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Epsom Salts in the Garden
Publish date: Jun 6, 2014
Summary: Magnesium is a nutrient needed by plants for many growing processes.
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Probably the most important role magnesium plays is in chlorophyll production. Chlorophyll, which absorbs light and changes it into chemical energy in a process called photosynthesis, relies on magnesium. Magnesium is at the heart of the chlorophyll molecule.
Magnesium is also needed for making plant sugars, moving starches in the plant, oil and fat formation, and the uptake of other nutrients, amongst other important processes.i Plants need adequate amounts of magnesium to grow properly and produce normal fruits and seeds.
Epsom salts can be used to provide magnesium when soils are deficient of this nutrient. However, it should not be used if your soil is not magnesium deficient because too much magnesium can cause a mineral imbalance, affecting the absorption of other nutrients.
Do Your Plants need Magnesium?
You can do a soil test for magnesium, but this may not give you a very clear picture of the magnesium needs of your plants since a number of variables can affect the adequate uptake of magnesium from the soil, even if there appears to be enough magnesium in the soil. For instance, acidic soil can interfere with the availability of magnesium. High levels of potassium or calcium, or cool soils can also prevent plants getting enough magnesium even when soil levels seem to be adequate.ii Because magnesium dissolves better in warm water, cool coastal soils are more likely to have less dissolved magnesium available to plants than warmer, prairie soils.
Soils that are acidic, light and silty, or sandy are more likely to be deficient in magnesium because magnesium dissolves in water and can be leached away in these kinds of soils. For this reason as well, coastal gardens that receive heavy rainfall are more likely to have magnesium deficient soils.
Since magnesium is part of the chlorophyll molecule which gives plants their green color, a deficiency in this mineral causes plants to lose their green. Plants will look pale. You might first notice a paleness between the main veins on older plant leaves. Without enough chlorophyll production, other pigments in the leaves become noticeable. Leaves may look yellow, but red, purple and other pigments might also be visible.iii
Some plants have greater magnesium requirements than others. Citrus plants may need higher amounts of magnesium.iv Apples may drop their leaves prematurely and fruits may not develop properly when the trees are deficient in magnesium.v Magnesium is also used to improve the green of lawns and shrubs. Epsom salt applied as a spray can also speed ripening of some fruits and vegetables.vi Some crops likely to be deficient in magnesium and therefore most likely to benefit from Epsom salt application include beet, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, conifers, corn, cucumber, eggplant, lettuce, onion, pepper, potatoes, pumpkin, spinach, squash, tomato, and watermelon.vii
Growing Plants with Epsom Salt
Roses may produce more canes and darker foliage when given Epsom salt. Work ½ cup of epsom salt into soil around each rose early in spring before buds open and again in fall before leaves drop. When leaves open in spring, mix one tablespoon Epsom salt in one gallon of water and spray on leaves. Apply the spray again when roses begin blooming.viii
Applying Epsom salt to tomatoes and peppers may improve fruit production and produce plants that are greener and bushier. Mix one tablespoon of Epsom salt around the base of plants when they’re transplanted outdoors from your greenhouse. Or, you can mix a solution of one tablespoon of Epsom salt in one gallon of water and spray this on leaves at transplanting, first flowering, and fruit set.ix
Magnesium for Your Plants and You
Ensuring that plants have adequate amounts of magnesium will not only improve the appearance and health of your plants but will increase the nutrient value of fruits and vegetables for your table. Learn to identify signs of magnesium deficiency and apply Epsom salt as described. Keep in mind, though, that applying too much Epsom salt can result in other nutrient deficiencies.
Though seldom lacking in North American soils,x sulfur is also an important nutrient for plants, needed for plant growth and the production of plant vitamins, protein and enzymes. Adequate amounts of sulfur for your vegetables, ensures that you will get good levels of these nutrients when you eat the vegetables you’ve grown. Sulfur is an important health-promoting component of onions, garlic and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage. It’s the sulfur component in these plants that makes onions and garlic potent flu- and cold-fighting foods. And the sulfur component of broccoli is what gives broccoli sprouts their powerful cancer-fighting properties.
Because of recent reductions in industrial sulfur dioxide emissions, reduced use of sulfur-containing fertilizersxi and intensive growing practices, there may be less sulfur in soils, and plants may be deficient. Plants with yellowing between veins in young leaves is a sign of sulfur deficiency. This is different than nitrogen and magnesium deficiencies which show yellowing in older leaves. Try applying Epsom salt as a spray on leaves (one tablespoon dissolved in one gallon of water) for plants displaying sulfur deficiency.
i. Spectrum Analytic, “Magnesium (Mg++) Basics,” Spectrum Analytic Inc., http://www.spectrumanalytic.com/support/library/ff/Mg_Basics.htm (accessed January 2, 2014).
iii. Jane O’Sullivan, “Magnesium Deficiency,” Sweet Potato DiagNotes, http://keys.lucidcentral.org/keys/sweetpotato/key/Sweetpotato%20Diagnotes/Media/Html/TheProblems/MineralDeficiencies/MagnesiumDeficiency/Magnesium%20deficiency.htm (accessed January 2, 2014).
iv. Ross Bayton, “Feeding Houseplants,” Gardeners’World.com, http://www.gardenersworld.com/plants/features/flowers/feeding-house-plants/4163.html (accessed January 2, 2014).
v. Nels R. Benson, C.G. Woodbridge and Richard D. Bartram, “Nutrient Disorders in Fruit Trees,” Washington State University, http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/pnw0121e/pnw0121e.pdf (accessed January 2, 2014).
vi. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service, “Technical Evaluation Report: Magnesium Sulfate,” United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service, http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5093955 (accessed January 2, 2014).
vii. Spectrum Analytic, “Magnesium (Mg++) Basics,” Spectrum Analytic Inc., http://www.spectrumanalytic.com/support/library/ff/Mg_Basics.htm (accessed January 2, 2014).
viii. Charlie Nardozzi, “Fertilize with Epsom Salts,” The National Gardening Association, http://www.garden.org/articles/articles.php?q=show&id=68 (accessed January 2, 2014).
xi. Sara Place, Tom Kilcer, Quirine Ketterings, Debbie Cherney, Jerry Cherney, “Sulfur for Field Crops,” Cornell University Cooperative Extension: Agronomy Fact Sheet Series, http://nmsp.cals.cornell.edu/publications/factsheets/factsheet34.pdf (accessed January 5, 2014).
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