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Burning Berry Bushes

I know a gardener who once transplanted berry bushes into soil deficient in magnesium. This nutrient is important for the uptake of other nutrients and helps with seed formation. It also enhances the greenness of a plant, in turn, aiding effective photosynthesis [1]. With great desires to care for her berry bushes, the gardener added this nutrient to the soil by sprinkling granular fertilizer around the bush but overlooked the suggested amount to add at one time. In the following days, she observed the leaves of these bushes shriveling and turning brown. Parts of the stems even began to burn from the excess fertilizer. Unbeknownst to the gardener, burning is a common result of over-fertilization [2]. As the support series continues to remind us, support can be viewed as the fertilizer of a relationship. Similar to over-fertilization resulting in poor outcomes for plants, overproviding support can put a unique strain on relationships.

Support overprovision occurs when an individual receives too much support compared to what is desired by the support recipient. Conversely, support underprovision occurs when an individual receives less support than what is desired [3]. The gardener who burned her berry bushes would have seen different result if she provided less fertilizer than the plant needed. In such a case, the plant would continue to have a deficiency in magnesium, but it would not have experienced fertilizer burn. The goal of the gardener is to always provide the amount of fertilizer needed by the plant, not significantly more and not significantly less. The consequences of too much fertilizer are more detrimental than the consequences of too little fertilizer, but, ideally, the gardener finds the appropriate middle ground. The same seems to be the case in romantic relationships. Providing a romantic partner with more support than desired has shown to result in greater marital decline than providing too little support [3].

The goal of the support series is not to encourage you to tactlessly provide more support to your partner, rather, it is to encourage thoughtfulness in providing support. The support process requires reflection on support types and the specific needs of your partner at a given time. It also requires communication about each partner’s desire for support type and amount. Learn from the mistakes of the overeager gardener who burned her berry bushes by haphazardly provided fertilizer. Spend time observing and reflecting on the needs of your partner before hastily providing fertilizer.

  1. Boeckmann, C. (2020). How and when do you fertilize your garden plants? The Old Farmer’s Almanac
  2. Gardener, J. (2018). 063-Garden fertilizer basics: What to know before you grow. The Joe Gardener Show with Joe Lamp’l. Podcast notes.
  3. Brock, R.L. & Lawrence E. (2010). Support adequacy in marriage: Observing the platinum rule. In K.T. Sullivan & J. Davila (Eds.), Support Processes in Intimate Relationships (pp. 3-25). Oxford University Press.