Growing up in a gardener’s household with a mother who fully expected to do her parents’ green-thumbs proud, I was exposed to many practices and ‘tricks of the trade’ concerning growing plants – both indoors and out. As a kid puttering around after my mom, and later as a young adult attempting to grow my own flowers, I applied many of the same techniques I had watched my mom apply without even knowing why I was doing so.
It wasn’t until I became a homeowner and truly began to claim the land as my own with larger garden beds that I became somewhat overwhelmed with why things worked how they did, or didn’t. Epsom salts had always played a role in gardening, although I never knew why, so I set out to find out the reasoning behind using them in the garden.
Epsom salts for plants have long been hailed as a gardeners best kept secret for generations, but what exactly is so great about using epsom salts in your garden?
WHAT ARE EPSOM SALTS?
To begin, I should probably explain what Epsom salts are. Epsom salts are actually a mineral compound of magnesium and sulfate- essential nutrients that regulate enzymes and are found naturally in most living things. Originally found in Epsom, England (hence the name), they are mined from the ground and have a variety of different uses ranging from healthy lifestyle choices, help with magnesium deficiencies, crafting projects, and in our case – gardening.
Epsom salts are not salts at all even though they look like it (it doesn’t have any sodium chloride in it’s makeup). Because of this, it can be used as a natural alternative in many agricultural and health practices without ill effects- since too much true salt is actually harmful to plants.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF EPSOM SALTS FOR PLANTS?
Magnesium sulfate is actually a key ingredient for vegetation and is found naturally in soils, although they can eventually be depleted and leach over time. The use of Epsom salts in varied ways can help give a very inexpensive boost to your plants and flowers year round – whether they are grown as indoor plants or out.
Essentially they are a building block of new growth, and is supportive of overall plant health; they can be used in a variety of ways to enhance seed germination, flower production, new growth, and can aide with chlorophyll creation: which is needed for photosynthesis in all green plants.
IN PARTICULAR EPSOM SALTS ARE HELPFUL IN SOME VERY SPECIFIC WAYS:
Seed germination is the process of when non-dormant seeds begin to grow into a plant. Sowing Epsom salts directly into the ground at a rate of one to two tablespoons for each hole when you begin to plan your garden will help ensure a greater percentage of seeds begins this process. Furthermore, magnesium builds up cell walls which also helps keep seedlings stronger and more readily available for nutrient uptake – resulting in stronger, healthier mature plants.
Plant roots don’t grow in search of nutrients, rather nutrients need to be in the soils surrounding the roots and come into contact with them in order to be taken up to feed the plant. These nutrients both help further root growth and plant growth above ground. As roots spread, they encounter more to continue the process, especially when you add in an additional ‘food supply’ for them to take in.
Occasionally nutrients leach through the soils, or washout of soils, causing roots unable to come in contact with these essential building blocks. Natural salts can also accumulate when this happens, which can inhibit nutrient uptake. Epsom Salts help loosen and breakdown salts, and adds back in some of the vitamins and minerals needs to keep your plants growing and healthy.
COUNTER TRANSPLANT SHOCK
When any sort of plant is transplanted, whether from one place in your yard to another or from a pot to the ground, transplant shock is a common occurrence. Transplant shock occurs due to the disruption of the root system and the consequential failure of the roots to become established. When this occurs your plant will fail to thrive and may eventually die off, especially if the roots have not begun to grow before winter dormancy.
Most plants suffer from some form of transplant shock upon repotting, replanting, or moving; but with a minimal amount of care you can help alleviate this stress. For starters, providing Epsom salts to the bottom of your transplant holes will ensure there are readily available nutrients upon planting. Keeping your new plant well watered is also essential, and adding in epsom salts to your water every two weeks for the first few months will help keep a new plant from failing to thrive.
Magnesium, produces chlorophyll; chlorophyll is the green pigment that is essential for the process of photosynthesis: the process in which carbon dioxide is taken from the air and converted into oxygen and glucose (plant food) in all green plants. Chlorophyll makes this conversion possible using sunlight, and when chlorophyll is lacking, your plant leaves will begin to yellow and wither, upon which the plant will begin to suffer as it receives less nutrients from the sun and is dependent only upon what is stored in the roots.
DETER GARDEN PESTS
Although Epsom salts do dissolve in water, in drier climate (where they are less likely to wash away as readily) they can be quite useful when spread around the surface of the soils in your garden and around the base of your plants. These crystallized minerals are similar in nature to Diatomaceous Earth, and make it pretty uncomfortable for garden pests to cross onto a plant from the ground since it will cut up their soft bodies and exoskeletons, causing them to dehydrate and die.
GROW SWEETER FRUIT
The production of fruits and vegetables are actually how plants reseed themselves. Therefore this is a very taxing process since essentially what is occurring is what should lead to the end of the growth cycle for the plant as they mature their seeds and then die. Modern agriculture has hybridized and changed how these plants produce to yield larger crops for human consumption, and they truly do need more of a food supply than what would normally be found in the ground in order to keep producing.
Applying Epsom salts regularly will help from the start of the germination process as mentioned above, and continue to feed the plant with regular applications so larger, sweeter, and more abundant, healthy fruits and vegetables can make their way to your table.
FERTILIZING WITH EPSOM SALTS
Applying Epsom salts as a general fertilizer will boost your soil magnesium and sulfur where needed. You can apply this in a few ways: either by mixing it into the soil with a fertilizer as an added boost upon initial planting, or mixing it into water at a ratio of one to three tablespoons per one gallon of water and using the mixture to water your plants with. You can also mix it directly into the soil around the base of the plant at a ratio of one tablespoon per one foot of plant height.
This is especially important in gardens where you need to produce a yield of flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Whereas certain plants can tolerate low magnesium, other suffer when it is lacking- and this can be seen when the plant leaves begin to turn yellow on the edges and a yellow arrow shaped pattern appears in the center. Plants lacking in sulfur will have younger leaves yellowing and browning, occasionally followed by older leaved. Either deficiency will affect your bloom rate, as well as any sort of produce set you were expecting.
USING AS A FOLIAR SPRAY
Magnesium can also be taken up through the leaves of a plant, and can be used a foliar spray throughout the life of your plant as a general maintenance measure. Many plants benefit from a regular application of a Epsom salt spray, and can aide in the overall health and amount of produce grown in vegetable gardens.
This application is best used when you mix a ratio of two tablespoons per gallon of water and apply at least once a month to blooming plants beginning after blooms appear. If you plant is showing low magnesium stress as described above, it’s best to mix into the soils itself.
HOW TO USE WITH FLOWERING PLANTS
Epsom salt applications cause bigger bud sets and more vigorous blooms in flowering plants. Most flowers begin to suffer from a magnesium deficiency during bloom, so the regular use of them in watering or foliar application can help keep your plant flowering longer, and recover more quickly if it is a continual bloomer.
This is never more so than in roses as they use a large amount of nutrients setting their large flowers; and Epsom salts help build lush, dark foliage as well. The increase in the production of chlorophyll in sun loving plants feeds the entire plant, and roses, especially those that set multiple times in a season, will keep providing an abundance of new growth and bed sets for as long as they can.
There are a few key guidelines to consider for optimal use: work epsom salts into the soil at least once a year surrounding plants, and then provide a good feeding of dissolved application upon planting when dealing with new vegetation.
HOW TO USE WITH HOUSEPLANTS
Potted plants can occasionally start to have a buildup of natural salts through the watering and draining cycle. When this occurs soils will begin to bind and roots will struggle with both water and nutrient uptake. Epsom salts will help breakup natural salts and will improve the plant’s overall health through this process.
Mix a two tablespoon to one gallon of water ratio to water your plants with once a month with it. This will easily take care of any salt buildup and also provide aide for more vigorous growth. Just remember – plants need good sunlight to best utilize Epsom salts, so keep your houseplants in an area where they will receive either good direct, or indirect sunlight depending on their needs to best utilize this application.
HOW TO USE WITH VEGETABLE PLANTS
Almost all vegetable plants benefit from an application of Epsom salts, but none more so than tomatoes and peppers which are both naturally magnesium deficient. Tomatoes like both the magnesium and sulfur, which helps prevent blossom end rots in all vegetables (squash varieties included). Roots reach deep, foliage will darken, and fruits will sweeten when you both plant your veggies in the spring with a soil mixture, and then follow up every two weeks with a watering solution.
You can also apply a foliar spray, but be sure to do it when you know it can dry to avoid dampening the foliage too much, or too often.
HOW TO USE TO HELP ERADICATE WEED PLANTS
Even though Epsom salts feed all vegetation, it has been hailed as a good weed killer when mixed with other ingredients. A gallon of white vinegar, two cups Epsom salt, and a cup of blue Dawn dish soap when mixed and sprayed on a plant will cause the vegetation on a plant to wither fairly effectively. For a more lasting effect, if you heat the solution in advance to a boiling point and then pour over the weeds this should also ensure the roots are scorched past redemption.
Hopefully this was a help to those of you (like me) who were wondering how Epsom salts worked in the garden and why you should use them. Having begun the application to my roses and veggies this summer, I was shocked at the differences I saw in my plants. My floribunda roses set bloom after bloom continuously through the summer (I also used a rose fertilizer once a month in the soil), and my tomatoes took over (literally) the garden and grew to over 6 feet tall and 8 feet wide (I had to use hog panel to support it). We actually named the Roma, Earl, and Earl produced over 200 fruits this season, with green ones still set until frost.
If you have any questions or comments, or have found yet another way to utilize Epsom salts in you yard, we want to hear from you! Please leave us a message below, and as always, share!
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