It is easy to forget - or not realise - that plants are living things. As such, they have specific care requirements - just the same as us humans - to grow properly!
In order to grow healthy plants in your garden - or in your house - you need to fulfil just a few requirements that plants require in order to remain in good condition.
In their native habitat, most plants remain healthy for most of the time. They tend to thrive in their own eco-systems, and live where they are best suited. For instance, bog plants do not live in deserts, and nor do Rhododendrons live naturally where there is a high soil alkalinity.
Give your plant its optimum growing conditions and the likelihood is that it will grow and remain healthy. The optimum conditions for plants to grow well, will include an adequate supply of nutrients, water, air, and light. They will also need to be planted in a suitable position, in suitable soil.
Most plants will grow in any soil! Very few gardeners take note of the soil type or soil conditions before buying and subsequently planting their plants. Most gardeners will have used the same soil from previous years in planted containers. This is testament to how adaptable plants actually are.
Plants can grow quite successfully without soil. For instance, Hydroponics is the method where no soil is used. Plants are either grown in an inert 'anchoring' medium, or suspended in a solution containing all the food they need for healthy growth. In this article, we simply cover the aspects of how to grow plants in the garden. Soil is a normal requirement, and will have to be treated with respect if we are to grow healthy plants.
In natural conditions, plants grow, shed leaves and branches and eventually die, and all is returned back to the soil. Add to this, the fact that there are thousands of insects or other organisms present in natural soil - and garden soil - that regularly contribute to the health of the soil by way of emitting their waste into or on the soil, then eventually dying and being returned to the soil.
A good soil basically depends upon living things for sustainability. Plant roots, insects, bacteria and all manner of living organisms depend upon the soil, which in turn depends upon them. Once this 'eco-life'- is depleted and the organic matter is no longer available, the soil dies and simply becomes a mixture of rocks, pebbles, gravels and sand! In that state it cannot grow plants such as we are interested in for the scope of this article. In reality thee will still be plants that can adapt to these conditions and live.
The image cutaway shows a typical garden soil profile.
Many things can be done to improve the topsoil health. Simply adding fertiliser, is not the answer. In this case the soil layer is a holding area for the nutrients you apply. If you want to improve your topsoil - advisable - then emulate nature. Apply organic matter regularly.
A good supply of suitable nutrient is absolutely essential for plant growth. The main food requirements for a health plant, are Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P) and Potassium - Potash (K). You will (should) see the symbols 'N-P-K' on any fertiliser pack you buy. There may also be other chemical symbols. The symbols 'N-15 : P-15 K:15' would tell you that it is a general balanced fertiliser for most plants. It has equal parts of the essential elements NPK, and would be a good general fertiliser - if needed!
Don't rush out and grab a general fertiliser and start throwing it about! It may well be that your garden is only lacking in one of the chemical elements, so possibly a fertiliser with an analysis of N-15: P-6: K-3 would be better for a garden lacking in Nitrogen! (Or for feeding Lawns, and leaf vegetables - as these would require higher concentration of Nitrogen for foliage growth!) Soil testing - with a cheap kit from the garden centre - would be wise - especially for those lacking in garden experience!
As well as these essentials, which are required in quite high doses. There are a multitude of other chemicals (trace elements) which the plant needs - but to a lesser degree - than the main 3. Trace elements are normal found in sufficient quantities in most garden soils.
Insofar as the organic or synthetic argument is concerned. Organic manures of feeds provide food to the plant with the same chemicals - N P K! All feeds have to be broken down for these vital resources to be available to the plant! Organic feeds provide the same chemicals as normal fertilisers!
As was mentioned above, plants can be grown without soil - though not really in a general garden situation. The essentials for food can be artificially provided. Whilst plants can be made to grow without soil, one thing they cannot do without is.........
Plants consist of approximately 93% water. So, incidentally, do we! Every living cell of plants (or humans) needs water to live. Without water, we dehydrate and plants wilt!