With all my prattling on about saving leaves and covering every square inch of soil with them, you might wonder why I’m leaning toward obsession on this issue. Well, there are new thoughts about possibly overfeeding plants with manufactured or commercially processed fertilizers. When I look at a plant, I want to see health and vigorous growth. But sometimes I forget that plants can achieve those standards by themselves when grown in soil with lots of organic content (like leaves and plant debris) and sufficient moisture. Could it be we’re feeding the wrong appetite, and it’s soil that really needs our attention when providing nutrition, not the plants?
The theory is to feed the soil, and then let the soil feed the plants. The best way to feed soil is to add leaves (dug in or as mulch), which are then processed by soil organisms and turned into ideal forms of plant nutrients. Simple as that. Of course, we can choose to provide commercial fertilizers in focused and limited amounts, for instance, to feed the lawn in autumn and rose shrubs in spring and early summer. But the main meal for plants should come from soil that’s been fed with organic material.
I’m taking a distance-learning course in urban agriculture at University of Guelph, and there’s been much to read about soils, nutrients and plant growth. Information can change the way we think and garden. If you want to know more about how the soil functions to feed plants, there is a good book for home gardeners, Teaming With Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web, by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis (Timber Press 2010). This is a valuable and useful book for all types of gardeners.
Other posts by Judith this week:
Posts by Judith last week: