Christina's Corner - Sufficient Grounds...and Nutrients

 

Chrstina's Corner - Sufficient Grounds...and Nutrients

Newsletter #4 - April 2019

 

April showers bring May flowers! But April thunderstorms, with wind and sometimes hail, can shorten the bloom period of many early blooming trees and shrubs such as Cherry, Peach, Plum, deciduous Magnolia, Azalea, and Camellia. Enjoy the show while it lasts, because Spring comes and goes with warm days, cool nights, followed by freezing winds and low temperatures the next week!

While the weather extremes can be frustrating, especially when you are anxious to get your Summer vegetable garden going or plant your landscape, maybe you could use this time to understand the process of growth and nutrient use in plants. Having that crucial knowledge will make your work much simpler than just trying to figure out which fertilizer to buy from the huge assortment on the shelf.

First, realize that soil fertility is a different aspect of the garden picture that is frequently taken for granted, but everything we do in the garden depends upon it. Soil fertility is not the same thing as fertilizer – fertility is our soil’s ability to attract and bond with water molecules, nutrients, and minerals, making them accessible to plant roots. Fertility relates to the presence, or lack thereof, of organic materials (compost, leaf mold, humus, peat moss), as well as organisms that inhabit our soil (bacteria, fungi, nematodes, worms), which comprise the links within the soil web that all plants require to properly grow and produce.

Nature’s way of building soil fertility involves amazing diversity and intense cooperation. Every ecological niche is filled and everything is gathered, recycled, and conserved. No area is left bare and no opportunity is lost in this process. And nature is patient. But us? Not so much. We want it now, or, barring that, as soon as possible. Therefore, we seek answers to our garden or landscape issues from a bag or bottle picked up from our local nursery, often without actually understanding the problem at hand. Nature can use our help, but we should be more conscientious about how we “help” an already perfected process.

The most important part of every plant is the part we do not see – the roots. No plant can survive without a strong, healthy root system and this system depends on our soil to provide a stable, nutritious base camp. Many nutrients are present within our soils, while some are gathered by the plant from the air or water. Providing a soil rich in organic matter and nutrients still doesn’t guarantee complete success – there are still insects, diseases, and weather extremes - but is the foundation for all future growth.

The way plants work is a complete mystery to most of us, but the process is a fascinating symphony of “instruments” (nutrients) playing together in an epic composition of astounding proportions, building to a crescendo of glorious growth, bloom, and fruit. But we are sometimes misled into believing that a simple NPK (Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium) fertilizer provides everything our plants need. We occasionally hear mention of trace elements or micronutrients, but assume these have little importance since the plants use far more of the Big 3. This is not the case at all, as each different element must build upon what the other nutrients before have accomplished.

Plant growth begins with Boron, which activates Silicon – the highway and the vehicle. Silicon carries all other nutrients, starting with Calcium, which binds with Nitrogen, to form amino acids, DNA, and cell division. The amino acids form proteins like chlorophyll, and tag trace elements – especially Magnesium, which transfers energy via Phosphorus to Carbon – to form sugars, which are then carried where needed by Potassium. Other nutrients needed by plants include Iron, Manganese, and Copper.

Whew! And you thought your life was complicated? The life of a plant is a gorgeously choreographed dance - a work of art geared entirely toward survival. Now, consider that these processes can only occur if there is a sufficient amount of each nutrient present – nothing happens without Boron, even if it is only needed in small amounts, and nothing travels without Silicon. So, all parts of the chain are necessary to provide growth. All the NPK fertilizer in the world can’t build the highway, or provide the vehicle, to transport the other nutrients to their destination.

Lesson: Read your labels, know your plant, and always feed the soil so that it can feed your plants for many years. See you soon at River Valley!