Much of my gardening attitude is a combination of basic organic gardening strategies and hard won experience. Organics is primarily front end loaded; that is, what you do to create good growing conditions and avert common problems at the beginning pays off with healthier plants in the end. I know this is true, from the sad experience of trying to avoid it. I love my pets and would like to believe that because I trained them as youngsters not to climb into my raised beds, they don’t. Truth is, it may not be them, but the neighbor cats. At any rate, I have learned how delicate the healthiest transplants can be when excavated by a curious animal. The organic answer is to keep them out (front end thinking) rather than try and remedy the damage later. Sometimes the two influences on me come together in almost poetic ways and therein lies this blog. I’ve planted a pot or a garden bed every week since February and still have flats to go and plants to dig up and move. The rhythm goes like this:
- Dig. Digging may be a hole big enough for a 3 gallon shrub or no more than a trowel full for a cucumber plant. It is always a little deeper and a good bit wider than the transplant.
- Amend. Even though I am planting in already improved garden soil or top quality potting mix, I amend with organic matters before planting. My products of choice range from worm castings to poultry litter fertilizers chosen to add nutrients and microorganisms as well as barks and sands to improve soil structure. This task achieves the organic goal of continuously improving the soil and it does work to lessen maintenance later.
- Plant. I’m careful to plant at the same level or just slightly higher than the plant was growing originally and to stake at planting time if absolutely necessary.
- Water and Stimulate. Since plants are mostly water, it makes sense that a new transplant needs water to prevent wilting. But exposure to the world outside its original container and plunging into new soil can be traumatic even with ample water at transplant time. That’s where Hormex Liquid Concentrate comes in, to work with the water to provide exactly what the roots need to get them growing. I have used other products and made my own compost tea to use as a root stimulator, but none of them can match the results of HLC. I call it transplant shock insurance, something to do on the front end.
- Mulch. The benefits of mulching with ground bark or a similar organic material are well known. I am greatly opposed to mulch volcanoes, and generally advocate limiting its depth to 1-2 inches. In recent seasons I have learned that a thin layer of mulch in the top of pots really helps prevent drying out in windy weather.
- Cover. The last step doesn’t mean quite what it sounds like; instead, the finishing touch is flexible wire fencing set up as barriers over raised beds and around young shrubs and trees. This kind of fencing is called hog wire, but we know it as cat wire, an unfair title since squirrels, dogs, possums, and who knows what else might wander through. It was the cats, though, that drove me to it when they discovered the catnip bed and destroyed my cash crop.
I’ll admit that part of the relentless optimism of gardening means constantly planting something with the unspoken expectation that it will grow. By gardening with organic principles in mind, I put the most effort into the beginning of the season and use my vast experience of gardening success and failure to tailor those tasks to meet my gardens’ needs and mine. Still, I was rushed one afternoon recently and didn’t put the cover on a new planting of okra and Peter peppers. The next day, 2 okra plants and one pepper were out of the ground, chewed a bit, and wilted badly. The sad thing is that this is not the only time I have had to deal with transplant shock so I knew what to do – replant and drench with Hormex Liquid Concentrate at slightly higher than the transplant rate: 1/2 tsp. in 2 quarts of water. Disaster averted and the transplants are fine five days later!
Now, if we could predict the weather…