My overall feeling about fertilizing is that we need to start training ourselves to think of ‘Conditioning our Soil’ instead of ‘Feeding our Plants’.
Healthy soil serves several functions: 1) it should consist of loose particles that are good for water, nutrient and airflow 2) it should be a home to a gazillion beneficial micro-organisms that 3) help fight disease and other pests, and 4) help to further break organic products down into micro-nutrients the plants can use.
I’m wary of man-made, chemical based fertilizers as they’re often just quick fixes for greening up leaves and creating super fast new growth. While they may make your garden greener, faster, they’re actually not that good for your soil. In fact, in the long run these types of ‘insta-green’ fertilizers can cause more harm than good as they’re often very high in salts which build up over time and damage the natural life in your existing soil. And once you start killing off your soil’s existing beneficial micro-organisms, you’re asking for a whole world of problems for your plants, becoming more and more dependent on chemical fertilizers.
Adding compost, whether your own or purchased, is a fantastic way to naturally condition your soil. Don’t worry if you don’t have your own composter since you can always buy bags of really great quality organic compost. If you don’t buy organic compost, just remember to check the ingredients to make sure there are no weird fillers that you may not want in your garden. The organic compost you can buy at the nursery is already aged and ready to spread. Just sprinkle it around the root zone of your plants, taking care not to pile it up so its touching your plant’s base. I do this in the late fall when I know the rains are about to come – that way I can let Mother Nature dilute it into the soil for me.
Besides adding your own compost, here’s a product I highly recommend.
Several years ago, a garden magazine was flying out here to photograph my client’s garden. I only had about 6 months notice to whip things into shape, and was not going to be caught with my own garden looking sub-par. So I asked around at my local nursery and was told about a product that’s been showing amazing results in conditioning the soil. It’s not cheap, but I figured I’d give it a try. All I can say is HOLY COW – THIS STUFF IS AMAZING!
Because I’m the farthest thing from a scientist, I’ll just quote the back of the package to tell you how it works: “…this true humus is mined from a unique deposit of leonardite in New Mexico. This deposit has been composting for thousands of years, making it far more concentrated and richer than surface-decomposed humus…While partially decomposed humus products still have to continue composting after application, John & Bob’s Soil Optimizer begins to recondition at the molecular level as soon as it is watered into your soil. After treatment, your soil will store and release nutrients and water to plant life much more efficiently.”
I used it once in January and three months later noticed a huge jump in the growth of my garden, superceding the typical spring flush of years past. Nine months later and my garden was still going strong – with plants that are typically pale and tired, still looking vibrant. In the future, I’ll use this product twice a year (their recommendations), versus other man-made products which recommend applications every few weeks.
Another bonus? It couldn’t be easier to use – just fill a rotary spreader, set it to the recommended setting, and you’re done in just minutes.