How to Garden Like a Pot Grower

Posted by on Jan 5, 2016 in Nutrient Dense Gardening | Comments Off on How to Garden Like a Pot Grower

I wouldn’t call this a medical marijuana post, but we veggie gardener’s can definitely learn how to garden valuable techniques from pot growers who understand the basics of nutrition and digestion and how it relates to plants.





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Soil systems, like digestive systems, rely on a healthy population of bacteria (called ‘microflora’ in guts and ‘microbes’ in soil) to act out ba-jillions of processes that encourage nutrient delivery and absorption. Sometimes, when things go wrong and soil becomes unbalanced, the nutrients present are not able to be taken up by your plants. This is no different than when you yourself eat healthy food, but are struggling with an out-of-whack digestive system that isn’t delivering nutrients to your cells.

(How much does that suck? I mean, you’re paying $$$ for organic food!)

Soil systems that aren’t functioning properly (just like their unhealthy human digestive counterparts) are usually the result of mineral deficiencies, excesses, toxicities, and/or a general lack of microbial life in the soil (microflora in the gut!).

You likely know when something is off with your digestion due to a handful of familiar symptoms. Two common signs of a broken soil system are: weak, stunted plants and the presence of pests and disease. If these symptoms describe the current state of your garden – don’t fret, I’m here to help you deal with this emergency! Here’s my advice:

Sometimes, You Just Have to

Garden Like a Pot Grower

Wait. What?

Yes. That really is my tried and tested advice to you.

Now, what I know about growing pot I’ve learned from cable television, but the how to garden message is clear: if you want to grow the greenest and lushest ganja, you must completely ignore your soil. This is actually a perfect plan for you right now, as your soil is currently, well, in trouble.

From what I can tell, the pot plants grown on Weeds and in Pineapple Express are stealthily tended to indoors, using hydroponic techniques. This means that all of the nutrients are delivered via a water supply because there is no soil to do the job. Bypassing your soil and finding a new way to get nutrients to your plants is a great plan for your particular emergency. Welcome to the world of outdoor hydroponics, aka: Jungle Gardening.

Ignoring Your Soil Completely

Is Your Best Bet Right Now.

How can you ignore your soil? By feeding your plants through their leaves. To be fair, you must eventually put some long-term effort into repairing the damage in your dirt; however, right now, you’ve got more immediate problems. If your plants aren’t absorbing nutrients through their roots, then you gotta get’ em the groceries any other way that you can.

Your first step should be to implement a foliar feeding schedule.

What to Foliar Feed Your Plants:

Lucky for you, I have already given you one of my favorite foliar feeding recipes – the liquid tea from the fermented sludge we brewed in my How to Cure a Sick Plant post. There are certainly other liquids and powders available that make great nutrient feeds for your plants. I have had great success with the following: Neptune’s Fish & Seaweed Fertilizer, Maxi Crop Norwegian Sea Kelp and Fox Farm Big Bloom.

If you look closely at some of these products, you’ll notice a couple of things:

  • Most often they contain sea minerals. This is because sea minerals have an alkalizing effect upon diseased, acidified plants, and provide an amazing shot of balanced nutrients. The ocean contains the highest proportions of naturally occurring elements on earth.


  • They’re specified for hydroponics and marketed towards pot growers. You’re simply borrowing products and practices from growers who have to bypass the soil system daily until your soil system is back online. I hope you can have a giggle about this!

When to Foliar Feed Your Plants:

I feed once weekly all season long, regardless of emergency conditions. Since my soil system is humming right along, foliar feeding helps me take my plants to the next level. Like, an Amazonian level. As in twelve-foot tomatoes.

I don’t start foliar feeding until my plants are in the ground, but I’ve heard that diluted applications can be sprayed on seedlings after they’ve sprouted their true leaves.

If I were facing true crop failure, I would feed more frequently, say every other day for two weeks and then twice a week for the rest of the month. Some might call this extreme; I call it deep nutrient therapy!

Here are a couple of other things to keep in mind:

  • Leaf stomata (pores) are most open at temperatures below 80 degrees fahrenheit. Spraying your plants in the cooler parts of the day will allow them to take a good long drink. I usually spray my garden at daybreak.

  • Don’t worry about the sun being out. You will read in multiple places that when sunlight hits drops of liquid on leaves, it acts as a magnifying glass and scorches them. Phooey. Plenty of hot and sunny locations deal with torrential afternoon rains followed by immediate exposure to ridiculously hot sun.

  • Don’t worry about whether it’s going to rain or not. While spraying your plants in a heavy downpour might be a waste of your time, anything you can do to give them some extra nutrition is helpful. As a rule, I say: feed them, help them, love them!

How to Foliar Feed Your Plants:

Okay, here are your options for getting the ‘big drink’ on your leaves:

  • Using a watering can, gently dribble your dilution over the leaves. I find this to be clumsy and recommend that you do this only once or twice until you can get yourself some better equipment.

  • Hand held spray bottle, from the drug store, hardware store, or garden center. This will work all right if you have a really small space, but generally speaking, your hand will hurt and the spray mechanism usually breaks fairly quickly.

  • Pressurized sprayer. These are awesome. I have two – one holds a liter (under $10) and the other holds two gallons (about $60) and has a long-reach spray wand and carrying strap. The larger one does my whole garden, my orchard, and some ornamental plantings. Basically, you pump up pressure by hand and then apply the spray gently and evenly. It’s really wonderful and not particularly expensive, however, I think that seals can ‘quit’ early especially on cheaper models. I suggest that you ask before investing if it is fairly simple to source parts for your sprayer!

Want a more direct way to feed your plants with liquids?

Now you’re really thinking. In some ways, what we’re trying to achieve here is akin to i.v. drips and vitamin injections – like we’re mega-dosing our plants. So, why waste the good stuff on their leaves?

Humans can’t absorb our entire nutritional needs through our skin by rubbing lotions and potions on ourselves, can we? Frankly, I don’t know. At least, I have yet to see it offered on Shark Tank. But I do know that when humans are given liquid nutrients straight into their blood streams, they’re usually monitored in a controlled environment.

In order for a gardener to pull off this type of control, they would need to prevent the nutrients from being diluted by large amounts of rainfall. This is totally possible in 3 different ways:

  • Make a DIY lid for your container plants, so that you control when they receive both nutrients and water. One reason container plants often fail is because the nutrients are washed away and rarely replaced.

  • Upside down pots three weeks

  • Lay down rows of drip hoses underneath farm-grade plastic, right in your garden. You can also use burlap bags or other more environmentally saavy fabrics. There are varying degrees of farm-grade plastic, some which allow the rain to seep through and others that offer more control. You can add nutrients to your drip lines by attaching a siphonex into your chosen liquid feed (see my list above).

  • CSAquestionsplastic

  • By heavily mulching your garden, with a slowly decomposing carbon source, such as wood chips. You ‘drench’ the mulch with liquid nutrients that slowly make their way down to your plants’ root systems when it rains.

When You Really Don’t Have Time to Fail:

Plant Tissue Testing

Lastly, I want to mention to those of you who are truly tied to the outcome of your crops, for financial reasons, food security, or other important life choices, that there is a professional solution available to help you determine which specific nutrients are not making it into your plants. Most university labs offer Plant Tissue Tests paired with nutrient recommendations; I would also advise you to do some deeper research if you have time. Again, emergencies always call for action in my book.

True crop farmers, the kind with hefty loans and thousands of acres planted in soy or corn, rely on Plant Tissue Tests to monitor the health of their crops all season long. While this practice in itself is a science that offers an experienced eye a glimpse into what’s happening (or not happening) at every stage of growth, plenty of smaller scale growers also take advantage of this resource. If nothing else, you may be able to develop a specific nutrient recipe aimed at tiding your crops over until your soil re-establishes balance and begins to thrive with life.