Q. It doesn’t seem to matter what kind of soil, soil amendments, or fertilizer I add to my grow boxes, my produce is consistently miniscule and non-productive. When I dig up the soil, the boxes are full of tiny fibrous roots. There are several very large trees next door-20-30 feet away from my garden area. Could it be that these roots are from the trees and are sapping all the nutrients from my garden? What can I do?
A. There may be several reasons, either individually or acting in concert, that are causing your crop failures. Let’s investigate each potential problem.
1) Trees nearby may indicate too much shade. Are your plants getting at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day? If not, you will not get much produce. 8-10 hours is better – especially for plants which produce flowers and fruit.
2) What is the soil composition, and what are you feeding your plants? We recommend sawdust, peatmoss, perlite, and sand – in any combination you like, but with the sand being 25%-35% by volume. That has no nutrition, so you need to feed your plants regularly. One application of calcium as lime in a Pre-Plant Mix and regular small applications of a complete, balanced natural mineral nutrient mix we call Weekly Feed, will assure healthy, robust plants.
3) How often do you water? a raised bed or container will drain faster than ground-level soil, especially if you have lightweight organic materials as a major component. Daily watering, until water seeps out the sides at the bottom is important to assure adequate moisture to the plants.
4) If all the other elements are properly taken care of, it would take an awful lot of tree roots to keep your plants from growing, but it is possible. Dig a shovel-width trench the length of your containers, between them and the trees, at least one foot deep. This should cut most of the tree roots that have ventured that far.
5) Are the trees walnuts? Walnut trees have a reputation for producing a substance which is toxic to some vegetable plants. Tomatoes do not do well at all near walnut trees. If they are walnuts, you may well have that problem.