San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Epsom salts can help boost garden fertility

After a long, wet rainy season, the dry season now provides the best conditions for growing tomatoes in Costa Rica. Tomatoes are a favorite home garden vegetable, and the satisfaction of planting and watching fast-growing tomato plants produce their fruits can be rivaled only by the taste of a homegrown tomato.

During the past year, I researched and tested new techniques for home gardening, and one of the most surprising of these new tips is so simple it’s hard to believe. It’s amazing that a product used to relieve sore feet can also produce remarkable results for growing good tomatoes. I’m referring to Epsom salts, a natural mineral that was discovered in the well water of the town of Epsom, England. Here, it’s referred to as sal de Inglaterra, and is available in most pharmacies.

The salts’ chemical composition is hydrated magnesium sulfate (about 10 percent magnesium and 13 percent sulfur). Magnesium is important when it comes to seed germination and chlorophyll production. It strengthens cell walls and helps plants absorb nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur. Sulfur helps plants produce required vitamins, amino acids and enzymes.

Tropical soils are often deficient in trace minerals such as magnesium, and Epsom salts can help correct this condition. When plants have an abundant supply of magnesium, they can also absorb calcium and potassium more efficiently. Magnesium deficiencies in plants show up as yellowing of leaves between the veins and curling of leaves, as well as stunted growth and lack of flavor.

The best way to apply Epsom salts to a plant is to dilute it with water and apply it as a foliar spray that can be absorbed quickly by the plant’s leaves. To make this spray, combine one tablespoon Epsom salts with one gallon of warm water. Apply once a month for good results.

Epsom salts can keep your tomato and pepper leaves greener and bushier, while aiding in the production of healthier fruits with better flavor and thicker pulp. It also helps prevent blossom-end rot, a common disease in tomatoes, which strikes the fruits just before they mature. This can be quite a disappointment for gardeners who have tended their tomato plants for weeks and greatly anticipated eating the fruits of their labors.

Epsom salts, in fact, will enhance all your garden vegetables and houseplants. It makes a world of difference with houseplants that have been in the same pot for a long time. A cup of the abovementioned solution will clear out the accumulation of natural salts in the pot, which can cause root cells to clog, making it difficult for the plant to take up water and nutrients.

Epsom salts are a convenient way to fine-tune the garden’s fertility for better production. Remember, however, that the secret to a productive garden lies in the soil. A continued program of composting organic material to enrich your garden soil is the best way to feed your plants.

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