Fertilizing your plants is as important as feeding yourself good wholesome foods. Fertilizer provides your plants with the nutrients they need to grow strong, look their best, produce more, and reduce risks of pest infestations. However, plants need more than food, just like us. We need water, plenty of sleep, and a comfortable home. Organic fertilizers give plants what they need by creating long-term soil and plant health, all without polluting the environment.
Why Organic Fertilizers?
Clean and Safe
Most store-bought fertilizers are not safe for humans or animals to consume. However, organic fertilizers are safer for your plants, and your local ecosystem. They are derived from plants, animals, and minerals. They do not contain the harmful chemicals, acids, or petrochemical-based materials that synthetic fertilizers do, which pollute local waterways and damage local ecosystems.
Better for Beginners
Organic plant foods are much more beginner-friendly than synthetic fertilizers because you don’t have to worry about accidentally using a little too much and harming your plants. Synthetic fertilizers are highly concentrated and can cause ‘fertilizer burn’ if applied too heavily. For someone who is just starting out and doesn’t know much about fertilizing, it is very easy to go overboard and damage plants. Even if you get it right, over time toxic buildup can occur.
Improves the Soil Itself
While synthetic fertilizers are mainly useful for providing quick nutrient boosts to plants, organic alternatives actively improve the soil itself. This means that the area of the garden that you fertilize will be improved for the long term.
Organic plant food improves the soil in the long term by:
- Feeding beneficial microbes
- Aerating the soil
- Improving water movement
- Allowing the soil to hold more moisture
- Adding structure to the soil
- Encouraging more beneficial worms and fungi
Choosing a Fertilizer
To pick which fertilizer is right for you, you need to know a little about your soil and your plants. For example, is your soil too acidic, or not acidic enough? Do you want your plants to produce more fruit or leaves?
It is very helpful to know your soil’s pH, and the pH that the plants you wish to grow need in order to thrive. If you don’t know much about your soil’s acidity or alkilinity, you can purchase a soil test from your local garden center, university extension, or online.
Depending on the plant, you may need a fertilizer that has a larger amount of nitrogen, or phosphorus. Grasses, fruit trees, vegetables, and ornamentals may have different needs. Find out what your plant wants by talking to experts at your local plant nursery, or doing a short google search.
Unfortunately, just because a fertilizer says its organic, doesn’t mean it is. The word ‘organic’ is not regulated in the soil and fertilizer industry. However, there are certifications that you can look for that ensure the product is in fact made from organic materials. Look for the acronym OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institue) to see whether a regulatory body has given their stamp of approval to the product’s organic claims.
Best for Vegetables: Jobe’s Organics Fertilizer Spikes for Bountiful Vegetables
Jobe’s Organics products are OMRI and USDA organic certified and very effective at improving soil and plant health. These vegetable fertilizer spikes are a very convenient and easy way to give your veggies a boost if you have a small garden. They are easy to use (you just plop them into the soil under the plant), and they prevent any waste or run-off of product with their capsule-like form. This product contains Jobe’s ‘Biozome’ proprietary microorganism blend. I rank this as the best organic fertilizer for your vegetable garden.
Best For Fruit Trees: Jobe’s Organics Fruit and Citrus Fertilizer
The Fruit and Citrus Fertilizer comes in a granular form and works more quickly than many other fertilizers, while still providing long-term slow release benefits. It will help your trees bear more fruit and increase the health of the fruit and tree, helping it to resist disease. This product also contains the ‘Biozome’ microorganisms and can be a bit smelly from all those good organic ingredients. That just means it’s working, and the smell won’t last long.
Best For The Lawn: Andersons Innova Vegan Fertilizer
Andersons 7-1-2 Organic Innova Fertilizer is made primarily of soybeans which provide a range of important amino acids to the plants. It is OMRI certified but not necessarily non-GMO. This fertilizer provides a readily digestible food source for soil microbes. It is fine to use in hot or dry weather and has none of the unpleasant odors associated with some natural fertilizers. Because it is completely plant-based, with no manure, blood, bone, or feathers, it is safe for children, pets, and waterways.
Best For Flowers: Dr. Earth Organic Bud and Bloom Booster
Dr. Earth is a OMRI certified organic company that began in 1991. They have led the way in organic fertilizing for years, realizing early on the importance of bacteria and fungi in the creation of healthy soil and robust plants. Bud and Bloom Buster contains beneficial soil microbes and fungal mycorrhiza to give your soil and plants an incredible boost. Dr. Earth products are always Non-GMO, pathogen-free, and chicken manure free.
Homemade Natural Fertilizers
Make Your Own Compost
If you would like to decrease the amount of organic waste you generate and build rich healthy soil all at the same time, composting is for you. To make the perfect compost, a mixture of ‘green’ ingredients such as vegetable and fruit scraps and lawn clippings is added to ‘brown’ ingredients like newspaper and leaves. Compost is often called black gold for good reason. It’s full of macronutrients and micronutrients, microbes, worms, and organic matter.
Starting your own compost bin has never been easier. Even if you only have a small yard or patio area, you can compost. Small free-standing compost tumblers are a convenient and space-efficient way to make your own soil in as little as 6 weeks. There are also plenty of resources online and at your local library that give you tips on how to make the fastest compost. Generally, you can’t go wrong by mixing some green, some brown, and only adding plant-based ingredients.
Start Your Own Worm Farm
Worm castings, or excrement, are full of soil-building nutrients. Plant-based food scraps are eaten by the worms and, when digested, become a ‘super humus’, a rich and easily absorbed food for your plants. Castings also improve soil structure, aerating the soil for improved root growth, water retention, and drainage. You can order the supplies and worms for a worm farm online and the whole operation usually takes up about as much space as a bathtub.
Any plant that is a member of the legume family is a natural nitrogen-fixer. This means that the plant has a special symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria which causes nitrogen nodules to be ‘fixed’ to the plant’s roots. This helps the plant to maintain high levels of growth-inducing nitrogen. When this plant experiences normal dieback of its stems and roots, the nitrogen is released to the surrounding plants.
By pruning nitrogen fixing plants (chopping) and then distributing the cuttings around the base of other plants (dropping), you can provide a very natural slow release nitrogen fertilizer to your plants. Nitrogen is important for plant health and growth, providing energy to produce new leaves, flowers, and fruits.
It’s not just the nitrogen fixing legumes that can be used to boost plant health and productivity. Bio-accumulators such as comfrey are prized for their ability to draw up important minerals and nutrients from deep in the soil where most annuals are unable to reach them. You can use the same chop-and-drop method with comfrey as with the legumes. However, a faster way to provide your plants with a nutrient-rich fertilizer is to make comfrey tea.
Comfrey tea is made by roughly chopping comfrey leaves and soaking them in a bucket with enough water to cover them. This mixture is left for up to a week, until the comfrey’s nutrients have leached into the water and turned it a deep green. This tea may now be poured around your plants for a wonderful, albeit stinky, natural fertilizer. Don’t worry, the stink will go away as the tea soaks into the soil. Your plants’ health, however, will continue to improve.
Whether you use store-bought organic fertilizers, make them yourself at home, or do a bit of both, don’t forget to feed your plants! They need healthy fuel just as much as we do, and they will show you how much they appreciate the care with beautiful robust leaves and flowers, and amazing productivity.