Making Homemade Fertilizer: 8 Things You Can Use

By Maureen Wise in Thinking Sustainably

In general, plants need sunlight, water, and nutrients to grow. Certainly, there are exceptions, and plants can grow in dark places without a lot of water—but they won't thrive. When gardeners want their plants to really flourish, they'll add in fertilizer for extra nutrients.

The nutrients that happy plants want the most are nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Store-bought fertilizers will have calculated ratios of each of these three nutrients, but you can also add them to your own soil using various natural items. By doing this, you're actually creating homemade fertilizer.

Before each growing season, test your soil to see what it's lacking. You can get an inexpensive soil test from your local University Extension office for this. Knowing what nutrients your soil is missing will help exponentially—as you can then personalize your homemade fertilizer for your garden's specific needs.

Items You Can Use for DIY Fertilizer

Not only does homemade fertilizer cut down on spending at the gardening store, but it also aligns with a natural, green lifestyle. You'll reduce your waste footprint as you "recycle" leftover food items bound for a landfill and skip the unnecessary purchase of prepackaged fertilizer.

Using resources in this way is a natural step toward sustainability for our planet. Here are eight kinds of homemade fertilizer you can easily whip up for your plants.

1. Fallen Leaves

When it's time to rake up your leaves in the fall, forget it! Instead, mow your leaves into small bits. Over the winter, these tiny leaf clippings will disintegrate into fertilizer for your lawn.

2. Coffee Grounds

Coffee drinkers always have coffee grounds leftover. Great news: you can use them to feed your compost and your plants! Just keep in mind that coffee grounds are acidic, so don't go overboard. It's recommended to mix the grounds in with the soil instead of just dumping it on top. Plants such as camellias, azaleas, hydrangeas, fuchsias, gardenias, ferns, dogwoods, magnolias, and holly all enjoy added acidity.

3. Pine Needles

Pine needles also add acidity to soil. If you have a pine tree in your yard, you've probably noticed that not a lot grows beneath it—that's why! The same group of coffee-loving plants will be happy with pine needles. All you have to do is pile some needles around the plant's base.

Brown eggs in a cardboard carton

4. Eggshells

My sweet grandma always used to crunch up eggshells into her garden soil. But plants can absorb the nutrients best when the shells are pulverized into fine sand. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System outlines how to do this:

  • Rinse out empty shells with water.
  • Dry them in the oven at 250 degrees for ten minutes.
  • Grind up the shells in the blender or food processor.

From there, add this sand-like material to your soil for added calcium. Eggshells can replace lime, which is commonly used to lower soil's pH levels. This additive is especially great for tomatoes!

5. Banana Peels

Bananas are known for the high levels of potassium they provide our bodies. But their peels are high in a different kind of nutrient that can help our plants: phosphorous! Roses especially will thrive with this extra nutrient. Simply bury a full banana peel next to your roses and let the soil break it down.

6. Your Own Compost

If you're composting your kitchen scraps, you will be left with some rich, earthy compost that you'll definitely want to make use of. Mix your compost in with the soil of your garden to boost the overall nutrient content. If you're growing veggies, be sure to contemplate and admire the circle of veggie-to-composted-veggie life.

grandmother teaches her grandaughter how to garden

7. Local Farm Manure

Many local farmers will happily sell you their manure. The tricky part may be moving it to your garden, but luckily, some farmers deliver. Manure will act similar to compost by boosting the overall nutrients of the soil. However, manure has a lot of nitrogen, so be sure to mix it in well to avoid burning any of your plants.

8. Fertilizer Teas

Making fertilizer tea is an art. The Old Farmer's Almanac outlines a detailed process with bubblers, additives, and multiple steps to eliminate mold and mildew growth. But you can make a simpler version by just using any of the aforementioned soil additives and letting them soak in a five-gallon bucket of water. Be sure to only add just a few cups of your additive to the water, just as you would with tea. You can also fill a sock with your chosen additive and add that to the water instead. This will allow the water to still seep through the fibers, and you'll have less cleanup to do.

Let everything soak for less than a day, and then water your plants with the tea. If you allow everything to soak for more than a day, you might attract mosquitoes, pathogens, mold, and other yucky stuff that's a headache to deal with.

Using these techniques to feed your plants is not only beneficial for a healthier garden, but it also helps reframe and make use of your waste.

Are you inspired to make your own homemade fertilizers? For more eco-friendly ideas, follow the Thinking Sustainably board from @tomsofmaine on Pinterest!

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Why It's Good

Making use of your waste is an ideal way to feed your garden this summer!