My resident gardening expert is my friend Maria. She’s been gardening for YEARS, and is full of awesome advice on all sorts of issues.
She’s the one that helped me get rid of the grey flesh fruit flies that nearly decimated my tomatoes. She also has zucchini’s growing out her ears, and helped me figure out that my lack of fruit was because my zucchini flowers weren’t being pollinated very well.
During our last discussion (when I invited myself over to admire her zucchini plants), she asked me what I was using for fertilizer.
Um… fertilizer? You mean, I really have to do that? I thought that was just for the super-gardeners. You know, the ones who want a super great, show-up-the-neighborhood type of harvest.
And if we’re being honest, what gardener doesn’t want an over-producing garden?!
“Yes, Tiff,” she replied. “You do! Plants need food, and once the roots grow past your top soil, they’ll be in the sand. And there aren’t many nutrients in the sand, right?”
So I took her advice and fertilized. I bought some organic, all-purpose vegetable and plant fertilizer and and have been faithfully feeding the plants every four weeks (per her instructions).
The result? My zucchini’s are looking better, the tomatoes are busting at the seams and my broccoli is HUGE!
I can’t say my lettuce and squash are doing as well, but I’ll leave that story for the next garden update.
In any case, I knew there was a way to fertilize the garden without having to go to the store and buy fertilizer. Especially if we’re keeping up with it once a month AND trying to keep this garden thing as frugal as possible.
So I did some digging and came up with a list of 50 ways to fertilize your garden for free. As a bonus, it’s possible to do it organically too!
The fertilizer freebies fall into three main categories: food, plant and animal. Don’t expect to be able to do them all, because I surely won’t! But it’s a great place to start when you’re looking to feed your plants this season, and as you prepare the soil this fall for next year’s garden. In either case, be sure to pin this post so you have it ready when you are!
Note: This great list is available in a handy download. Simply scroll down to the bottom of the post to get your free copy!
Ways to Fertilize the Garden for Free: FOOD
- banana peels (chopped and planted at the bottom)
- carrot peels
- citrus rinds
- coffee grounds (consider checking local coffee shop for their extras and I heard Starbucks has a policy to give used coffee grounds to anyone who asks!)
- corn meal (soak 1 cup per 5 gallons of water, strained)
- egg shells
- energy drinks (perfect use when they come in game day snacks!)
- Epsom salt (diluted 1 Tbsp per gallon of water)
- green tea
- molasses (diluted 1-3 tbsp per gallon of water)
- onion peels
- peanut shells
- potato peels
- pulp from juicing fruits & veggies
- tea bags
To Make Food Mulch: Add 1 Tbsp of finely ground item and work into the soil around the plant. Repeat weekly.
To Make Food Tea: Add food to a large container and fill with water. Allow to steep for several days, to several weeks. Dilute 1 cup tea to 1 gallon of water.
To Make Powdered Food Fertilizer: Allow food item to thoroughly dry. Process in a blender until it is a fine powder and sprinkle around the base of each plant.
Ways to Fertilize the Garden for Free: PLANTS
- alfalfa meal
- brow leaves
- crimson clover
- comfrey (line either the bottom of planting holes, or chop leaves and add as mulch)
- dollar weed
- grass clippings
- green manure (mostly wheat, oats, rye, vetch, clover, peas, buckwheat and broad beans)
- kelp meal
- oat straw
- saw dust (from untreated wood)
- water weeds
- wood ash (from untreated wood)
- yellow dock
To Make Plant Tea: Fill a container with plants and top with water. Cover and allow to site for 24 hours to three weeks. Dilute 1 part plant tea to 10 parts water.
To Make Green Manure (i.e. plants that fertilize plants: Start plants in the fall and allow to grow. Before blooms appear, till back into the ground.
Ways to Fertilize the Garden for Free: ANIMALS
- aquarium water
- blood meal (dried animal blood)
- bone meal (ground bones)
- fish guts, bones and head
- manure from non-meat eating animals
- shrimp shells
- worm castings
Note: I am not a gardening expert. A good general rule of thumb is to start with a little bit of fertilizer and test each plant accordingly. Not all plants like all types of fertilizer.
Right away, I can easily fertilize my garden with 12 of the items listed above – and it would be completely free! It would mean less items in the trash can too, so I wonder if I could get away with using less trash bags in the long run… wouldn’t that be a nice fun bonus!