Fertilizers: “Manure” Isn’t Always Best!

With the popularity of cow and horse manure and even chicken poop as fertilizers, it might seem logical that the waste products of our household pets — dogs and cats — could contribute to the health of the garden soil. Alas, this isn’t the case.

Dog and cat waste contains bacteria that can be harmful to edible crops. But even if you want to use their waste only on ornamentals such as annuals, perennials, shrubs, trees, and grass, their byproducts would have to be composted over a very long time to destroy any potential harmful bacteria. And simply put, their poop really stinks! It’s not a good choice for composting in the home garden — not even used kitty litter, which doesn’t add beneficial organics, and has the same bacteria/odor issues.

So as you continue to compost non-animal waste, here are some quick tips for fertilizers you can find at the nursery. First, a primer on what is in these products and why:

A “complete” fertilizer contains the three major plant food nutrients: N P K

  • N-Nitrogen for vegetative growth, green color

  • P-Phosphorous for root growth and flower formation

  • K-Potassium for overall plant health and fruit formation

An “incomplete” fertilizer is missing one of the major elements but can be mixed to make a complete fertilizer. These are useful when your plant only needs one or two of the major elements. For example, Super Phosphate (0-20-0) is useful for newly planted flowering annuals. The object is to jump-start root growth and flower formation, not to completely feed the plant.

Minor Elements: Iron, Copper, Zinc, Boron, etc. Plants need these nutrients in very small amounts, but they can make the difference between an average plant and a really super plant. One of the reasons Park Seed’s AlgoFlash works so well is that it contains these minor or trace elements.

There are two basic ways fertilizer can be delivered to plants:

Water-soluble Fertilizer

Dissolves in water, so you can water and feed your plants at the same time. Water-soluble fertilizers can also be used as a foliar spray when used at half strength (or according to label directions).

Slow-release Fertilizer

These fertilizers are activated by water and release nutrients over a period of time. Convenient and only used once a season, they are usually sold in granular or pelleted form.

Conclusions . . .

To jump-start your plants’ growth, apply a good fertilizer. Then maintain soil health by composting garden waste and vegetable matter.

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