Every Good Gardener Has An Edge

By Robert Seay, U of A Division of Agriculture

First posted on 05-23-2008

BENTONVILLE, Ark. – Every good gardener has an edge, which is one reason I always enjoy visiting with elderly gardeners! I’m not implying that age is a requirement, but I think we can agree that experience is an invaluable commodity.

This brings me to the subject of Epsom salts, a topic that good gardeners seem to cover under a cloak of secrecy. One new gardener was at a total loss when overhearing that “a dose of salts” cured some particular ailment. Since the conversation occurred between two elderly individuals, the new gardener assumed the subject to be laxatives!

While gardeners are known to share knowledge, competition is a compelling force. The desire to have the earliest, largest, tastiest or most colorful of any plant or vegetable is a simple act of nature. I constantly remind new gardeners to not ignore the competitive urge, especially where it may involve relatives.

As concerns the mystery of Epsom salts, novice gardeners often note that it is simply magnesium and sulfur! To aggravate their train of thought, with tongue-in-cheek I remind them, “Water is only hydrogen and oxygen, but look what miracles it performs!”

My position flies in the face of centuries of unsubstantiated proof even though, as a child, I watched as my Aunt Sally faithfully applied Epsom salts every spring. If alive, she would simply say, “Knot head, you’re ignorant of the obvious!”

In support of Aunt Sally’s position, I’ve sought agronomic reasons for using Epsom salts. Even poor soils in our area have adequate levels of magnesium and sulfur.

Dr. Craig Andersen, extension vegetable specialist with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, advises that under cool soil conditions many nutrients may not be available to plants. Prolonged cool conditions this spring present opportunities to test a shot of salts, in providing plants an edge.

I fondly remember that Aunt Sally, after a hard day of gardening, would make herself an Epsom salts footbath. The next morning, feeling totally rejuvenated, she would pour that pan of water around cabbage, flowers and tomatoes, and then put in another hard day in the garden. I’ve yet to figure out, which of the two uses provided the most benefit? Til’ next week!

For more information about gardening, contact your county extension agent or visit http://www.uaex.edu and select Home and Garden. The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the U of A Division of Agriculture.