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Organic Plant Foods

Organic Plant Foods

tomatoesGardening the organic way is a challenge, there’s no doubt about it. After years of reaching for the synthetic fertilizers, dusts, and spray bottles, it is very hard to break the habit of running to the garage or shed for the trusty chemicals. It does take time and effort to discover and use alternative and more holistic gardening methods for problems that arise.

Let’s start with some information about the benefits of organic fertilizers:

Benefits of Organic Fertilizers

  • Organic fertilizers, while they do release more slowly than synthetic fertilizers, offer a steadier release of nutrients to plants.
  • Many organic plant foods supply micronutrients not supplied by chemical foods.
  • Some are good soil conditioners. They often supply extra organic material to soil that aids in the tilth and friability of the soil.
  • There is little harm to the soil with organic fertilizers. Synthetic fertilizers will often cause a build-up of inorganic salts over time. These insoluble salts will affect soil life, soil condition, and plant health. Microbial and beneficial soil insect populations will drop. All of this will affect the growth and performance of plants over time, while there is no build-up of salts to the soil when using organic fertilizers.
  • Organic foods help to increase soil microbial activity and beneficial soil insect activity.
  • There is a greater margin for error if a bit too much organic fertilizer is applied. Synthetic fertilizers can burn plants if too much is applied. Because they release more slowly than synthetic fertilizers, there is less chance of plant damage if a bit too much organic food is applied.

Here are some organic fertilizers that can be used as alternatives to inorganic or synthetic fertilizers. Some of them are readily available locally, while others can be found through mail order and online sources:

A List Of Commonly Used Organic Fertilizers & Plant Foods
Type Analysis (N-P-K) Comments
Blood Meal 12-1-1 Provides medium to rapid availability of nutrients, mainly nitrogen (N). Often used in combination with other organic fertilizers for a more complete blend. Also used in composting as starter or accelerator .
Fish Emulsion 5-2-2 Medium to rapid availability of nutrients, mainly nitrogen. Good for foliar feeding. Also used in composting as starter or accelerator. Often used with seaweed or kelp for liquid fertilizer.
Liquid Kelp 0.1-0.1-1 Medium availability of nutrients, mainly potassium. Has many micro-nutrients. Plant growth stimulant. Aids in protecting plants against stress. Improves plant health and immunity to diseases. Often used with fish emulsion.
Steamed Bone Meal 1-11-0 Slow to medium availability. Primary nutrient is Phosphorus (P). Promotes root growth and seed development. Often used in dry organic fertilizer blends. Used when planting bulbs as a booster.
Composted Cattle Manure 1-1-1 Slow to medium availability. Soil conditioner. Also used in composting as starter or accelerator.
Cottonseed Meal 7-2-2 Slow to medium availability. Primary nutrient is Nitrogen (N). Often used in organic fertilizer blends. Will acidify soil. Good for use around Rhododendrons, azaleas, and other acid-loving plants.
Alfalfa Meal 3-1-2 Medium availability. Good rose food. Supplies micronutrients and horrmonal growth promoter or regulator. Generates heat as it breaks down. Also used in composting as starter or accelerator.
Greensand 0-2-5 Medium availability. Primary nutrient is Potassium (K). Helps promote beneficial microbial activity. More absorbent than sand (silica), but of similar consistency. Good soil conditioner and for correcting potassium deficiencies.

So, now we have a list of commonly used fertilizers. You and I can blend our own equivalents of various synthetic fertilizers by choosing the right proportions of several of the listed fertilizers. Here are several recipes for organic fertilizers for use in the home garden. All of these are applied at the rate of 5 pounds per 1000 square feet:

5-10-15 Fertilizer # 1:

2.0 lbs. blood meal
4.5 lbs. bone meal
15.0 lbs. greensand     

5-10-15 Fertilizer # 2:

8.25 lbs. alfalfa meal
4.5 lbs. bone meal
15.0 lbs. greensand

10-10-10 Fertilizer # 1:

4.25 lbs. blood meal
4.5 lbs. bone meal
10 lbs. greensand

10-10-10 Fertilizer # 2:

16.75 lbs. alfalfa meal
4.5 lbs. bone meal
10.0 lbs. greensand

Fertilizer for acid-loving plants, 5-10-15:

4.25 lbs. cottonseed meal
4.5 lbs. bone meal
15.0 lbs. greensand     

Rose Fertilizer, 15-30-30:

25.0 lbs. alfalfa meal
13.5 lbs. bone meal
30.0 lbs. greensand


Forcing The Issue

Forcing The Issue

If you have a firm case of the winter doldrums, here is a little antidote for your blues: Force a few branches of flowering shrubs and trees into bloom!

Plum Blossoms

Many different types of woody plants can be coaxed into an early floral display by cutting them and bringing them indoors.

Pussy willows are perhaps the easiest to force. Trim a few branches, plop them into a vase of tepid water, and Presto! Instant spring! Others are a bit more challenging and take a little more prep work to trick them into flowering. But, don’t let that discourage you. Just read on a little more to learn how to successfully force branches into bloom.

Most buds are set on woody plants during the fall of the previous year. After a period of winter cold dormancy, they will flower the following spring. One rule of thumb is to harvest cuttings closer to the plant’s normal bloom season for quicker and easier forcing. For example, if you cut the branches of a lilac in January, chances are you will have a difficult, if not impossible, chance of forcing this early May bloomer into flowering. However, if you cut the branches of early-blooming forsythia in February, your chances of successfully forcing the buds into flowering will significantly increase.

Mid to late winter is an ideal time for taking branches for forcing. This is when many of those who garden in the four seasons areas of the country tackle pruning chores. Instead of taking those clippings to the compost pile, take the thinned cuttings of fruit trees, shrubs, and ornamentals indoors to force. Here is the general technique that works for most of these branches:

  1. Prune during the warmest part of the day and on a day when the temps are above freezing. Force these branches no earlier than about six to eight weeks before their normal bloom period. For example, if forsythia normally blooms for you by late March, then wait until very late January on to harvest the branches.
  2. Cut and prune just above a bud or node. Take care to prune using good technique and sharp pruners to avoid injury to your plant. About 12 inches is a good length for your cuttings.
  3. Avoid withered-appearing cuttings or those with dried buds. Flower buds should be firm to the touch. These are generally larger, plumper, and more rounded in appearance than leaf buds. Once again, the closer to normal bloom time, the quicker and easier the branches will be to force.
  4. Once indoors, recut the stems, about a half-inch, under warm water. You can also hammer the ends of the branches to splay them open to receive water. Immerse them in 3 to 4 inches of very warm water for about 1/2 hour. Place in a vase. Fill with warm water and add a few drops of household bleach or hydrogen peroxide to to prevent bacterial contamination. Plan on replacing the water with more of the same solution every two days
  5. Keep the branches in average warmth but away from bright light. Mist the stems to prevent excessive moisture loss. It might take between one week and a month for them to respond, depending upon the type of cutting and when it was harvested. Continue to follow this routine and they should break dormancy and bloom!
  6. Once the buds are swollen and they begin to break, move them into bright, indirect sunlight. Enjoy the preview!


A Timetable For Forcing Branches For Indoor Bloom
Plant When To Take Cuttings
Forsythia Harvest cuttings from late January on
Plum and
Pussy Willow
Harvest cuttings from early February on
Witch Hazel Harvest from early February on
for winter or spring flowering varieties only
Viburnum Depending upon species, cultivar: Late February to early March
Rhododendron and
Harvest cuttings from late February on
Apricot and Peach Harvest cuttings from last week of February on
Redbud and
Flowering Almond
Harvest cuttings from last week of February on
Pear, Apple, or Crabapple Harvest cuttings from early March on
Dogwood and
Harvest cuttings from early March on


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