Saturday, July 13, 2019

The Great Potassium Disaster



Beauty shot

I always wonder why we think others expect perfection of us. We carefully crop out what isn't beautiful or noteworthy to create the illusion of faultlessness. Give me reality over bullshit, any day. I recently burned the crap out of a boat load of plants and have the Instagram unworthy pics to show you.



Reality shot

This area is part of an ongoing project to turn this long side slope into a wildflower meadow. It will take several years.

Last summer I had stone terraces built into my sloped back yard.  Not confident the local soil company would give me true top soil as opposed to fill dirt, I opted to have a zillion cubic yards of pure compost delivered. I filled the terraces half way last fall with compost and leaves and finished the job this spring.  I let a few rainstorms settle the soil and began planting.


After buying the house in November 2017, I had extensive interior and exterior renovations done, which included adding this brick walkway and stairs. The terraces were added last summer to resolve the problem of a steep slope and massive surface roots from the huge maple tree.
 

The terraces were built around three existing hydrangea, which were heavily pruned last fall to remove dead wood. There weren't many flowers this summer but there was a ton of growth and they'll be amazing next year. 

The plants grew quickly and then stopped. Leaves that should have been deep green were oddly yellowish with red rusty spots. A quick search through one of my favorite garden problem solver books and the internet identified the problem as potassium deficiency. 


Potassium deficiency on persicaria leaves

Potassium deficiency occurs when soil doesn't have enough potassium, which is present in clay soils. My compost didn't have any clay loam or topsoil and was remarkably low in bananas, therefore very little potassium. It also didn't have any worms to add new organic matter. After identifying the problem, I bought a bag of potassium sulfate and applied it to the terraces, promptly burning the crap out all my plants. 


Many plants have been cut back and new growth is starting to show. 

Entire stems turned black, their leaves shriveled and curled before dying a ridiculously dramatic death. Instead of solving the problem, I'd made everything worse.  A wet summer worked to push the sulfate deeper into the soil and through the plants, compounding the problem.  


The middle terrace is full of slightly to mostly dead diervilla 'Kodiak Black'. 


These two are mostly dead but one is showing signs of life.

Shrubs that had been robust looked dead and cussed and spit every time I came near. I apologized, let the diervilla have their say, and walked away. Time is a great healer and if they grow back, they stay. If they don't, they'll be replaced. Their revenge is the money I'll have to spend on plants I shouldn't have killed.


I made sure to wreak havoc equally so both sides of the terraces were affected.  

But sometimes what looks like a disaster really isn't. It's just a set back and you're wiser for the experience. I'm having the soil tested and already added 1000 worms from Uncle Jim's Worm Farm.  Despite how introspective and reflective I can be, I'm not much for emotional self-flagellation. I get up every damn day determined to do my best. Some days I succeed and some days I don't. When my humanness gets the best of me, I figure out where I went wrong, make amends, and then let that shit go. 


New growth on the phlomis

Sometimes the person you have to be the most patient and compassionate with is yourself. I'll have a better understanding of the problem once I get the test results back, which will be affected by the sulfate that's already been added. I'll amend the soil, the worms will help, and everything will be ok. Plants will recover, new ones will be added, and eventually the terraces will overflow with lush, beautiful foliage and flowers. All will be well, even if it's not all well today. Today isn't forever. It's just today.


34 comments:

  1. I didn't know one could order worms! That's cool.

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    1. It's super cool! They were delivered to the post office and I went and picked them up. I dug a hole in the soil, dumped them in, watered them, and then covered them up. Done!

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    2. Are your new worms thriving? Do they, like potassium??

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  2. Getting nutrient levels in soil right ain't easy. I count myself among those who venture a good guess as to what the garden needs, add amendments with a wish and a prayer, and wait to see what happens. I've used the cheap soil testing kits sold at garden centers but those aren't much better than straight guesswork. I'm glad to know you are a large contingent of worms providing support.

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    1. I thought adding this would be like adding greensand or cottonseed meal but I was so wrong where you just dump in a handful. This stuff is really powerful and it's very easy to overapply. I think the worms will really help and I've been throwing all my banana peels in, too. Adding a local clay based topsoil this fall will really be the best solution.

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  3. First, welcome back to blogging! I tell people I am a master gardener, which means I learned most of what I know from the hard master of trial and error! My mistakes often have taught me more than my successes. One thing you have done right is to put in the terraces! They are beautiful, and soon you will have gorgeous plants in those beds.

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    1. Thanks, Deb! If trial and error gave out degrees, I'd have a doctorate.

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  4. Oh gosh, that's challenging! I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who makes mistakes. ;-) Your brick walkways, stairs, and terraces are incredible! I'm thrilled that you're back to blogging again.

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    1. Thanks, Beth! I love the way all the hardscaping turned out. I love this little house and garden. :o)

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  5. Be advised there is now an occasional meme invented by our friend Alison at Bonney Lassie called 'Tell the Truth Tuesday'. Many bloggers have exposed their non-attactive crapola. It's important to share the failures and problems too-we all learn !

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    1. It's always Tell the Truth Tuesday on my blog but I do love that meme! Give me reality, any day!

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  6. Hi, I haven't seen you (or been around on the blogs for ages)...but I just wanted to tell you that I think you continue to be fabulous. Here's to the Truthtellers, who will save us all!! xo Susie Troccolo

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  7. Although you felt like a dunce when your plants started turning black you can now feel so much smarter. So can we. Things happen. Love all your terracing and the brick walk. You will have so much fun out there adding plants and watching them grow.

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    1. I was frustrated, for sure. But some plants are already growing back so that's hopeful.

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  8. Oh my! I am sure we all have that T-Shirt. A few years back we got a load of compost from a reputable source and it looked and smelt fine. Not sure what was in the sh..t but nearly everything in our yard suffered or died. Two years on everything is doing much better. Gardening is a journey! I love your terraced walls. It is going to be gorgeous again : )

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    1. Oh no! How frustrating! I would have been furious.

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  9. I love your approach, how you happily learn and move on! Of course the plants will grow again, either those or new ones, you are a formidable force, they dare not grow. I do love those terraces!xxx

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  10. I love your photos.
    www.rsrue.blogspot.com

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  11. Well, I do love that last line. I may steal it and live my life trying to honor it. :) It is so true - we are hardest on ourselves. I have let the drive for perfection pretty much slide off my back. I will never be perfect, or anywhere close. So I am reveling in my unperfectness.

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    1. Unperfectness is all I have so I have to embrace it.

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  12. Hello Tammy girl .. hey, we are all HUMAN and hopefully learn from our mistakes and have that wonderful innate curiosity to investigate a problem .. I too have a few yellowish plants and thought about the same recourse .. now I will be that much wiser from your experience .. thank you ! .."mostly dead" .. isn't that from the Princess Bride ? LOL
    Some mornings I wake up thinking that is my problem .. but then groan, moan and move on .. :-)
    I really love your terracing .. it is going to look amazing, so just stick with it girl !
    PS .. I can't help but do those crop shots .. I guess I have to get over that too some day ?

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    1. All the best lines come from The Princess Bride!

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  13. Great learning experience, very well told! I never heard that about compost with potassium deficiency. I've had my share of garden disasters, like the time I killed 100 free daffodil bulbs. We just pick ourselves up and move on.

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  14. Whoops. Sorry for your experience. I feel your pain. I can't even begin to list all my dead plants.

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  15. Empathy is what I feel! I'm a huge proponent of posting about the realities of the garden. Things go wrong in the garden for everyone - EVERYONE...I don't care how long you've been gardening or how much of an expert you are.

    This year, I tried a new soil mix from a local supplier called "Gro-Max" for all them transplants. Should have been called "Gro-Min" as everything I used it on languished so badly that I think they were all permanently stunted. Annuals that were at least 3' tall & bushy at this time last year are barely 12" tall this year, despite all the rain we've been having (vs. last year I had a hard time keeping them watered). So lesson learned - and a great story to tell new gardeners who think that "seasoned gardeners" never make mistakes.

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    1. How frustrating! I wonder what was in your soil? Did you grow the annuals from seed or did you buy them? They might have been treated with a growth inhibitor to keep their size manageable in the store. Many plants are.

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    2. I grew all of them from seed. Normally, they go straight into the garden but this year things were delayed by a good 3 weeks or so as our weather remaining very cool, even after our last frost date so I needed to pot them up from their seedling containers. From the looks of it, they would probably have been better off had I just left them alone.

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  16. How heartbreaking, but what a great attitude to deal with it! It's a set back, nothing more and it's won't be long before it's a memory. Those terraces will look stunning1

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  17. Who'd have thought? I didn't know potassium could be so disastrous, I think I'll go easy on the bananas.I hope everything will recover, if not, what fun you'll have buying new. I love all your hard landscaping.

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