I got an interesting question the other day and it pretty much went like this. My next door neighbor’s garden is a better flower and vegetable garden than I have even though I feed and water well. I’ve asked her what she does and she says, “Nothing special” So what am I missing?
The First Thing To Understand
A plant’s growth characteristics are limited by the stress the plant is under. Our objective as gardeners is to reduce those stressors as much as possible. Your success therefore is how good you are at reducing stress
An Example From My Garden This Spring
Let me give you an example. I did a video show this year and it was scheduled for the third week in June. So when I got back from Savannah, I immediately went into full out gardening overdrive and given we were two weeks behind schedule to start seeds, you can imagine the work that went into getting things set up and ready to go.
The gardens were first-year gardens and the soil was from who-knows-what-field. Basically a filler soil but nothing that would produce a great garden.
By the third week in June, we had a full garden that was twice as advanced as any of our neighbors (some of whom are amazing gardeners) and fit to grace the cover of any gardening magazine.
Vegetable raised bed garden in fall of 2013 – not quite finished with dirt not entirely spread.
The same vegetable garden in June, 2014. The overhead supports are all in, the plants are growing well and there’s a ton of vertical gardening going on to save space (more on all these support systems later)
How Did I Do It?
The two major stressors limiting plant growth that I can control in a first year garden are water and feed.
The bottom line is that I didn’t allow my plants to suffer from any, and I mean any, lack of water or plant food.
But What Steps Did I Take
I watered whenever there was an appearance of a dry soil. I didn’t wait to figure it out – I just watered and that meant this year about every third day. I also ignored the general rule of thumb that said apply about 1.5 inches of water a week. I soaked that big raised bed every time I watered. And I mean soaked – as in puddle-time.
Consequently, there was no water stress at all and because I was making sure the puddles dried up in this stupid soil before I watered again, the plants weren’t swamped.
And I fed properly – very properly.
I Also Used Some Nurseryman’s Techniques
The first trick was to set up a “constant liquid feed” system. I ran my nursery this way back in the day and it means that every time I watered, I fed my plants. If I was watering, I was feeding.
So on one hand, the watering drove down the soluble nitrogen and on the other, it was being immediately replaced by the constant feeding.
I used a $20 Hozon to do this.
A “Hozon” – the brass fitting between the tap and the 2-way control valve (I can easily switch hoses without having to turn the darn things on and off a single line) You can see the small black hose running off the Hozon and this goes into the big white bucket in the rear of the picture. It’s one of the main tools in how I get better gardens than my neighbours. (Sssshhh, don’t tell them) 🙂
I used one of these for about the first 3-5 years in my nursery before we got much bigger and used a massive commercial injector system (and modified the water with acid etc etc as well as fertilizer)
What Fertilizer Did I Use?
Regular readers know I’m a big fan of liquid fish emulsion as a liquid feed for all my plants.
So knowing the Hozon delivers a 32:1 (water to feed) ratio, it was a relatively simple bit of math to calculate the amount of fish emulsion to feed on a regular basis. (Instructions are normally on the packaging.) 🙂
I generally liquid feed at (thumb-rule) around 1/4 to 1/3 strength – and never full strength with every feeding. In other words, they get their full plant food but in small doses. Their monthly feeding is exactly the same when all the small feeds are totalled as if you gave them one single feeding – once a month.
And for the record, fish emulsion stinks like rotting fish but only for a short time (unless you manage to soak yourself with it running through the sprinklers to get “just that one thing”) It does seem to attract critters.
The Head Gardener’s Sense of Plants
The short answer is the above two stress reduction systems – the watering and the feeding – work.
The other important thing is that I created this garden using my experience. I’ve grown (quite literally) millions of plants in my nursery career and it’s only that kind of repeated plant exposure that gives you the (let’s call it) “instinct and gardener’s eye” to identify issues with a glance. I have a sense of what shade of green those leaves should look like at different stages of growth for example. My living depended on me learning those things.
But you don’t need this if you are simply feeding and watering properly. You can do this – it’s not rocket science (and yeah, I say that too often) 🙂
Three Things You Can Do Right Now (to beat your neighbors garden) 😉
Buy a Hozon. Seriously – go with Constant Liquid Feed with all your garden plants.
Use a great organic liquid plant food – there are several on the market – usually from fish emulsion or ones made from soybeans
Those are the first two steps to making your garden better than your neighbor’s garden.
But remember, you have to use them. There’s little point buying a tool and letting it sit in the garden shed (which too many folks – myself included sometimes – do. ) Just sayin’