A Few Fertilizing Factoids

“Feed the soil and the soil will feed the plants.”

Plants don’t eat like you and I, they don’t have big gobs that scarf down every fat and carb molecule in sight (oh, sorry, that’s just me).

There’s something called the soil food web–a symbiotic relationship among all the elements of the soil, including microorganisms, earthworms  and macro organisms, inorganic decomposed stone (and not so decomposed!), all manner of organic matter including dead things–all existing together and benefiting one another. Well, maybe not benefiting the dead things…

I want to grow beautiful things and have a beautiful garden not so much for the sake or the plants or garden but as part of the greater beauty of creation. I look at the sky and I’m amazed at the blueness of it.

IMG_4222 2

And when there’s a tornado in New Brunswick I’m astounded at the power of it.

Slurped from amateur video on CBC.

Slurped from amateur video on CBC.

God’s creation is beyond our understanding, and appreciation.

I’d like to do it as little harm as possible, and even maybe do it some good, as a “good steward”.

So here’s some “factoids”:

1. Adding inorganic  fertilizers (I won’t identify the brands, but they’re the ones that DON’T say “organic”) will give your plants some of the nutrients they need (N–Nitrogen, P–Phosphorus, K–Potassium). Maybe a lot more than they need. At the expense of some of the microorganisms, who may find the “salts” too strong and die off as a result.

2. Even organic fertilizers can be overused: they will be slower to break down and filter into the groundwater, but if applied more than the plants need, they WILL filter into the groundwater. Any fertilizers should only be used if needed.

3. Every living organism need more than just N-P-K, but typically the inorganic fertilizers don’t have the iron, manganese, boron etc that we all need in trace amounts. Many of the organic ones do. Read the label.

4. Using organic mulch in moderation is probably the safest way to benefit the whole soil food web: slow to break down so less leaching of nutrients into the groundwater, feeds many of the inhabitants of the ecosystem, which benefits the whole, amends the physical quality of the soil, making it lighter and allowing root penetration.

And now: a completely unrelated poll:


What are your thoughts about use of fertilizer? Yes or no, good or bad, relevant or irrelevant? Let’s get a discussion going. Comment, share, question, dispute (nicely).

Garden Design–A Primer

So you’ve got this space, and you’d love to turn it into a sanctuary far from the madding crowd. A few keys to keep in mind when planning or renovating your garden are rest and roam: allow the eye to rest (i.e., not TOO busy, or pauses in the chaos), and provide a route for the eye to roam.

1. Connect the various parts of the garden through some kind of logical access-way: paths, gates, arbours, grassy openings. This gives a sense of continuity even though the areas may have very different functions.

2. Provide access to all parts of the garden. If you can’t easily walk there, you’re not seeing what’s there, you’re not checking out the health of the plants, and no one else will see it if you’re not seeing it.

repurposed pavers leading around the back of the shade garden so I can access it.

Repurposed pavers leading around the back of the shade garden so I can access it. Clever how the diamonds of the trellis above cast a matching shadow on the diamonds of the pavers below. I carefully planned it that way…:-)

3. Provide drifts of colour, not a smorgasbord of colour spots. Repeat colours or specific plants in various spots around the garden.

Rudbeckia fulgida

Rudbeckia fulgida with Hemerocallis fulva in the background. Both multiply and/or self seed, both very civil in their habits!

4. Include evergreens–shrubs such as broadleaf evergreens and conifers, and evergreen perennials.

Evergreen Stipa tenuissima complements growing bulbs

Evergreen Stipa tenuissima complements growing bulbs

5. Don’t try to FILL the spaces with COLOUR. Green is very restful, both for the soul and for the eye.

Bed of lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria magus).

Bed of lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria magus) in early morning.

6. Balance the size of the space with the size of the plantings. A monkey puzzle tree will not suit a 100 s.f. front yard. Know the mature size of your plants. (Remember, Google is your friend.)

7. Balance the “weight” of items, whether plantings or hardscapings, around a fixed point. For example, something tall and narrow on one side of the entrance might be balanced by something low and long on the other. Thanks to Sue from Not Another Gardening Blog for this useful illustration of asymmetrical balance:

Notice the asymmetrical UNbalance on the left, and the difference on the right, where the "weight" of the three shrubs in the left corner feels similar to the weight of the tree in the right corner.

Notice the asymmetrical UNbalance on the left, and the difference on the right, where the “weight” of the three shrubs in the left corner feels similar to the weight of the tree in the right corner.

8. Use vertical space: arbours with vines, artwork that is taller than the surrounding plantings, hanging baskets and window boxes.

Some of these ideas can be implemented right away, others may take a little more time. But none are difficult. Do you have areas in your garden that can be changed right away? Would you like to try something new to gain a little more structure in your garden? Post comments and/or questions, and I’ll try to answer or find you an answer.

You can check out the RLGS Facebook page where there are sometimes additional posts. You can also follow me there.

Grass Solutions

Googled “Garden Solutions” (still haven’t found RLGS after 17 pages :-(), and found a great Pinterest Board called “Garden Solutions”.

…on which was this picture:


Evangelizing the gospel of Long Grass + Long Roots =Unhappy Weeds.

Unfortunately the link was just to the picture instead of the article, so that’s all you get here as well. But then you’ve also got my article, so you’re all set!

Let the grass grow!

Tips For Designing With Trees

I’ve been driving through Richmond BC lately and have been struck by how many disastrously pruned trees there are. Most of them are pruned the way they are because they are interfering with utility lines/poles in some way.

So this post is a primer on how NOT to design with trees.

My Neighbourhood

This tree was already badly pruned away from the utility lines, when they came last Fall and chopped away mercilessly

This tree was already badly pruned away from the utility lines, when they came last Fall and chopped away mercilessly

You can see, right to the trunk!

You can see, right to the trunk!

This is “my” tree–ie, on my property. But BC Hydro doesn’t really care whose tree it is, if they think it’s interfering with their lines (why don’t we have underground lines??), they chop chop chop. And the “arborists” who did the work… arggghhh!

Let’s look at some more: this one is around the corner,

A maple, probably a sugar maple.

A maple, probably a sugar maple. You can gauge the size of it by looking at the car toward the back, just outside the tree’s shadow. And yes, that is the same tree growing way above the top of the building.

Next we have a whole street of cherry trees, about 3-4 blocks of them:

Cherry trees

Cherry trees–two blocks over from my street.

Here's a double whammy--

Here’s a double whammy– same block as previous picture.

This one doesn't have much life left in it.

This one doesn’t have much life left in it. Click on it for a larger view.

Bottom Line

So my point with all these disasters? CHOOSE YOUR SPOT. Big trees will grow big, and the utility lines don’t, so make sure your tree at maturity will be safe from the utility company.

How long before this spruce succumbs to the chain saw?

How long before this spruce (or is it a fir?) succumbs to the chain saw?

Moving on to spacing:

Sugar maples again

Sugar maples again

These maples–I think they’re sugar maples–are planted about 12 feet away from one another. Now sugar maples reach 20-35 m tall and almost as wide. So if they even only get to 15 m across but there’s only 12 ft between them, none are going to be very happy. (Interestingly, around the corner the same townhouse complex has ornamental plums spaced much further apart– more like 20′ apart.)

Now about how close they are to the sidewalk (about 4′):

Maple trees have large vigorous roots that don't do well near sidewalks.

Maple trees have large vigorous roots that don’t do well near sidewalks. This is a stock photo, not my neighbourhood.

So again, big trees need big space. Before buying your tree, read the label, determine if there’s room in your garden for the mature size of this tree, and if not, please buy something else.

More about Spacing

Still in my neighbourhood.

Still in my neighbourhood. Admirably trying to hide the … whatever it is.

These lovely Thujas (or Arborvitae) are all planted about 16″ apart. The mature size of even the smallest, narrowest Thujas is about 3′ (which I found out by Googling “mature size of Thuja”– remember, Google is your friend!) This is going to result in not only a lot of pruning, but quite a lot of dieback, as new growth keeps getting cut off. Even shrubs that tolerate a lot of pruning, like Boxwood, should still be planted with their natural mature size in mind.

Also Thuja

Also Thuja

Now I confess, this is not my preferred pruning style for Thuja, but look how healthy they are, spaced widely enough that they all get lots of light and air.


Trees are a wonderful investment, and a significant one as well, being not inexpensive. Do the best for your tree and your investment, make sure you’ve read the label, talked with the garden centre, and looked around to see a mature specimen of your chosen species before you buy. There are so many beautiful trees out there, certainly one perfectly suited to your unique environment.

Have you got a tree in the wrong place, are you having to prune, prune, prune, or is your walkway or driveway buckling with the vigour of tree roots? Leave a comment or question, and I think WordPress will also support leaving pictures (?)