Don’t worry…I haven’t become a nudist. But I did fertilize with all those wonderful organic fertilizers that my garden loves: alfalfa pellets, bone meal, blood meal, cottonseed meal, and milorganite. That along with the horse poopy I put down a couple of weeks ago and the rain we’ve been getting lately means the garden should start looking much healthier and happier soon. I cut way, way back on the fertilizing earlier in the season cause of the drought and high temps cause I didn’t want to force new growth that was just gonna get fried and stress the plants out. So my fertilizing schedule is totally off this year. But having to deal with what Mother Nature sends us is just a part of gardening.
So, you ask, what exactly does all that organic fertilizer stuff do? Good question! Organics provide nutrients to the plants along with improving the viability of the soil as they break down. Most of the organics I use are slow release except for blood meal which is considered a fast release organic. Here’s what I use and what they do:
- Alfalfa Pellets: Gives the plants slow-release nitrogen and trace minerals. It also contains a naturally occurring plant hormone called triaconatol that stimulates growth by improving photosynthesis and cell division.You can use either alfalfa meal or alfalfa pellets. If you use pellets be sure to get the pellets used for horse food and not for rabbit food. The rabbit food pellets have salt added to it and salt build-up in the soil is not a good thing. I use 1 – 2 cups per bush depending on the size of the bush. 3-0-2
- Blood Meal: Gives quick-release of nitrogen. Yes, it is exactly what the name says: made from blood, usually from cows. It’s awesome in its ability to green plants up quickly that need a nitrogen fix. This stuff is very potent so be sure to use it as recommended on the bag! Mine’s from Hi-Yield and 1/4 of a cup (yes, only 1/4) is enough for a 3′x3′ area. That’s a big area for only 1/4 of a cup. Lessen the amount for smaller bushes and plants in containers. For large climbing roses or trees the amount can be increased. It’s water soluble so it can be mixed in a water can and used that way. I’ve never used it in a sprayer so I don’t know if that’ll work. 12-0-0
- Bone Meal: This is basically ground up bones. It proves a very slow-release of phosphorous and calcium. It doesn’t travel easily through the soil so be sure to either work it into the soil or add it to the hole when planting. I use 1/4 – 1 cup per bush. 4-12-0
- Cottonseed Meal: Provides a slow-release of nitrogen, phosphorus, potash, and minor elements. It also loosens heavy soils and helps sandy soils hold water and nutrients. 1 – 4 cups per bush depending on the size. 6.5-2.5-1.5
- Milorganite: Slow-release of nitrogen and phosphorus and iron. 1 – 2 cups per bush depending on size. 5-2-0
Organics are awesome cause they increase the biological activity of the soil structure as they break down. Simply put, all the little microscopic and not so microscopic critters that make your soil healthier like to hang around where organics are. The microorganisms break the organics down and release the nutrients for the plants to use. As the breaking down happens other critters, such as earthworms, show up to either munch on the organic goodies or use them in building their tunnels. And we all know how incredibly cool and helpful earthworms are to our gardens! So by using organics you not only fertilize your plants you also increase your soil which in turn helps your garden to be healthier and happier.
The three numbers at the end of each organic description, i.e., 5-2-0 for Milorganite, represent the macronutrient analysis of Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium of each fertilizer. All of my organics are from Hi-Yield except for the Milorganite. The numbers can be different if your organics are from a different distributor.
There are differing opinions of whether organics should be worked into the soil of existing beds or just used as top dressing (meaning just thrown on top of the soil). I personally agree with the opines that as organics decompose (or “cure”) they generate heat. And that heat has the possibility of damaging the tender feeder roots of plants if the organics are worked into the soil. So I pull back the mulch, toss the organics around the drip line, and put the mulch back in place over the organics. (The “drip line” is the area below the canopy of the plant’s leaves. Keep in mind that roots rarely grow past the plant’s drip line.) Please, please, please do not pile the organics up against the trunk or stems or base of the plant! That same curing heat that damages the feeder roots means the organics are too hot to be placed up against the plant.
I’ve got the perfect example of an organic that was too hot and damaged the plants it was on. Remember my post on getting two loads of horse poopy? Well, one load was aged and one load was fresh. Usually I unload stuff like that onto the driveway by the double gates but I knew the heat from the horse poop along with the heat from the driveway along with the fact that it was August in Florida would probably kill me if I put it on the driveway. So I put both loads in separate piles on the grass. In the pic below, the pile in front is the aged one and I was just starting to unload the fresh one. The aged pile actually sat on the grass for about twelve hours longer than the fresh one did.
The next two pics were taken about a week after I’d put the poop into the beds. This is the grass that had the aged poop on it. You can see that some of the grass was killed, but definitely not all of it.
And this is the area where the fresh pile was. Pretty much all the grass and weeds were killed cause the heat coming from the pile as it decomposed was extremely high.