Comfort food is near and dear to our hearts. When the demands of raising families, earning a living, and the fast pace of change in the 21st century wear us down, comfort food can provide a welcome and satisfying relief. The pleasures of comfort food rise to even greater levels when cloudy, damp, cold, dreary weather goes on day after day.
A rich and sweet pastry or latte or both can be just the thing to soothe the soul and provide a pick-me-up. A steaming bowl of hearty stew or soup can chase away that vague emptiness deep down inside. Whatever comfort food is just right for you, the hoped for result is a restored sense of well-being and hopefully not an expanded waistline.
Comfort food for humans can be a very good thing, if consumed in moderation. Comfort food can be wholesome for both body and spirit. Sometimes we assume that comfort food is bad for us. This need not be the case. A reasonable amount of comfort food on an occasional basis can be a positive part of a balanced and healthy lifestyle.
The myriad varieties of plans we place in our gardens, fields, forests and designed landscapes can also benefit greatly from what might be thought of as comfort food for gardens. Plants of all kinds require just the right balance of nutrients, sunlight and soil to thrive.
A whole host of conditions can make life stressful for annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees, such as soil compaction, lack of moisture, excessive moistures, and improper amounts of sunlight and nutrient deficiencies. Plants suffering from these conditions will benefit greatly from the addition of what I think of as comfort food for landscape plants. Organic matter and the correct amount of plant nutrients are comfort food for gardens.
The best way to give your plants comfort food is to add plenty of compost to your soil, as well as measured amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium at levels indicated by soil testing. Tilling compost and slowing releasing fertilizer into your soil every two to three years will help improve the structure of your soil, its water holding capacity, and steady availability of nutrients for your pants.
In years when you do not till the soil be sure to add organic surface mulch and once again a modest application of fertilizer. The mulch will keep soil cooler, reduce soil and organic matter loss from erosion, and will slowly decompose – releasing nutrients all the while. The right fertilizer will make nutrients available more quickly, and for a longer period of time. I favor fertilizer blends with about 20%-30% faster release, and 70%-80% that releases over a 3-6 month timeline.
One of the biggest mistakes people make, especially with new plantings is to skip fertilization. All plants need nutrients. Nutrients are comfort food for plants. The plants don’t care if they are getting nutrients from compost, decomposing organic surface mulch or commercial fertilizer or certified organic fertilizer, as long as none of the nutrients are present in excessive quantities.
Just like comfort food for people, the comfort food for gardens needs to be given in adequate but not excessive quantities. Certified organic fertilizers, backyard compost, and commercial fertilizers are all great comfort food for landscape plants when applied regularly and at moderate levels.
When your garden and landscape plants have comfort food for plants, I’m pretty sure if you listen closely you will hear them breathe a collective sigh of relief. They will give you a vibrant and gorgeous landscape as well as a bountiful table. The next time you head out to talk to your favorite plants be sure to apply a little comfort food for the garden!