The drought has turned our yards and gardens into wastelands. Lack of water and nutrients is making our gardens suffer.
If you are watering, you’ve most likely been saving water from indoor showers or fruit and vegetable washing. Some homeowners are purchasing water and trucking it on the back of their pickups. Some are paying to have it delivered to their storage tanks. Others have gardeners watering their gardens.
Whatever it takes, homeowners are doing the best they can.
I’ve watered as little as possible. I’ve tried to stretch the time between watering as long as I can, but when my garden screams for mercy, I give in and water. I wasn’t able to do my “normal fertilizing” this spring. Fertilizing requires water to apply, and fertilizers force new growth. New growth requires even more water.
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Plants are showing not only signs of water deprivation, but of micronutrient deficiency. Leaves are pale, turning yellow and taking on strange forms. Without expensive soil tests, it’s difficult to identify which micronutrient is needed. Using compost as your primary fertilizer is a good practice, as it covers the entire spectrum of micronutrients and adds humus to the soil.
Fertilizing needs to be “slow and easy” during this extraordinary drought. Normally, compost is a good “slow” fertilizer. Compost as a fertilizer is a reliable and safe method for home gardeners causing little negative impact on the environment. It breaks down over time, usually in about a year. But dry soil this year has prevented decaying compost from breaking down and benefiting plants.
I’ve begun feeding nitrogen at a diluted level every six weeks. I’m using fish fertilizer, kelp fertilizer and compost tea. I’m diluting the products by doubling the dilution water called for on the label to ensure I don’t cause root and leaf burn from overfertilization.
While compost is the ultimate “slow release” fertilizer, there are other commercial chemical fertilizers considered “slow release.” Their layers melt away in sequence as with “time release” medications. There is no guaranteed timeline of release; it depends on heat, sun and water. The amount of time required for the release of these products will vary from garden to garden.
If compost fertilization is too difficult (bags and wheelbarrows are heavy), other methods are available. Commercial chemical crystals and liquids can be used. When using fertilizer in a chemical granular-type fertilizer (such as 12-12-12), follow directions on the package for application and timing. In fact, anytime you buy chemical fertilizers, use as directed to avoid it leaching into our waterways. Remember, chemicals do not benefit the health of the soil; they only feed the plant.
When using any powdered or granular-type fertilizer, organic or inorganic, spread it on top of bare soil as directed and rake it in. Cover fertilizer with an inch of soil, then 2 to 4 inches of compost or mulch. Water in. Nutrients will then be carried to your plants in the most beneficial form.