When the weather conditions are dry, it’s a good time to explore ways to conserve water. Organic material is essential for good soil. Well-decomposed organic matter helps increase the water and nutrient holding capacity of the soil. Undecomposed material like leaves and clippings used as surface mulch can help conserve moisture and keep weeds under control. Nematodes, those tiny microscopic worms that feed on your roots, do less damage in high organic soil. Organic matter can also increase the minor elements and microbiological activity of your soil.

For these reasons, save your clippings and leaves. They are like money in the bank. You can keep these materials in a corner of the garden. The deterioration of plant material deposited in a compost heap can be accelerated by the use of fertilizer.

For each bushel of leaves, clippings, or cutting tips, add two cups of balanced fertilizer and one cup of crushed coral or hydrated calcium. Build up the compost heap using the layer cake method, a 15 cm deep layer of plant material. Continue until the stack is up. Feet up or something. After the pile shows signs that deterioration is well advanced, usually four to five weeks, shuffle the pile by turning it over. A pitchfork would come in handy at this point. The compost is ready to use in about three months. It is an excellent material to mix with soil for vegetable gardens and new plantings.

Anthurium thrives particularly well on well-drained compost mixed with volcanic ash. They love this organic, well-ventilated mix with good water retention and yet good drainage. A good mix needs to be able to anchor roots and stems so that the plant does not tip over as it grows upwards, but provides the plant with adequate moisture, nutrients, and ventilation. Ash or crushed stone added to composted wood chips, sugar cane bagasse, macadamia nut shells, or peat or tree bark serve to anchor the roots better.

Even when composting and mulching, you still need to fertilize your garden. Some Hawaiian soils are very young and poor in nutrients. For the cultivation of plants and lawn grasses, larger amounts of fertilizer are required than for older and better developed soils. The soil not only lacks the primary elements such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, but also the “secondary elements” such as copper, zinc and boron. When plants are grown in these mineral-poor soils and fertilized with common vegetable foods, they often develop various deficiencies.

A few years ago, herbalists examined these deficiencies and learned not only how to identify the affected plants, but also that spraying them with the mineral the plant was lacking could fix. But which average gardener has the training that enables them to recognize deficiency symptoms in plants?

To overcome this problem, the nutritional spray was developed. It’s a mixture that contains roughly all of the minerals that a plant can be deficient in. Lime had to be added first to neutralize these solutions; But now garden stores have mixtures that do not require lime.

Some plants are more prone to mineral deficiencies than other plants. Hibiscus, gardenia, pseudo-orange, ixora, mangos, avocados, macadamia, coffee and citrus fruits are particularly susceptible to mineral deficiencies such as die-off, colored, small and yellow leaves.

Two to three times a year is usually enough to apply a nutritional spray. Commercial growers use the nutritional spray as a preventive measure. It is easier to avoid defects than to fix them. In new gardens, it may be necessary to apply a nutrient spray about every three months for the first year to prevent deficiency symptoms.

Along with the nutritional spray, it is a good idea to use a soil application of the minor elements. Magnesium, iron and zinc are the most important elements, but we also occasionally find plants deficient in boron, manganese, copper and other “trace” elements. There are several “shotgun” combinations in your supply store. Certain plants require greater amounts of certain elements than other plants. When you get to know our tropics, you will find out, for example, that iron is particularly important in ixoras, hibiscus, azaleas and gardenias or that magnesium prevents the leaves of coconut and areca palms from turning orange and dying prematurely. Zinc is the vital element in the cultivation of queen palms, royal palms and palm trees of the date group.

Increasing the organic matter of the soil and using a “shot gun” treatment as a spray or soil application, or both, will prevent your plants from having these deficiencies in most conditions. Remember to follow the directions on the label. Too much of the important plant nutrients can be just as harmful as too little!

For more information, contact the Hilo office at 959-9155 or the Kona office at 322-4893