Getting your nutrient balances just right

As many of you know, the vegetable garden that my family and I raise each year is a large garden. There are larger ones out there, and there are certainly smaller ones too. There are some that make most of their family budget through their garden and selling at the local farmers’ markets too. So, you may be wondering why would a smaller vegetable and/or fruit gardener be interested in the commercial vegetable and fruit gardening website from the U of M? Well, there is just a ton of very interesting information on this website that anyone can use whether they have a large or small garden. The website address is

On this same website there is a great link by Peter M. Bierman and Carl J. Rosen. While sometimes talking about soil testing and thinking about fertilizers and nutrient supply is not as fun as talking about the newest flower variety; it is necessary. If we want those vegetables, fruits and other plants to grow to their best, then this is something to consider. A good long hard look at your garden will reveal, along with a good soil test, what you need to make your garden the best there is.

I often struggle with sandy soils and where my perennial gardens are, one in particular, it is almost gravelly. This garden is a perennial garden but will struggle with dry conditions and I am sure that when it pours rains from the heavens, it is leaching out quite a bit of the good nutrients that the plants need. This garden has been my focus this winter in order to upgrade the soils and give an assist to make this garden much better. For me, I do have one thing that will help a dry garden and give it the nutrients that it is missing.

My daughter raises rabbits. We clean out their cages and all this material of grass hay, alfalfa hay along with their manure will give this garden the boost that it needs. These goodies have been placed on this garden since last November and we should have it covered by March. It is a large garden. The mulch is needed to help get the soil back to optimum status and the rabbit manure, for the most part, is weed free. If you have horses, you have the best garden additive that there is!

So back to nutrient problems. If you had problems in your garden, particularly your vegetable garden where maybe you noticed that some of the leaves were not quite right-turning colors and so forth; you may have had a nutrient imbalance in your garden. Nutrient imbalances not only include deficiencies but also there are times when you may have too much of a nutrient in your garden. Nutrient balances are a little tricky because if you have less of one thing you might be causing a problem with another nutrient.

Some important nutrient interactions include ammonium-calcium, phosphorus-iron, phosphorus-copper, phosphorus-zinc, and potassium-magnesium-calcium.

“In most cases, symptoms of nutritional disorders occur in defined patterns and are specific for each nutrient. Elements that are mobile in plants generally induce deficiencies on the older (lower) leaves first, while immobile elements induce deficiencies on the younger (upper) leaves first. In some cases, pesticide toxicity or disease symptoms may resemble nutrient deficiencies or toxicities. In addition, symptoms of nutritional disorders are often species or variety dependent,” according to the article.

Also, according to the article, “The “Key to Visual Diagnosis of Nutrient Disorders” is a useful tool that can help diagnose specific nutritional problems in crops. The Key first asks you to choose whether the Visual Symptom you observed was on Upper Leaves or Lower Leaves. Below each of these first two choices are four boxes with descriptions of different visual symptoms that may appear on unhealthy-looking plants. If you find a box that matches the problem you see on your plants, look at the box below it for the nutrient or group of nutrients that can cause those symptoms when they are deficient. The bottom row of boxes, which aren’t present for three of the visual symptoms, lists nutrients that can cause the same or similar symptoms when they are present in excessive or toxic amounts.” This key is a helpful thing to visit when trying to decide if you have a nutrient problem or if it is an insect or disease problem.

For more information regarding gardening, you can reach me at or the Lyon County Master Gardeners at 507-532-8219.