Epsom salt and grass

Epsom Salt Lawn Care: Tips On Using Epsom Salt On Grass

You are no doubt reading this on an electronic device, but before such wonders existed, many of us garnered our news and information from a newspaper. Yep, one printed on paper. Amongst these pages, more often than not, there would be a gardening column touting the proper way to prune roses or how to have a lawn envied by all. Lawn advice was often a mixed bag of info gleaned from personal experience or other readers. One such piece of advice was in the use of Epsom salt as lawn fertilizer. So what, if anything, does Epsom salt do for grass?

What Does Epsom Salt Do for Grass?

Epsom salt, or magnesium sulfate (MgSO4), does indeed contain magnesium, which is an important component of chlorophyll. It is touted as a safe, natural product that can be used to increase everything from seed germination, nutrient absorption, growth, and general health of lawns and plants. There are a multitude of precise formulations for veggies, lawns, shrubs, trees, and houseplants. You need only look on the internet (unless you still read the newspaper!) to find any number of such concoctions with purported claims.

So does using Epsom salt on the grass work and are there really any benefits of Epsom salt on lawns? It really depends on what you are using the Epsom salt on the grass to correct. Let’s consider first what Epsom salt has been used for in the commercial farming industry.

Epsom salts have been used and studied for effectiveness on crops that were lacking in magnesium. Magnesium deficiency is caused by either mineral imbalances in the soil or plant itself. This is most common in light, sandy or acidic soil that is leached by rainfall or irrigation. The addition of Epsom salts amongst crops has been used with indeterminate results and include:

  • Alfalfa
  • Apple
  • Beet
  • Carrot
  • Citrus
  • Cotton
  • Grains
  • Hops

That said, what about Epsom salt lawn care? Are there benefits to applying Epsom salt on lawns?

Epsom Salt Lawn Care

As previously mentioned, Epsom salt contains magnesium (10% magnesium and 13% sulfur), which is key to seed germination, chlorophyll production and improving the uptake of nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur.

Most gardeners have historically used it on peppers, tomatoes and roses. You can use it to up the magnesium levels in soils you have tested and found to be deficient. These are generally old, weathered soils with a low pH or soils with a pH above 7 and high in calcium and potassium.

Dolomitic lime is usually used to raise soil pH, but the benefits of using Epsom salts on lawns is its high solubility, and it’s inexpensive. So how do you use Epsom salt as lawn fertilizer?

Use Epsom salt as lawn fertilizer in the spring to facilitate lush green growth. Add 2 tablespoons to each gallon of water used on the lawn. If you have a sprinkler system, lightly sprinkle directly atop the grass and then allow the system to water into the sod.

It’s as simple as that. Now you just have to sit back and absorb the grass envy from your neighbors.

Epsom Salt… To Save Your Lawn?!

Epsom salt has been a go to home remedy for years. Known as a natural exfoliant, a remedy to

dry skin, sore muscles, small wounds, or used to create an inhome home spa experience,

epsom salts are widely used. What many people don’t know is that epsom salt can give almost

miraculous results to any lawn or landscape!

What is Epsom Salt? And Why Does It Work?

Epsom salt is simply magnesium sulfate. Broken down, that’s magnesium and sulfur. Now the

question is, how does magnesium and sulfur affect turfgrass and landscape plants? As it turns

out, magnesium plays a vital role in photosynthesis and the production of chlorophyll. A plant

that has an adequate amount of magnesium will allow for more efficient photosynthesis and

thus an abundance of chlorophyll. Having plenty of chlorophyll in the plant tissue is what gives

it that dark green color. As a result, having an appropriate amount of magnesium equates to a

healthier, greener plant!

When Do I Use It?

Epsom salt is best to use after periods of stress. This can be after a long hard winter when the

grass or plant is trying to wake up and stretch its wings, OR it can be used after a long hard

summer when plants are trying to recover and store carbohydrates for the winter. Though it can

be used anytime of the year, these two points will provide the most dramatic response in the

plant.

How Do I Use It?

Epsom salt can be applied in granular form. Granular epsom salts should be applied at 3-5

lbs/1000sqft of turfgrass. For landscape plants, it can be applied as a few handfuls. If you have

the appropriate equipment, epsom salts can be dissolved in water and applied at the same rate.

Either way, the results will be equal.

How Often Can I Use It?

Though epsom salts produce big effects quickly, it can be overused. It’s safe to use it only once

or twice per year as part of a regular lawn care maintenance program. Epsom salt also contains

sulfur. Grant it, sulfur ALSO plays a vital role in the health of plants (disease resistance), it can

make the soil acidic when overused. However, limiting your applications to once or twice per

year will not have enough of an impact to alter your soil pH.

Who knew? Epsom salt, great around the home, lawn AND garden!

Here is a collection of places you can buy bitcoin online right now.

Lawn fertilization tips, really!

I still read a newspaper – the real thing, not the ones that you find on your numerous electronic devices that everyone can’t seem to live without these days. This time of year it’s always interesting to read the lawn and garden tips that seem to come out at least weekly to “inform” the readership of what we should really be doing in our lawns and gardens. Last weekend I read an article that started by telling me to “forget fancy fertilizers,” and the best way to fertilize my lawn was with Epsom salt, which the article says is the primary ingredient in most fertilizers. Saturday Night Live used to have a skit where the news anchors would talk about news stories that seemed obviously wrong or stupid and constantly asked the question, “Really?” Every now and then I hear this in my head when I read information such as this and sometimes I’ll even say it out loud, “Really?”

So what about Epsom salt?

The truth about Epsom salt is that as the article states it is a source of magnesium, a nutrient that is part of the structure of chlorophyll – the stuff that makes plants green and helps them make food via photosynthesis. So, I agree that Epsom salt could be a benefit to the lawn as a source of magnesium and also sulfur. I disagree, though, in that it is not the primary ingredient in most lawn fertilizers. The primary nutrient in lawn fertilizers is nitrogen. Epsom salt is more commonly used in small doses for ornamental plantings, not lawns. So, I conclude after reading the Epsom salt recommendation for lawns, “Really?”

Baby shampoo, ammonia, beer

The string of insightful lawn tips continued in my paper just four days later under an article title that indicated we all might be going too far in going green and that going green shouldn’t have to cost a lot of green. They hooked me and I started reading. This time I at least made it through the first recommendation about dishwasher soap. The second recommendation advised me that for my lawn I should mix some baby shampoo, ammonia, beer (unfortunately for the lawn, not for me), and some corn syrup in a 20 gallon hose end sprayer. Really? What are these ingredients all about and how could they possibly work on a lawn?

Baby shampoo could serve as a type of surfactant that could reduce water repellency in the soil – if that’s a problem for your soil. Ammonia is a source of nitrogen. Beer and corn syrup has some sort of natural organic fertilizer or biostimulant. For the beer, I’d buy the cheap stuff – not the microbrews. The final comment about mixing in a 20 gallon hose end sprayer? How many of you have a 20 gallon hose end sprayer, and how many of you could hold a 20 gallon hose end sprayer? OK, go to your favorite store and ask them where the 20 gallon hose end sprayers are, really!

Proven and effective

Here are some simple fertilizer tips for your lawn that are proven and effective. April was soaking wet and with the warm weather now, the turf is generally growing faster than you can mow. If your lawn is still actively pushing upward, I’d actually consider waiting a week or two before putting down a fertilizer application. No need to force any additional top-growth beyond what the plant is already doing.

Select a fertilizer that contains slow release nitrogen sources. Slow release fertilizers include coated ureas, methylene ureas or natural organics. Slow release fertilizers provide sustained feeding of the turf over the summer months. Avoid single, heavy dose applications of water-soluble, fast release fertilizers such as urea or the triple products (fertilizers with N, P, K, analysis such as 10-10-10). Fast release fertilizer will give you instant satisfaction with dark green color and quick growth response, but won’t last long and the top-growth they increase can actually reduce root growth. Really.

Epsom salts – when?

The 2012-2013 calf panel greenhouse, in July 2013, being used as a screen house. It is 12′ wide by 16′ long, and made of calf panels, you can see some in the third picture lying on ground, as I was going to extend it. You are looking at it from the southwest in last picture. The garage to the north is windbreak for the predominant winter winds (late oct to march). First picture is at the door on the north end looking to the east side, the second picture is to the west side. There are rectangles of 2×4’s that are WIRED to the top, and sort of flip down and freestand to hold the roof up. The five roof panels and sides are wired to each other and were folded on each other on the ground then lifted with the rectangular wood support frames holding them up afterwards. This is the only thing my better half had to help me with, I could NOT lift all the assembled pieces-it was definitely a two person job. I could lift one end but the other would pull it right back down…. I made wire wrapped and chaine maille jewelry for many years, one thing I know is wire. 🙂 So I wired things not tons of wood, as I didn’t have much wood at the time… Then the ends, I took an angle grinder to to cut and left long prong ends, maneuvered them into a hole on my farrier anvil (long story, well taken care of now) and bent them around, then used a clamp to finish bending them back and sort of slotted them onto the wall and ceiling panels. The structure supports itself. I took 9 gauge galvanized electric fence wire and cut 15-16″ pieces and bent them into staples and drove them into the ground to clip the wall and end edges to the ground. 6 mil sheet plastic was put over it and held down with concrete blocks (2 rows) and the ends had to be separately tucked, I cut up a 10×25′ roll for that. The roof and long sides were a 20×25′ piece. After tucking I ran clear silicone between and smushed it together, it took about 2 days to cure but it turned into tight seal. The door was just extra plastic, and held shut with A or spring clamps. Home Depot had them for $1 each and I bought like 50 of them, they are ultra handy with greenhouse, fish/pond work, and more…. Some were added to hold the plastic down and prevent the flap-factor… if it flaps it will promptly shred. I figure at retail cost including the blocks, it cost about $500. It took cross wind gusts at better than 80mph and didn’t even shred the cover. Winter 2012-2013 I made it to about the end of the year then I hung an inner sheet from the inside enclosing about 12×12′ and had to move all the houseplants as hubby’s allergies killed him, and was trying to do plant starts. I seriously taxed all the electrical supply I had; the bill to keep those heaters running hurt bad. Plastic outer dies after about 4-5 months unless you buy the UV resistant. Moving 2700# of blocks then moving them back in an afternoon is no fun either, to replace the cover. That, spring clamps, and Gorilla Duct Tape, I survived to end of April, then took the cover off and converted it to screen house. Most of it was 30%, I doubled one area to 60 and that is where my taro and certain houseplants lived all summer and thrived.

The article “Water Chemistry, For Dummies” was published in the May issue of The Calquarium. While it was (perhaps too) long on theoretical information, it was short on practical application. So this month, lets deal with practicalities. So now that you know what pH, alkalinity, and hardness all mean, how do you go about changing them?

As it turns out, increasing all three is very easy. Therefore if you live in a soft water region and want to keep hard water animals (like African rift lake cichlids) you are in luck.

Baking soda (NaHCO3) when dissolved in water will add bicarbonate ions and thus raise the alkalinity of the water as it raises the pH up to about 8.2. Dissolving 1 mL of baking soda in 10 liters of water (or 1 teaspoon in 10 gallons) will raise the water’s alkalinity by about 110 mg/L CaCO3 (it has no effect on hardness).

Hardness is easily increased as well. Epsom salt (hydrated MgSO4) is inexpensive, readily available, and 1 mL of it in 10 liters of water (or 1 teaspoon in 10 gallons) will increase permanent hardness by about 70 mg/L CaCO3. However you may wish to increase the calcium (Ca++) contribution to hardness too. An aquarium substrate of calcitic gravel will increase the hardness of acidic water, but because calcium carbonate is so insoluble in alkaline water, it will have little effect in hardening water with a pH much above 7.5. By all means use a calcitic substrate in rift lake or marine tanks ─ it is very good insurance (preventing the pH from dropping below 7.5) but it will have no other appreciable affect on an alkaline aquarium. Raising calcium levels in alkaline fresh water is however not that difficult. Just a little marine salt mix will raise calcium to a level suitable for any fresh water tank without also raising the salt concentration to unhealthy levels. Calcium chloride also does the trick safely and inexpensively, but calcium chloride is not readily available in local stores. But you can buy it from chemical supply stores.

These methods are however unsuitable for salt-water reef aquarists. They want to keep stony corals and giant clams alive, but these animals will quickly deplete water of calcium if it is not renewed. Reef aquarists consequently want a source of calcium supplementation that is soluble at an alkaline pH, but does not also add other ions that will change the chemical composition of the water over time.

A calcium compound that is soluble at a higher pH is calcium hydroxide, and so it is sold to reef aquarists for this purpose. However the price pet stores ask for this usually very inexpensive (but not readily available) chemical is prohibitive. So is the fact that calcium hydroxide is one of the most caustic chemicals available and potentially very dangerous to use. Many reef aquarists have now-a-days stopped using calcium hydroxide as a calcium supplement and are instead using a CO2 reaction chamber filled with calcitic gravel. The CO2 injected into these devices acidifies the water, which then dissolves the calcium carbonate (CaCO3) to raise calcium levels and alkalinity while returning the pH back to its original value of about 8.2. This provides a much safer way to raise calcium levels than adding calcium hydroxide.

So to raise pH, hardness, and alkalinity in fresh water you are well advised to use equal parts of baking soda, Epsom salts, and either calcium chloride (if you can find some) or a commercial marine salt mix. Add enough of this mixture to raise the pH to the desired level. One mL salt per 5 liters of water (or 1 teaspoon per 5 gallons) is usually sufficient to raise the pH to 8.2. To raise the hardness and alkalinity of salt water, it is best to go to the trouble and expense of acquiring a CaCO3/CO2 reactor. And for both, use a calcitic substrate to prevent dangerous drops in pH.

It is however much more common (at least in the Prairies) to want to lower pH, alkalinity, and hardness, rather than raise them. This is because water sources east of the Great Divide and west of the Precambrian Shield are all in close contact with calcitic rocks, and therefore are as hard and alkaline as any you are likely to see.

Consequently, hard water is an annoying fact of life for many people, not just aquarists. Hard water reduces the cleaning effectiveness of soaps and also leads to the build up limestone scale in showers, kettles, and steam irons. Many companies will capitalize on this and try to sell you devices to reduce water hardness. Some commercials for these products will even imply that drinking hard water is bad for you. Donkey detritus. Hard water is perfectly good to drink, and in fact, its better for you than drinking distilled water. For example, drinking a liter of Calgary’s water will supply 5% to 10% of your daily calcium needs. But unfortunately most of the fish and plant species we keep are from the soft acidic water found in the rainforests of Southeast Asia, West Africa, and South America, and as such, our hard prairie water is not ideal for them. I would however recommend that you do not try to do anything about this fact unless you are an advanced aquarist with specific goals in mind. Commonly kept beginners’ fish will adapt to our water just fine.

However, advanced aquarists may wish to breed those few species of fish or plants that really do need soft, acidic water; or they may undertake other projects, such as producing the highest possible growth rate of their plants. These goals are completely legitimate and if you are ready to take on the challenge, feel free to modify your water chemistry.

I would like to strongly suggest, however, that you not do lower pH by putting something into the water, with the exceptions of peat extract and CO2. And if you use CO2, be very careful and be prepared for fish losses if your CO2 injection breaks down. The reason for this is simple; by lowering pH without simultaneously buffering the water to the lower value, you are depressing pH below its natural level. This creates an inherently unstable pH. When the pH (inevitably) returns to its natural level, your fish will be stressed by the changes in water chemistry.

So if you want to lower pH, be prepared to lower alkalinity as well. But be forewarned that this is not without its own potential dangers. The lower water’s alkalinity is, the less stable its pH becomes. This is because fish produce acidic wastes that can dangerously lower pH in low-alkalinity tanks if these wastes are allowed to build up. You must monitor pH more closely and water changes become extremely important if you lower your tank’s alkalinity. If you find that the pH of your water drops continuously, you must reduce the fish load, do more or larger water changes, clean the filters more often, and consider raising the alkalinity to a somewhat higher level.

Lowering tank alkalinity is not a simple proposition. The easiest and (in the long term) most cost effective way to do it is to use naturally soft water to begin with. Then you can add either enough hard water or baking soda mix to raise the water to the desired alkalinity level. Sources of suitably soft water are ion exchange, reverse osmosis, distillation, rainwater, and melted snow. Unfortunately, rain and snow really aren’t viable water sources in a city as large and dry as Calgary. There is just too much dust and grime in the air and not enough regular precipitation to reliably wash it all out. And distilled water is likely to be too expensive to be purchased in the quantity an aquarist would need. Reverse osmosis is a better option. The problems with reverse osmosis units are however that the equipment is fairly expensive (several hundred dollars at least), they consume at least five times more raw water than they produce as pure water, and they never produce as much pure water as they are rated for. But if you can afford them, they make nice pure water reliably and simply.

Alternatively, a cation exchange process can be used to soften water. This is the kind of process that household water softening machines and those ion-exchange pillows use. These may or may not also lower alkalinity through an anion exchange process. In cation exchange processes calcium cations are replaced with sodium cations, and in anion exchange processes bicarbonate anions are replaced with chloride anions. This makes the water softer, but also saltier. Typical household water softeners will almost double the concentration of dissolved ions in the water. Softening water in this manner is therefore of little benefit to soft water fishes, as they will suffer as much from excessive salt as they do from excessive hardness. One should also note that those units that only soften water (cation exchange) and do not simultaneously lower alkalinity (anion exchange) will be of absolutely no help in lowering the water’s pH, and so they are of no benefit whatsoever to fish from soft acidic waters. If the unit does not specify that it performs both cation and anion exchanges, it is a waste of money.

Another type of ion exchange process is used in commercial water-purifying units. These units replace HCO3– anions with OH– anions and Ca++ cations with H3O+ cations. Because the OH– and H3O+ will then combine to form H2O, these resins actually remove ions from the water, rather than simply replacing one ion with another, as do water softeners. The problem with these resins is however that they are far too expensive to use without recharging them, and they require two very caustic chemicals to recharge them; hydrochloric acid and caustic soda. The anion and cation exchange resins must also be separated before they can be recharged. Many manufacturers deliberately mix the two resins in order to prevent you from recharging them (they make more money that way). Fortunately you can often thwart the manufacturer’s intent as the two resins can be re-separated by floating the beads in salt brine of the proper density. You just keep adding salt to the brine until the anion beads start to float and the denser cation beads stay on the bottom. Once separated, the beads can be recharged by soaking them in the proper caustic chemical solution. It is debatable however whether or not doing this is worth the bother when a reverse osmosis unit can be purchased for a few hundred dollars. The expense and danger of recharging the beads seem to make this an impractical process for most aquarists.

Once you have water of suitably low alkalinity, you can lower the pH to a suitable level. But a problem arises, you not only want to lower alkalinity, you want to increase acidity to make the water well-buffered and stable at its acidic pH as well. I would therefore not recommend adding chemical acids (such as hydrochloric acid) that lower pH without increasing acidity. These chemicals will only create a rapidly changing and unstable pH.

Unfortunately raising acidity is difficult. Commercial products intended for this purpose can be found on pet store shelves, but almost all of them use sodium biphosphate as a buffering agent. Sodium biphosphate does indeed buffer the water to a nice, mildly acidic pH of 6.5 and would therefore seem to fill the bill nicely, but the problem with sodium biphosphate is that the phosphate serves as an inorganic fertilizer for algae growth. I would therefore not recommend using phosphate-based acidifiers. You might however be able to find a commercial non-phosphate acid buffer, which should be fine. Seachem® and Kent Marine® reportedly make such things, but I can’t vouch for how well they work. But reports on the Internet seem to give these products good reviews. Also, I would recommend filtering the water through pure sphagnum peat moss and possibly to also use CO2 injection.

Peat moss will release organic tannins, and thus increase acidity while it lowers pH. It is consequently a relatively safe method. Some people object to the brownish color peat imparts to the water, but for most (if not all) soft-water fishes, such tea-stained water is perfectly natural and healthy for them.

CO2 injection is potentially a more dangerous method of pH reduction than peat filtration because it lowers pH without raising acidity. Therefore, if the CO2 injection ever stops, the pH will increase as the excess CO2 is lost to the atmosphere. But CO2 injection is known to greatly stimulate plant growth in tanks with abundant light, and it is for this reason that aquarists are willing to take the (slight) risk involved with CO2. If you use CO2 injection, accept the fact that you are lowering pH without increasing acidity and that there are risks involved with doing this. Be careful about water changes as well, since the replacement water will have a higher pH than the CO2-laden tank water unless CO2 is injected into it too.

The concentration of CO2 and the concentration of HCO3– and CO3— are all closely linked and dependent on pH. And because HCO3– and CO3—account for almost all of the alkalinity of unpolluted water, there is a close link between the pH, alkalinity, and CO2 levels as well. It is therefore possible to construct a table in which the measured alkalinity and pH will allow you to determine the concentration of CO2. The CO2 concentration of the water is therefore easily determined if you know the pH and the alkalinity of the water, both of which can be measured by relatively inexpensive test kits (see figure 1).

The book The Optimum Aquarium by Horst and Kipper describe a CO2 injection system designed to optimize plant growth. An alkalinity of the water of 50 mg/L CaCO3 (about one third that of Calgary tap water) is maintained in their system, and the pH is lowered to 7.0 through CO2 injection. So if you want to recreate the water used in Horst and Kipper’s fabulous show tanks, just dilute Calgary tap water with pure water at a ratio of one to three, then invest in a CO2 controller system and set it to pH 7. Simple enough, but the CO2 system will set you back about $2000. Fortunately, a little trial and error with the yeast CO2 method (c.f. Wlad Franco-Valias’ article in the February 1998 of The Calquarium) will do the job much more cheaply. For optimum plant growth, you want a CO2 concentration that is in the range of 10 ppm to 20 ppm. This is considerably higher than the 0.6 ppm that results from aerating the water conventionally (i.e. with air). It is important to limit the CO2 however, as concentrations of CO2 higher than 35 ppm are dangerous to fish. If your water has an alkalinity greater than 200 mg/L CaCO3 then lowering it’s pH down to 7.0 would require more than 35 ppm CO2 and so doing this is not recommended. In the case of such a high alkalinity (which can be achieved by Calgary tap water in winter) dilution with pure water is mandatory. And always remember, with CO2 injection you are depressing pH below its natural level and so you are running the risk of fish losses if the injection system ever stops.?

Coffee grounds add organic material and some nutrients,
but don’t use them to adjust pH.

Every once in a while, it’s good to take a step back and think about what we add to our gardens and why. Some things we add are helpful, some are neutral, and some can even be harmful to your soil or plants. Let’s take a look at three common “remedies” and talk about why they may or may not be helpful in the garden.

Remedy #1: Used coffee grounds will lower soil pH

Coffee grounds can be beneficial to your soil, but not because they lower pH. Coffee grounds contain carbon, nitrogen, and other compounds that feed soil organisms. Cultivating a robust and diverse population of soil microbes is the foundation for healthy soil – and healthy plants! Soil organisms then transform these nutrients into chemical forms that plants use for growth.
Coffee grounds can also contain compounds that help suppress some plant disease-causing microbes. However, coffee grounds have not been shown to have a consistent effect on lowering soil pH. But don’t give up on coffee grounds in the garden – they make an excellent addition to compost! Read more about coffee grounds in the gardenhere.
If you want to lower your soil’s pH, elemental sulfur is a good option. Other options for lowering soil pH may include iron sulfate or aluminum sulfate, but they are more expensive than elemental sulfur and aluminum is toxic to nearly all but the most acid-loving plants. For best results, do a soil test prior to establishing any perennial plantings that need a lower pH (such as blueberries) because some soils may be too alkaline or have chemical characteristics that make it difficult to effectively lower pH. Read more about lowering soil pH here.

Verdict:

Modest amounts of coffee grounds in the garden can be beneficial, but not for lowering soil pH.

Eggshells won’t help your blossom end rot!

Remedy #2: Crushed eggshells can prevent blossom end rot in tomatoes

The idea here is that blossom end rot is caused by a calcium deficiency, so adding calcium-rich eggshells to the soil will provide calcium to your tomatoes (or other plants that suffer from blossom end rot).
It’s true that blossom end rot is a sign of calcium deficiency in fruits (tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, etc). However, most Minnesota soils already have plenty of calcium for garden plants. This kind of calcium deficiency is not a result of inadequate calcium in the soil, but rather a signal that there’s a water transport issue in your plants.
Calcium enters plants only through the actively growing root tips. Calcium moves through the plant and into the fruits along with water, via transpiration. Damage to roots and/or problems with water uptake and movement in the plant can limit the amount of calcium reaching the fruit. Sometimes, a great abundance of other nutrients in the soil (such as magnesium or ammonium) can also interfere with calcium uptake.

Therefore, prevent blossom end rot by:

  • Keep the soil evenly moist by providing adequate water (but not too much!) and mulching around plants
  • Protect your plant’s roots. Don’t cultivate too closely to the base of the plant.
  • Do a soil test and add fertilizer according to recommendations and fertilizer label instructions.

Read more about preventing blossom end rot here.
And finally, if you’ve added eggshells to your compost, you know that they don’t decompose very quickly. It’s no different if you add eggshells directly to your garden soil. Even if you did need the calcium in your soil, eggshells generally decompose too slowly to be effective. However, the smaller the pieces are, the faster they’ll decompose. Agricultural lime and gypsum are good sources of calcium, but do a soil test before applying.
Eggshells do not prevent blossom end rot. The good news is that they won’t harm your soil or plants and they add organic material for soil organisms, but you may as well just put them in the compost.

Epsom salts are best in the bath, not in the garden.

Remedy #3: Epsom salts prevent blossom end rot and make peppers and tomatoes more productive.

Wouldn’t that be nice?! Sadly, it’s not true. Epsom salts contain magnesium sulfate (MgSO4) and are touted as a common garden cure-all. However, after reading Remedy #2, you now know that blossom end rot is caused by a calcium deficiency and not a magnesium or sulfur deficiency. So, Epsom salts will not prevent blossom end rot. In fact, adding too much magnesium to your soil can actually prevent adequate calcium from getting into your plants, making blossom end rot even worse.
As for increased productivity, there’s no evidence to indicate that this is so, unless your soil is deficient in magnesium. Epsom salts can be a good source of magnesium, but only use them if a soil test indicates that you have a magnesium deficiency. Magnesium deficiencies in the home garden in Minnesota are most likely to occur on sandy, low pH soils.
In fact, adding Epsom salts to soil that already has sufficient magnesium can actually harm your soil and plants, such as by inhibiting calcium uptake. Spraying Epsom salt solutions on plant leaves can also cause leaf scorch. Excess magnesium can also increase mineral contamination in water that percolates through soil. The best practice is to avoid adding any extra chemicals to your soil – even things that seem ‘safe’ – because you can easily do more harm than good. Read more about Epsom salts in the gardenhere. Unless you have a magnesium deficiency in your garden, there is no need to add Epsom salts. Doing so could even be harmful to soil, plants, and water.
Author: Anne Sawyer, Extension Educator, On-Farm Food Safety _______________ References:
Chalker-Scott, L., 2007. Miracle, myth… or marketing: Epsom salts.
Chalker-Scott, L., 2009. Miracle, myth… or marketing: Coffee grounds – will they perk up plants?
Combs, S., 2007. Reducing Soil pH. https://hort.extension.wisc.edu/articles/reducing-soil-ph/
Grabowski, M. et al., 2018. Tomato disorders. https://extension.umn.edu/plant-diseases/tomato-disorders

10 Ways to Use Epsom Salts in the Garden

Photo: istockphoto.com

You’re probably familiar with the amazing, healing properties of Epsom salts. But did you know these minerals are a powerful superfood for your garden too? Inexpensive, natural, and non-toxic when used correctly, Epsom salts—the common name for the magnesium-sulfate compound (MgSO4)—can be a great boon to virtually anything you hope to grow. Magnesium-sulfate (which looks like ordinary table salt) can help increase nutrient absorption in plants.

Before working with Epsom salts in the garden, be aware of some precautions. Agricultural or technical grade Epsom salts are intended for garden and outdoor uses but only brands marked “USP” are suitable for humans, having been tested and certified by the FDA and United States Pharmacopeia (USP). Also, despite its overall safety, Epsom salts have natural laxative properties, so be sure to keep bulk salts away from children and pets. Magnesium-sulfate is absorbed through the skin as well, so wear gloves when applying it to your plants. Finally, it’s also wise to test your soil first to learn what minerals are low or lacking; use Epsom salt in the garden only if the soil tests low in magnesium.

RELATED: 10 Secret Ingredients to Make Your Garden Grow

Clear these safety concerns and you’re bound to find that, unlike most types of chemical fertilizers, Epsom salts will not build up in your soil or poison your groundwater, yet will yield stronger seedlings, more bountiful blooms, tastier fruits, decreased pest damage, and increased resilience. Here are 10 simple, potent uses for Epsom salts every gardener should know.

Photo: istockphoto.com

1. Give Seeds a Better Start

Magnesium boosts seed germination by strengthening cell walls and providing increased energy for growth. Sulfur is easily lost during the germination process, so apply a drench of one tablespoon of Epsom salts for every gallon of water to the soil after seeding. Alternately, you can mix one tablespoon of Epsom salts into each hole before planting seeds. For grass seeds and wildflowers, sprinkle one cup Epsom salts per 100 square feet, blend into the soil, and water thoroughly. Reapply an Epsom salt drench to seedlings every month during growing season.

2. Increase Nutrient Absorption

Scientific tests indicate that magnesium-sulfate can increase cell uptake of key minerals, including nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur. In one recent study, testers in five states gave pepper plants a standard drench of one tablespoon Epsom salts to one gallon of water, twice a month, and a majority of the treated plants showed thicker foliage and larger vegetables.

RELATED: How To: Make Your Own Plant Food

3. Prevent Root Shock

Transplanted roots need tender care. To prevent root shock, which causes wilting and leaf discoloration, mix one tablespoon of Epsom salts for every one gallon of water and apply to the roots of newly re-potted plants until saturated. Or try adding one to two teaspoons of dry salts directly to the hole before transplanting a bush or flowers. After tamping down the soil, water thoroughly.

Photo: istockphoto.com

4. Deter Pests Naturally

Instead of using plain table salt to dehydrate and kill snails and slugs, banish the pests with Epsom salts and you’ll give roots and blooms a boost in the process. For general pest control, mix one cup of Epsom salts with five gallons of water and spray onto foliage. For slug and snail control, sprinkle dry Epsom salts in the garden around the base of plants.

5. Add Vibrancy

Mineral deficiencies can interfere with photosynthesis, leaching green color from leaves and interfering with nutrient absorption. If more mature foliage is turning yellow and curling, this may indicate a magnesium deficiency. Try a foliar spray of one tablespoon of Epsom salts mixed with four cups of water for each foot of plant height. Magnesium absorbs well if applied directly to the leaves.

Photo: istockphoto.com

6. Boost Flavor

Every month during growing season, mix one tablespoon of Epsom salts to each gallon of water and apply liberally to the roots of fruit and nut trees, grape vines, and berry patches. Another technique is to apply two tablespoon of dry salts over a nine-foot root-bed area, three times a year.

Sweet peppers and tomatoes also benefit from adding some Epsom salt to the garden soil. Before planting seeds, add one to two tablespoons of Epsom salts to the soil of each hole. During the growing season, apply a foliar spray of two tablespoons of salts to each gallon of water. Apply to leaves once a month.

7. Grow a Lush Lawn

If your soil tests positive for magnesium deficiency, Epsom salts will help your lawn achieve maximum growth and lushness. The Epsom Salt Council recommends applying three pounds of salts for every 1,250 square feet of lawn with a spreader. Sprinkle the salts lightly, then water your lawn with a hose or sprinkler system.

RELATED: 7 Remedies to Rescue a Dying Lawn

Photo: istockphoto.com

8. Heal Your Houseplants

Epsom salts are pH neutral and gentle on plants, including potted houseplants. To boost nutrient intake, mix two tablespoons of Epsom salts with one gallon of water and spray onto leaves, rather than onto the roots, for maximum absorption. Alternately, add the salts directly to the soil: one teaspoon of salts per each foot of plant height. Try adding Epsom salts to your houseplants every month, monitoring subtle changes in leaf vibrancy and growth.

9. Remove Tree Stumps

Professional stump removal services can cost between $60 and $350, depending on the size of the trunk. For a do-it-yourself means of removing a tree stump, though, you can enlist Epsom salts to kill the remains of a cut tree first. Bore holes all around the top of the stump with an electric ½-inch drill bit; these holes should be about half the depth of the stump and spaced a few inches apart. Then, pour dry Epsom salts into the holes and slowly add water to moisten, but not saturate, the salts. Cover the stump with a tarp to repel rain and ensure the drying process. The salts will dehydrate the wood over several weeks, and as the wood dries out, you’ll be able to chip away most of the stump with an ax and soon dig up and dispose of the root system.

Photo: istockphoto.com

10. Produce Bountiful Roses

The magnesium in Epsom salts benefit both new and established rose bushes, helping to supplement a slow-release rose fertilizer containing nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Before planting a new rose bush, add one tablespoon of Epsom salts to the bottom of each hole. For established roses, add one tablespoon of salts for every gallon of water and spray foliage when plants begin to leaf in spring and once again during flowering.

How to Get the Greenest Lawn on the Block — Naturally

Wise Bread Picks

Want a gorgeous, lush lawn without all the chemicals and other icky stuff? It’s not as hard as you might think. With a little creativity and some elbow grease, you can whip your grass into shape without calling a service or spending much at all. (See also: Secret Lawn Tonic Golf Course Groundskeepers Love)

Amazing Aeration

Before the season even starts, you should aerate your lawn so it can have its best year yet. By letting it breathe, you get rid of nasty compaction issues that can cause bigger problems down the line. To aerate, you’ll want the grass to be pretty dry. Insert a garden fork or sod coring tool every few inches to get the oxygen in. If you have a big lawn, you might consider going in with a neighbor and renting a power lawn aerator for a day or two. After you’ve finished this process, collect soil plugs with a bagged mower and add them to your compost heap.

Beer Fertilizer

My grandfather is known as a lawn king of sorts in my hometown. He swears by feeding his lawn with beer. The fermented sugars and other nutrients improve the soil and help to get rid of dead spots. All you have to do is pour about eight ounces of regular beer per 10-inch spot that needs love. Beer can be fresh or flat, hot or cold. Wait about a week and if the area is still droopy, repeat the process.

Soothing Salts, Part I

Not into brews? That’s okay. You can actually use your favorite bath time soak to nurture your lawn. Epsom salts help keep your grass green and healthy all year round — they may even soften grass. You’ll want to use about three pounds of salts per 1,250 square feet of lawn. To apply, use a lawn spreader. If you’d rather add water and spray, use a tank sprayer or a hose with a spray attachment.

Soothing Salts, Part II

The National Gardening Association explains that epsom salts also work wonders in your vegetable and flower gardens by enriching the soil with magnesium. The group conducted a study where gardeners from across the United States sprayed their peppers and roses with the stuff. The results? Four out of six gardeners reported that their pepper plants were more robust. All the rose plants were bushier with greener foliage and more roses. To try this at home, add one tablespoon of epsom salts to a gallon of water, spray plants, and repeat the process every 10 days (peppers) or six weeks (roses).

Kind Killer

This weed killer is kind to the environment and won’t cost you much. In fact, you might already be using it for many tasks in your home. Simply spray all those pesky weeds with plain white vinegar. You’ll want to do this on a day with no rain in the forecast (can dilute the effects). My mother-in-law says that heartier, more persistent weeds respond better to something stronger like pickling vinegar. Just pour vinegar into a spray bottle and use as liberally as necessary.

Wondrous Water

Whether or not you live someplace where you have a cap on water usage, it’s a good idea to conserve this precious resource. Try building your own rain barrel to collect what falls from the sky. You just need a 32-gallon plastic trash can, brass faucet, flexible downspout, and utility knife. Cut a hole in your can’s cover, attach the downspout to your gutter, and then connect the two components. Wait for the rain and then use your faucet to tap into the magic.

Modified Mowing

How often and how short you cut your grass has an impact on its overall health as well. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, unfortunately. Regardless, grass cut too short can be more prone to problems like weeds, drought, and heat damage. So, if you’re experiencing little precipitation, it’s a good idea to let grasses grow taller as a defense. For guidelines on how tall or short you should keep your grass in general, call your local extension office, garden center, or seed supplier.

Clover Comeback

So many of our neighbors seem to battle to keep white clover out all season long. We’ve embraced clover because it’s actually a natural way to crowd out weeds. Clover also spreads quickly and covers the ground with greenery to blend with your other grasses. It grows well in shadier areas of your lawn and those with poor drainage. Best yet, it’s a legume and can convert nitrogen into its own free fertilizer. Learn to love this misunderstood ground cover!

What are some natural ways you care for your lawn?

Adding Epsom Salts To Your Garden and Lawn: Claims vs Facts

Every spring, articles and social media posts on using Epsom Salts to improve your garden and lawn are ubiquitous. You’re encouraged to use Epsom Salts for bigger blooms, better shrubs, greener grass and even pest control. The truth is, there are no scientific studies – none – to back up the claims about Epsom Salts and for the most part these are at best, urban myths.

The claims for Epsom salts include:

  • pesticide
  • fertilizer for lawn and garden
  • speed seed germination
  • makes shrubs “bushier”

The facts about Epsom Salts

Epsom Salts are not actually a salt and are not related to table salt in any way. Table salt is sodium chloride; Epsom Salts are sulfate (sulfur+oxygen) and magnesium. The Epsom refers to the area of England in which the salts were first collected from a spring.

Most articles and posts claim that adding Epsom Salts to soil and around roots when planting tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables, boosts magnesium and sulfur levels, which stimulates blooms. But few soils are deficient in magnesium or sulfur except for very sandy soils which experience a great deal of rainfall. And with any fertilizer, more is not better – each plant requires specific amounts of nitrogen, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, calcium, sulfur and other elements, and what they don’t take up washes away as a pollutant. A lack of magnesium uptake by plants is usually caused by excessive potassium in the soil and adding more magnesium won’t improve the situation at all. Magnesium and sulfur are micronutrients from a plant’s perspective – they need only small amounts for optimum health.

But Epsom Salts are sometimes used in commercial agriculture (crops under intensive cultivation, unlike your garden) when the soil has been shown to be deficient in Magnesium (based on soil tests).

It’s also promoted to discourage Blossom End Rot in tomatoes. But Blossom End Rot is caused by a lack of calcium and wet conditions. Magnesium actually competes with calcium for uptake, so adding Epsom Salts could make this problem much worse.

Epsom Salts are frequently advertised as highly soluble so they can’t be overused, which is false. Highly soluble chemicals which aren’t used by plants don’t just disappear from the environment – they wash away, to somewhere else, like your local waterways or neighboring properties.

Regarding the pesticidal claims, in scientific testing, insecticidal claims do not hold up. Epsom Salts are found to be of no value in killing insects, including slugs, at any stage in their development. A similar lack of results has been found in claims that epsom salts can reduce powdery mildew and apple scab.

As far as the claim that it helps seeds germinate: seeds already have all they need to germinate and require no fertilizer to do so. If you start seeds in a quality starting soil with a heat mat and proper amount of moisture, the seeds will germinate just fine.

Claims that Epsom Salts improve the health of shrubs and trees have not been reproduced and verified in any studies. Used as a foliar spray, Epsom Salts solution may actually cause leaf scorch.

On lawns, the use of Epsom salts is discouraged, because grass doesn’t require magnesium. Epsom Salts are sometimes used to reinvigorate pasture land (once again, a crop under heavy cultivation). But it is only a temporary solution, as literally half of the chemicals was away when it rains.

The bottom line on Epsom Salts

Few soils are deficient in Magnesium or Sulfur and plants will only use as much of these nutrients as they require. The only way to know for sure if your soil is lacking in any element is to have it tested by an accredited soil lab. If your test results note a deficiency, you should only add the element/s needed and in proper quantities to bring the soil into the normal range.

Read more about busting the Epsom Salts myth from Linda Chalker- Scott, Ph.D.

6 Ways to Use Epsom Salt in the Garden

Epsom Salt is Magnesium Sulfate – Key Nutrients for Plants and Vegetables

As spring draws near, some of the country’s top gardeners recommend using Epsom salt as an inexpensive way to start or improve your garden.

Epsom salt – actually magnesium sulfate – helps seeds germinate, makes plants grow bushier, produces more flowers, increases chlorophyll production and deters pests, such as slugs and voles. It also provides vital nutrients to supplement your regular fertilizer.

Cornell University Assistant Professor Neil Mattson says plants will show visual cues if they are starved for a particular nutrient. If a plant’s leaves turn yellow all over the plant, it can be a sign they need more sulfate. If lower leaves turn yellow between the veins (that is the veins stay green), they may need more magnesium. Some nutrient disorders can look alike so growers can contact their county extension agents either before they plant to test a soil sample or, if they notice a problem, they can bring in a plant for diagnosis.

“Plants need those building blocks”” says Mattson. “Magnesium and sulfur are essential nutrients.”

Although magnesium and sulfur occur naturally in soil, they can be depleted by various conditions, including heavy agricultural use. But unlike most commercial fertilizers, which build up in the soil over time, Epsom Salt is not persistent so you can’t overuse it.

Mattson – who adds Epsom salt to his fertilizer for plants such as roses, pansies, petunias and impatiens – says gardeners can proactively mix Epsom salt with fertilizer and add it to their soil monthly, or they can mix one tablespoon with a gallon of water and spray leaves directly every two weeks.

Epsom Salt is recommended by Master Gardeners and used regularly by commercial growers around the world. Tests by the National Gardening Association confirm that roses fertilized with Epsom Salt grow bushier and produce more flowers, and it also makes pepper plants grow larger than those treated only with commercial fertilizer.

Here are some other tips for using Epson salt in the garden:

  1. Houseplants: 2 tablespoons per gallon of water; feed plants monthly.
  2. Roses: 1 tablespoon per foot of plant height per plant; apply every two weeks. Also scratch 1/2 cup into soil at base to encourage flowering canes and healthy new basal cane growth. Soak unplanted bushes in 1 cup of Epsom Salt per gallon of water to help roots recover. Add a tablespoon of Epsom Salt to each hole at planting time.
  3. Shrubs (evergreens, azaleas, rhododendron): 1 tablespoon per 9 square feet. Apply over root zone every 2-4 weeks.
  4. Lawns: Apply 3 pounds for every 1,250 square feet with a spreader, or dilute in water and apply with a sprayer.
  5. Trees: Apply 2 tablespoons per 9 square feet. Apply over the root zone 3 times annually.
  6. Garden Startup: Sprinkle 1 cup per 100 square feet. Mix into soil before planting.

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