N, P, K… does this fertilizer alphabet mean anything to you? For sure, these three elements are crucial for the growth and development of all your plants.
Nitrogen (N) promotes leaf growth, phosphorus (P) reinforces the plant’s immunity, and potassium (K) boosts blooming and fruit-bearing. To reap a great harvest and increase productivity in the vegetable patch or to smother the garden with flowers, fertilizer is the way to go! No need to fall prey to the dark side of the force – you can avoid use of nefarious chemical fertilizers completely! Many natural fertilizers are very effective, often even more so than chemical ones. This is particularly true of fertilizers derived from animals.
- Read also: 10 uses for coffee grounds in the garden
Lawn trimmings, vegetable scraps, carrot and radish leaves, leaf mulch, vegetable broth, weedy tea… it’s already a common practice to use plant-based fertilizer as nourishing mulch or compost ingredients. Nature works well, and gives the plant kingdom all it needs to thrive. The ground is always covered with plant material, and occasionally gets a dose of animal matter as well: dried blood, crushed horns, bird guano, bone powder, eggshells. Pair plant matter with animal residues to boost blooming and get tasty produce.
Dried blood: power booster
Often sold in the form of powder, this concentrated nitrogen dust will trigger rich vegetation. Sprinkle it around the vegetable patch or around ornamental plants in Spring. Simply pour the powder on the ground and use a stiff short-toothed rake to work it into the soil a bit. Also called blood meal, it’s commonly used for flower plants and has the advantage of bringing on quick results. Add some to your potted plants as well. For sure, these don’t have the luxury of reaching out for nutrients on their own, so you’ve got to provide it to them. For lawns, spread about 1½ oz. per square yard (50g/m²), but use a bit more, about 2½ oz. (75g) for the same surface for a vegetable bed or ornamental flower bed. A space where trees or shrubs grow will need even more, about 4 ounces per square yard (125g/m²).
Horn meal or powdered horns: slow-release fertilizer
Crushed horns will slowly release the nitrogen compounds they’re made of. This makes it an excellent choice to provide nutrients over the entire vegetation (growing) season, from March to October. It’s also ideal for a young plant, since it’ll produce useful nutrients over an extended period of time: this promotes proper rooting. As a consequence, it’s most often used in Autumn, during the planting phase, but it’s also worth including in potting mixes in Spring, when you repot most container-grown plants.
For the vegetable patch and for flower perennials, restrain yourself to 2½ oz (75g) for a square yard or meter, whereas 1½ oz. per square yard (50g/m²) is enough for heath plants. A tree or shrub will require about 14 oz (400g) upon planting. You’ll be tempted to increase these doses – resist! Having too much nitrogen in the soil is actually detrimental, since plants will only produce leaves and completely forget about flowers and fruits.
- Quick tip: if all you’ve got is whole horns, don’t worry! Just bury them under the plot, and they’ll slowly break down over the years.
Other animal-based fertilizers
Typically collected from places where seabirds gather, guano has incredible amounts of both nitrogen and phosphorus.It’s perfect for both the veggie patch and the flower garden. Just like dried blood meal, it’s a “power boost” that yields immediate results. The recommended dosage is 1.5 oz. for a square yard (50g/m²) 2.
Calcium is the valuable additive that egg shells provide. Indeed, plants do have other needs than only N, P, K! Add your eggshells to your compost or crush them finely to sprinkle them at the base of your plants. The rule of thumb is to give each plant a small handful. Scratch it into the soil with a cultivator to avoid forming a crust.
Phosphate-rich with a lot of calcium on the side, bone meal is an effective fertilizer. It supports root growth as well as blooming and fruit formation. Spread it as you would the egg shells, or simply toss a handful in the hole upon planting. Use about 2½ oz (75g)2 for perennial flower beds, and a bit more at 4.5 oz (100 g/m²)2 for the vegetable patch and for bulb flowers. Weigh out about 2½ ounces (75g) per shrub and twice that amount, 5 ounces or 150g, for each tree. Read also:
Horns buried under vegetables by theamaria under © CC BY 2.0
Horn meal in a growing bed by Dawn A. under © CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Adding fertilizer by Oregon State University under © CC BY-SA 2.0
Preparing the hole for horn by theamaria under © CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Crushed eggshells for a plant by Ivan Radic under © CC BY 2.0