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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, October 06, 2018 1:00 am

Balance important as season turns over

Ricky Kemery

Question: Any helpful tips as we head towards the end of another season?

Answer: The NOAA climate prediction center once again predicts a warmer-than-average winter this year. The Farmer's Almanac essentially agrees, although we could see snowier weather this season.

I agree. We didn't have a ton of snow around Fort Wayne last year, so one might make sure the snow blower is working well this year. Things tend to balance out over time

When I look in my garden this time of year, I am somewhat amazed at my asparagus patch. The foliage is turning a russet gold and the berries on the female plants are a deep red. It is beautiful. The tall fern-like foliage provides a nice screen to divide the garden into separate rooms. The early morning dew on asparagus foliage is a work of art. I adore eating the tender young shoots of asparagus in the spring, but its ornamental value of asparagus in the fall is under appreciated.

Asparagus is native to Asia minor and Russia. The Romans cultivated and consumed the plant over 2,000 years ago. Asparagus was introduced to the Americas during the 1700s. Much like our orange daylily, the plant escaped into the wild as it is still found naturalized along roadsides to this day.

To me, the asparagus plant represents the balance necessary between the top portion of any perennial plant and the below ground portion over a season. In the spring, asparagus produces its tasty young shoots. The plants then produce its fern-like foliage to capture sunlight to produce energy for storage into the root system later on. These stored resources provide the energy for next year's tasty shoots.

Anything that disrupts this balance – over harvesting shoots, weeds, poor or over fertilization, cutting back the foliage too quickly – will adversely affect the health of the plant. The big secret about fertility and plants is that too much fertilizer will rob resources from the root system to produce the shoots. In the case of asparagus, too much fertility will produce tons of shoots – produced with resources from the root system. Applying too much fertilizer can also produce rampant shoot growth later on – again at the expense of resources from the root system. The plant is out of balance and resources normally available for a healthy plant are no longer available.

If you think about it, woody shrubs and trees are similar. In the spring they produce foliage and flowers and seeds. Later the foliage produces carbohydrates that are stored into the root system for next year's growth. Over fertilizing in the spring produces the same result. The plant robs resources from the root system to produce more growth than it needs. Over pruning reduces the plant's ability to produce resources for next season.

Healthy plants need slow-release fertility (such as from compost) and proper pruning (no more than a third of foliage per year) to stay in balance.

The Plant Medic, written by Ricky Kemery, appears every other Saturday. Kemery retired as the extension educator for horticulture at the Allen County branch of the Purdue Extension Service.