A Gardener’s Notebook

Gardening can be a delicate balancing act

San Luis Obispo - The TribuneJune 17, 2013 

It’s a little ironic that I’m choosing this topic three months after I lost my balance in the garden, fell, and shattered my hip. As I wait for my total hip replacement in August at Stanford Hospital, balance is much on my mind. Balance, both in our gardens and in our lives, is a quest. Something to strive for and, realistically, something that may never be totally achieved.

Balance is the happy medium between too much and too little. Plants survive if we are a little off kilter. We can forget to water for a week, and our plants will tolerate it. Or, we can be too early or too late in our planting schedule. We can forget to fertilize on schedule, place plants too close together, or let pruning go for a season.

But plants will certainly let us know when we have let our gardens become significantly off balance. It is always better to prevent it than to remedy the imbalance.

A gardener who is in tune with his/her garden can recognize early signs of imbalance. Nitrogen deficiency can be spotted in its early stage by evidence of yellowing leaves and, generally, the failure of plants to thrive.

Chemical fertilizers high in nitrogen can correct this, but tend to leach out of the soil quickly and do nothing to improve soil conditions. Organic solutions like compost and animal fertilizer must first be broken down and transformed by microbes to become available to plants. Moisture is necessary to provide optimum conditions for utilization by the plant.

While I like using organic techniques, this is not to say that a sprinkle of 14-14-14 in the early spring is not helpful. Demand for nitrogen is high as new leaves emerge. The downside of overfeeding nitrogen is that all this tender new growth may attract sucking bugs like aphids. A gentle, balanced approached to feeding plants over time pays off.

A balanced garden results in less time spent on weed control. When barren soil is exposed to the elements, it is creating an imbalance that results in an environment where weeds flourish. Placing plants close together so that the canopy shades the soil between plants discourages weeds from thriving.

A 4-inch layer of mulch also blocks sunshine from weed seeds waiting to germinate and mulching encourages critters that help decomposition, like sowbugs. Because weeds compete with plants for water, food, and sun, weeding will help “tip the balance” in favor of your treasured plantings.

We make daily decisions in our garden and in our lives that effect balance. I need to make more effort maintaining mine both in and out of the garden.

Tip of the month . . .

If space in your garden allows, grow a few ‘high value’ crops. High value can mean something you really enjoy for the fresh taste, like young spring greens that you can ‘cut and come again,’ or tomatoes (try cherry tomatoes), worth the effort if you have sun. ‘High value’ may also mean something that is pricey to buy like raspberries and olallieberries that grow well in our climate

Lee Oliphant’s column is special to The Cambrian. Email her at cambriagardener@charter.net; read her blog at centralcoastgardening.com.

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