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What's in the Diet? Feeding Time in the Garden


After the record winter the Valley has endured, making sure your plants, whether they are big trees or small shrubs, have the nutrients they need for a bountiful spring should be at the top of the To Do List. You don’t need to sign up your plants for the South Beach Diet—but you do need to tailor the plant nutritions to plant(s) you’re feeding.

There are sixteen (16) elements that are recognized as essential for the normal growth of green plants. Three of those elements—Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen are available from the air and water in the soil. The rest are obtained chiefly from the soil. Plants need large amounts of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sulphur, Calcium and Magnesium and they are called the major or macro nutrients. The remaining elements: Iron, Manganese, Copper, Zinc, Boron, Molybdenum and Chlorine; are needed in much smaller amounts and are know as minor or trace elements.

In ideal situations, all the nutrients are present in the correct amounts and soluble forms in the soil. The plants then absorb these nutrients from the soil solution and transport them to leaves and other plant parts where they are used for growth and tissue maintenance. Each nutrient is required for the plants to function normally. If there is too little or too much of any one nutrient, plant health suffers.

So nutrient disorders are either Deficiencies, too little of an essential element, or Toxicities, too much of an element than the plant can tolerate.  While deficiencies can be the result of just a low level of a nutrient in the soil, it can also be the result nutrients like iron, manganese and zinc being locked in the soil because of the high alkalinity (pH) like that of our Valley soils.  The toxicity of nutrients we most often see here are high levels of chloride and sodium due in part to our low rainfall and the salinity of our irrigation waters.

Last fall we introduced our mango specific fertilizer “Mango Food” because producing mango trees should not receive additional nitrogen when you feed them. This same fertilizer can be used on all the rest of your fruit trees as it has the higher levels of Potassium and Magnesium the fruit trees need. By adding the Nitrogen component you will complete their major nutrient requirements. We do that with the addition of Compost (twice a year spring and fall) but other products like Blood Meal can be used to supply the Nitrogen.

Getting the rest of the minor elements to the trees is best accomplished through a foliar spray. Think of foliar spraying of the minor elements as Vitamins for your plant. You don’t have to worry about the nutrient getting trapped by the salts in the soil, or if the tree has sufficient root structure and health to actually move the nutrients to the leaves. Just a good spray (on the bottom side of the leaves) and your tree can absorb it right away.

If you are a single fruit tree parent, we have a foliar spray that is an easy mix. For those with more trees to care for, using our agricultural strength foliar spray would be more economical. You do have to do the math—and we have worksheets you can use to figure out how much water and foliar fertilizer it will require to successfully feed your trees.

The amount of iron we can apply through a foliar spray is limited as it can stain the developing. fruit.  Using soil drenches with chelated iron is the best way to get usable iron to the trees.

March marks the beginning of the real work in the orchard. Here at Rivers End, all the fruit trees get their first application of the “Mango Food” and all the trees except the mangos and the sugar apples get an application of compost.. Next on our To Do List is the foliar nutritional spray. And finally the Iron soil drench.

With the bit of rain we recently got,  those ground applied nutrients are getting to the roots by way of the best delivery system. Good food to your plants means good food to you.

If you have questions about what your trees and other plants need on their diet this time of year, Stop by the Nursery and we will help you find the diet that fits.