosphorus – promotes root development. It also increases bloom and fruit production. Tomatoes and root crops favor numbers of 5-10-10.
Potassium, also known as potash – helps the plant fight off diseases and keeps it vigorous, enabling it to withstand extreme temperatures and ward off disease. Most soils already contain potassium, so the third number in the fertilizer formulation can be the smallest.
Secondary nutrients are:
Calcium – improves general plant vigor and promotes the growth of young roots and shoots.
Magnesium – regulates the uptake of nutrients, aids seed formation, and contributes to the dark green color of leaves, which is important for effective photosynthesis.
Sulfur – maintains that dark green color, encouraging vigorous plant growth.
It all sounds good, but too much of a good thing can be as bad as too little, so experiment and investigate. The internet is chock full of great resources. Your local farm store will also be able to help you target your particular garden needs.
You may not attempt all three amendments in one season, but now that you have a general idea of them, you have more power to grow a garden that thrives.
Other Things to do in the Garden:
~Plant gladiolas, dahlias, canna bulbs
~Plant all seeds and seedlings now
~Put out the hummingbird feeder
~Stake or support plants for the season, before they get unwieldy
“The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul.” – Alfred Austin
Caroline Poppendeck, Librarian
Steele Memorial Library