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Mediterranean Gardening Care In the Autumn – A Perfect Time To Feed Your Plants - by Jonathan Yaakobi

The tendency for many home gardeners is to think of the spring and summer as the principle feeding seasons for their plants. This may be true in cool, temperate climates, but much less so in Mediterranean and other regions that experience hot, dry summers, and mild wet winters.

In fact, autumn is a secondary growing season in such climates, while during the winter, despite the fact that growth generally slows down, the plants do continue to grow and develop. It is necessary therefore, that in both seasons, adequate supplies of nutrient are available in the plants’ root zone. The question arises then, as to the best method for supplying the essential plant nutrients.

Chemical fertilizer is unquestionably the cheapest and most efficient way of supplying readily available nutrients to the garden plants. The trouble is that the constant adding of mineral salts that chemical fertilizing entails, has serious consequences for the long-term health of the soil. This is liable to express itself in the related problems of increased soil salinity, and the breakdown of the soil’s structure, which leads to a lack of oxygen in the root zone.

In any case, as the plants’ metabolic rate is relatively low at this time, plants require nutrients in small doses, so there is often little need to add chemical amendments such as nitrogen or phosphorous fertilizer. It is at best unnecessary to risk damaging the health of the soil for the sake of hoping to increase, slightly, the rate at which the garden plants grow.

It makes far more sense to adopt a feeding policy that supplies small but steady doses of nutrient, while improving the condition of the soil, which after all is the habitat in which the plants grow. This is where adding organic matter, which can be termed natural fertilizer, comes in. High percentages of organic matter, improves the soil’s structure and thus its aeration, balances its pH in the overly alkaline conditions common in dry climates, and indirectly helps to reduce pest and disease infestations. Paradoxically, the excessive use of chemical fertilizer can raise the soil’s pH (more alkaline) thereby reducing the availability to the plants’ roots, of essential trace elements such as iron and magnesium.

It is important to apply organic matter like compost that has thoroughly broken down to the crumbly, black, odorless state known as humus. With new plantings, particularly in soils that are very infertile, it may be necessary to add some fertilizer, but this can take the form of either organic products or slow-release fertilizer.

There are also environmental issues to consider, as fertilizers leaching out into lakes, rivers, and water tables, are a serious source of pollution. In this regard, commercial compost based on plant waste is preferable to that based on animal manure, although with the latter, the plants will probably benefit in the short term, from the increased concentrations of nitrogen, phosphorous and other nutrients.

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Jonathan Ya'akobi

Your Personal Gardening Coach

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