Thursday, September 25, 2008

Fertilizer - Feeding the Soil

by Richard Chew

I use a few types of fertiliser for my roses and garden plants, to suit various situation.

The most common ones that I use is chicken manure (organic fertiliser), which is also the most economical ones. I would apply it every 2 weeks at my roses.

As I feed the plants I will observe the condition of the soil. I look for traces of earth worms, as this is the best indicator of healthy soil. I will also check the soil texture because the soil texture can give you some indication of amount decomposed matter contained in the soil. And when watering I look for bubbles because this indicates that the soil is well aerated and also good indication that the worms are actively working (tunnelling) beneath the soil.

Another good indicator is after you feed the soil, the organic fertiliser tend to decompose rather quicker if your soil is riched with earth worms.

If these signs are not present, the soil should look either dry and coarse or the other extreme would be wet and muddy. The plant may look sluggish and growth seemed stunted. In this situation, I will change my feeding pattern. I will use water soluble type.

The reason I revert to water soluble is because this would be the most effective short term remedy to restore the plant. The water soluble type will directly feed into the plants' roots thus gives you ample time to rectify the soil condition. I would use N20-P20-K20 and one that will not "burn" the roots.

For dry and coarse soil, I would water it with water soluble fertiliser more frequently. One teaspoon per 4 litre of water. I will feed probably 2 to 3 times a week.

If the soil is wet and muddy, usually this happens after days of consecutive heavy rain, I would daily fork the soil to ensure proper drainage. And monitor the soil condition for a week or two, if no improvement I will replaced the soil with increased mixture of charcoal granule. The purpose of mixing charcoal is to improve the water drainage. It is important that the soil is well aerated and right amount of moist, otherwise the leaves will turn yellow and spotted. This is sign of over watering.

While carrying out these contingencies, I will feed the soil with organic manure and add some earth worms to cultivate vermicomposting that naturally converts organic matter into useful nutrients for the plants. Check the table.

While it would take some time for the organic manure to decompose, I will continue to use water soluble fertilizer until the rose plant grow some new shoots and more healthy leaves. This is clear sign that the rose plant is restored and growing healthily. As the soil gradually improves, I will gradually reduce the frequency of the water soluble type and revert to vermicomposting process to feed the rose plant.

I won't say what I suggested will surely guarantee results but it would definitely increased the chances of success.

If I want to get some extra blooms, I will use fertiliser formulated for flowering. The most common combination is 18N-24P-18K and will use water soluble type to avoid burning the roots. It is not good to use this too frequently, as it would "exhaust" the plants, especially young ones. It is fine to apply on healthy rose plants with bushy leaves and healthy stems.

Read continuation in Part 2

Monday, September 22, 2008

Soil Maintenance -Why?

by Richard Chew

One of the key thing that I learned about keeping my plants healthy is knowing the right way to maintain a healthy soil.

Yes I am not kidding. I am talking about Soil Maintenance. I don't think I have ever come across any such term in any gardening book. Anyhow it is no harm inventing one here in my blog. What I am going to present here is something that probably been mentioned before, but I do believe the way I present it will help many beginners to think logically and help make better decisions in maintaining and growing healthy garden plants successfully.

I struggled quite a bit in keeping my plants alive in my first 2 years of gardening experience. I did all that I learned in the gardening manual/ guide and researched many types of garden plants, but somehow I knew I was missing something. I am not saying the manual tips doesn't work. It is just that I had trouble getting the desired results. I knew some of the causes were due to wrong decisions being made. And the sad part is that I can not seemed to figure out what I did wrong or what I failed to do. It really seemed irregardless what I do or not do the results seemed to destined to failure.

I almost gave up and thought that perhaps I don't have what it takes to develop a green thumb. And I suppose just like many people, the thoughts of throwing the towel and staying in the safe zone seemed to be the most viable option. Perhaps by remaining with 'easy' plants then I won't face anymore disappointments.

Thankfully through these experiences, I've learned some very important lessons. I am no expert but I am convinced that what I am presenting here will help many beginners to develop better green thumb than me. I am fully convinced that to excel in gardening, the first lesson is to understand the science beneath the soil. Maintaining a good healthy soil will aid your plant to reward you with many display of blooms. Be assured of this principle. It works.

But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

Luke 8:15

In this posting, I hope to help you make the right decisions for your plants, not just to keep your favorite plants alive but also make it healthy and blossoming one.

I believe by now you will have this big question in your mind, why Soil Maintenance? Why not other tips? Why not talk about what fertilizer to use, or what soil to use, or secrets of growing roses and etc? The reason why I place a very high importance in Soil Maintenance is because our outdoor plants are exposed to external and internal factors. Knowing what happens beneath the soil will greatly impact the results of your plants.

I won't be discussing what kind of soil or what mixture of soil to use, as pre-mixed soil for gardening plants are easily sourced from many gardening stores and nurseries in Klang Valley and they are well suited for most garden plants.

Before I discuss the how to maintain the soil, let me discuss about the external and the internal factors that influences the soil condition that we to look out for and counter them immediately.

External Factors

Weather - Malaysia's weather can be very unpredictable. At certain times of the year, we do experience very extreme torrential rain, that can be quite detrimental to the plants. The continous and prolonged torrential rain will flood the soil, thus impedes its drainage and shuts out soil aeration. If the soil is left unattended, the wet condition will cause black spots at your garden plants and may invite fungal infections if the condition is not reversed. These are symptoms of excessive watering. Another undesired outcome is that excessive water will flushed and forced out many friendly critters that benefits the garden plants, such as earth worms.

Fertiliser - The choice of fertilizer is another external factor. There are many types of fertilizer available in the market, and it is always the case that each manufacturer will say that they are better than the other. Or perhaps you are currently using a fertiliser that was recommended by your most trusted garden nursery store. Don't be too overly concerned because it is not always one size fits all. You will most likely need a few types of fertiliser to achieve good results.

Just for illustration purpose, Vitamin C is good for health, but Vitamin C by itself doesn't guarantee us good health all the time. There are also other essential vitamins and minerals that our body needs to fight off other health challenges. It is definitely not one size fits all.

Internal Factors

Allies to Good Soil - Earth worms are actually the best allies for good healthy soil. Yes, it is those wriggling 'irky' creatures that nourishes your plants' roots by converting organic matter to essential nutrients. Another benefit is that earth worms naturally tunnels the soil thus improves drainage and also promotes better aeration in the roots.

When your plants are fed with organic fertiliser, it is these critters that converts them into useful minerals. The increased population of earth worms in your soil are good indication of healthy soil.

Another allies for good soil are microbes, the micro organism that lives in the soil. These microbes also converts organic matters into nutrients to nourish the roots. They are most active at warm temperature range usually morning . Plants grow better under the morning sun as it is at this period that these bacterias are most active at work and will cease activities when it exceeds the working temperature range.

Understanding these factors and detecting them correctly, will help to make the right decision in maintaining your soil. The next posting, I will share what we can do to maintain healthy soil.

About this Blogger

Hi... my name is Richard Chew. I didn't really started off gardening because I love gardening nor was I an expert in plant biology. I am just like any ordinary guy.

I guess I started gardening because I really like nature and greens. I begun this garden project when I moved to a townhouse in Kota Kemuning in 2006. Though the townhouse is designed for compact living space, it came with a 200 sqf garden space.

It is not a very big space but adequate to start off small garden project. I decided to make full use of the space by filling it up with greens. I have tried many floral plants, however the best experiences are with roses.

My initial experience wasn't a bed of roses. There were quite a number of failures along the way. Therefore I thought why not start a blog, to keep a journal of ongoings in my project.

I hope as you visit this blog, you will find many good information that is useful at your garden. I put lots of effort in posting good research works from public site on plant psychology. Hope by equiping with a little more science we get to be more appreciative of God's creation.

I will make time to share my experiences and my frustrations in cultivating rose. I will also be delighted to hear your good and bad experiences that you may encountered in starting a garden.

Pls feel free to visit my blog. Post as many comments or questions that you wish. You may also send me some nice pictures of your garden, I would be happy to post it in my blog to share your work with others.

Or you may email me at

Pls visit my first posting, and happy exploring.