by Susan – Part 2 of my interview with Mitch Baker of American Plant Food.
Here I was talking to an
actual horticulturist, one who taught the soils section for my DC
Master Gardener class (and was terrific!), one who’s doing videos for
MonkeySee.com (coming this month), why not pick his brain? My thinking
- What’s he think of our topsoil debate? Bagged topsoil is, at best, a composted blend or river bottom silt. Look for
something that’s at least fully composted. He urges people to spend more for a really good product, like Bumper Crop or
- How long can we go without watering our lawns before they DIE? Six weeks for most species.
- How do does treat his own lawn? Around Labor Day he applies an
organic fertilizer like Ringer or Bradford, overseeds with a turf-type
tall fescue, and applies calcium. He applies nothing in spring.
- What about applying compost instead of fertilizer? It only
supplies about half the 2 pounds of nitrogen per 1000 sq needed by
- Other lawn products he recommends are Safer Lawn fertilizer (8-1-1,
with micro-organisms), which can even be used in the summer; Safer
Grass Stimulator, which is kelp and does not include the
micro-organisms; and compost tea, another product that’s slow-acting
enough to be used when it’s hot.
- What fertilizers does he recommend for the garden? For perennials and woodies, an organic
fertilizer in the late fall, so they’ll be ready to do their thing the
following spring. That provides the actual
nutrients. Then for the "biology," the microorganisms, use compost tea. Conversely, if you use leafmold mulch (as I do) in
combination with compost tea, that’ll do the trick.
- Why all the disagreement about which mulches are best, which harm
plants, etc.? Mitch says it’s because of overapplication of mulch, which we’re seeing
now more than ever, up to 10 inches, plus those damn mulch volcanoes.
He recommends 1 1/2 to 2 inches, max! At that modest amount, he
says that all mulches will do the job (weed suppression, temperature
moderation, etc). Even bark will break down if it’s applied thinly
(less than 2 inches) and if the biology is there (cue the compost
tea). Even the dreaded iron oxide used in those butt-ugly colored
mulches are no problem when the mulching is a thin layer. And our worries about magnesium leaching from shredded hardwoods? Again it’s no problem
if the mulch is applied thinly. The only exception is wood chips – they really do tie up nitrogen and pull it from the soil. So unless
it’s composted first, use it only on paths and play areas, not around
plants. Okay, roger that.
My take-home message from chatting with Mitch – why not try an organic fert in the garden
this fall? Maybe my poorer-performing plants will finally perk up. My laissez-faire attitude may fit my
hippie-dippie personality but is doing nothing really the best practice? Results will be reported right here on the Rant.