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Balancing Act: Mantras provide path to simplifying gardening tasks

Pat Snyder
Guest Columnist

After a long winter’s nap, my garden has come to life, prompting me to scrounge for the instructions left behind by the master gardener who had sold me the place and moved to Spain last summer. 

“No!” I screamed, when I noticed a chart showing 29 separate spring fertilizer applications I was supposed to deliver on different schedules. I immediately set out to simplify gardening.  

The garage seemed like the natural place to start. That’s where he’d graciously left behind bags and boxes of various elixirs, already paid for and no doubt mentioned in the instructions.  

Pat Snyder

Each one had a different formula – like 11/7/7, 12/4/8, 5/3/3 – which I soon learned stood for the percentage by weight of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Some were time-released. Others apparently weren't. Some had to be mixed with water, others sprinkled on while I prayed for rain. 

Unfortunately, I quickly learned that the recommended percentage on the chart didn’t exactly match what was in the garage. Oh, well. How different could these fertilizers be? 

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So reciting one of my new simplification mantras, Whatever… Good enough, I simply converted the recommended numbers to what I had and dumbed down the chart to six possible formulas for 29 possible trees, shrubs and perennials.  

But that was just the first step in “Gardening Simplified.” 

After the first hour of fertilizing by chronologically numbered location according to the chart, I made a new one – grouping everything by formula, front yard or back. This made it possible to tote the same bag from one end of the yard to the other – all at once.  

The only problem with this was remembering what already had been sprinkled – not easy because by now, each application had been faithfully buried, per instructions, under 1 to 3 inches of soil. 

This gave way to the new mantra, Can’t hurt, which I fervently hope is true, rather than the worrisome alternative, A little goes a long way

Like most instructions, I also wished I had read them sooner instead of later because I had not noticed, for example, that the climbing hydrangea was supposed to be fertilized in “spring, before new growth begins,” which, from the looks of things, had occurred a few weeks before. Oh, well. Good enough

I also am giving myself a pass on the rose bushes, which even my gardening expert mother had never tried to raise – probably because they require liquid fertilizer every “7 to 14 days” and have to be monitored and treated for black spot.   

Bold with self-compassion, I even transplanted a bush that was languishing in the shade and fertilized it, which I later read I should not have done. Sorry. 

By this time, I had performed nearly every fertilizing operation mandated by the chart, and then some.  

One and done, however, is not the way this works for six of these beauties, whose irregular feeding schedules have earned them a tickler system in my calendar for as long as they – and I – shall live.   

At this point, let’s just say there is no love lost between me and the azalea bush (April, May, July), weigelia (every six weeks), autumn clematis (every three weeks), blue star (every month), the pagoda dogwood (three months after March, which I already missed) and the roses.   

At the same time, I have great affection for the privet hedge, which theoretically requires one dose of 15/5/10 – a fertilizer impossible to find and which the local nursery says doesn’t matter because privets will “live through anything – don’t bother.” 

I am beginning to wonder how the place would look entirely surrounded by privet hedges and dandelions, which seem to need no fertilizer at all and are impervious to weed killer and freezing temperatures. 

Oh, and I also am wondering about the deutzia, No. 13, which is nowhere in sight. It was also due for an early spring fertilizing. 

“Ha! The master gardener probably killed it off!” I’m telling myself. “With fertilizer.”  

Balancing Act author Pat Snyder is a Beechwold resident and life-balance speaker and coach. Read her work at patsnyderonline.com