Published January 8th, 2010
Modern gardeners are hungry for a return to traditional gardening methods, like building garden soil with organic compost and fertilizers. Petro-chemical based fertilizers are widely believed to deplete soils over time, fatiguing and defeating the natural process of renewal that makes good garden soils and healthy vegetables.
For one thing, petrochemicals don’t do anything to improve soil texture. This requires soil amendments like compost and peat moss. For another, well-rounded nutrition depends on living organisms and trace mineral elements, neither of which can be found in a bag of 12-12-12 or a bottle of Miracle-Gro.
Lots of people ask us for “Miracle GroÒ” and we carry it in our store. But when we sell it we always think of those I.V. drip bags in the hospital, “feeding” you through a tube into your arm. It will keep you alive but it’s NOT a balanced diet. For a real-life demonstration of this compare a hydroponically grown hothouse tomato with one from your own garden. Hydroponic tomatoes get a liquid diet similar to Miracle-Gro.
Liquid fertilizers are useful for fertilizing hanging baskets, window boxes and planters where potting soil is used and roots are confined in a small pot. Professional growers use a weak solution of fertilizer in their irrigation water to encourage rapid growth. Another good use of liquid formulas is force-feeding distressed plants, such as Azaleas that aren’t well established and can’t absorb enough food from the soil. We have Miracle GroÒ Azalea-Camellia (formerly Miracid) made just for this.
Think twice before you put your plants on a liquid diet. You probably wouldn’t like it for yourself! In our own gardens we use lots of Holly ToneÒ, Plant ToneÒ, Rose ToneÒ and Bulb ToneÒ by EspomaÒ. These are balanced meals containing lots of wholesome natural ingredients like gypsum, greensand and bone meal to help break up clay soil. They also contain Micorrizea, soil micro-orgaanisms that help your plants digest fertilizer and trace minerals. Espoma is a modern version of the old-fashioned fertilizer mill; a factory where ground-up ingredients like bone meal, cottonseed meal and other components are blended into powdered fertilizers that build and replenish tired soils.
The best way to fertilize is to mix the fertilizer with the soil when you plant. This has a “sustained release” effect because the roots “find” the food as the plant grows. It helps the roots spread quickly. For established plantings sprinkle liberally around plants before mulching. This way the fertilizer doesn’t have to find its way through the mulch to get to the roots.