Plants grow vigorously through their life cycle as long as they have access to a nutrient rich, well aerated soil, and enough light and water to take them through the different stages – from germination via vegetative growth to flowering and fruiting.
The most important thing from a gardener’s perspective is that the plant doesn’t get checked.
This can come about in various ways
- Lack of moisture
- Not enough light
- Not enough nutrients
- Competition from other plants
- Exposure to frosts – or to too much heat for some plants
These experiences will stop the plant growing and may cause it to flower prematurely – before it has build up enough reserves to produce the flowers and fruits that you need.
As gardeners we are interfering with the plant’s natural performance to some extent by giving the plant every advantage to get effectively and quickly to the stage that we want. We want a lettuce to heart up but not bolt. We want onions to bulb up and not flower and we we tomatoes to put on enough vegetative growth to support the production of the fruits that we want.
However it’s also true that plants can have too much of a good thing. Too much water will cause the roots to become waterlogged, unable to get oxygen and die. Too much sun can scorch them. Too much nitrogen and other inorganic fertiliser can produce too much sappy growth that’s weak and prone to pests.
The trick is to make sure that the nutrients are available in a controlled and slow released form – and that means organic materials. If you put too much phosphate and potassium on it will just bind to the soil and not be released easily.
That’s why it’s important to build up a healthy population of soil bacteria and fungi such as mycorrhiza which help the plant to access the nutrients that are there at the right rate. It’s also important to build up a good population of worms in the soil and to learn how to make effective compost so that you can mulch the soil as needed to protect the soil surface and smother the weeds.
It really is important to keep on top of the weeds. They can really impact how much yield you get. So mulching, hoeing and planting close together to smother the weeds are all important techniques
Finally you need to make sure that the pH of the soil is right for the plants you want to grow. And to make sure that it’s not locking up the mineral micronutrients that the plant needs.