Thanks to their names, blood meal and bone meal are some of the least glamorous gardening products out there. Yet, both of these naturally derived fertilizers can provide vital nutrients to your plants. Blood meal and bone meal are commonly available in the fertilizer section of garden centers. Both are valuable soil amendments, but don’t assume they can be used interchangeably. Otherwise, you might end up harming your plants. When used properly, these products help plants form strong root systems and lush foliage. Here’s what you need to know about when and how to use bone meal and blood meal before adding them to your garden.
What is blood meal?
Blood meal is made from dried slaughterhouse waste and is one of the densest non-synthetic sources of nitrogen for plants. Nitrogen is key to many aspects of healthy plant growth. For example, it’s a component of chlorophyll, which is essential for converting light into sugars that plants need for energy. Nitrogen is also a building block for new leaves and stems (that’s why the youngest leaves are often the first to look yellow from a nitrogen deficiency). Because blood meal is derived directly from a natural source rather than being manufactured, it’s considered an organic fertilizer.
Some organic fertilizers are hard to quantify when it comes to nutrient makeup. Blood meal is different. It has a generally consistent chemical formulation of 12-0-0. This formulation is blood meal’s Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium (N-P-K) ratio. It contains 12 percent nitrogen, 0 percent phosphorus, and 0 percent potassium.
After adding blood meal to the soil, it will make nitrogen available to plants over a period of 2 to 6 weeks. Many synthetic fertilizers, and organic fertilizers such as fish emulsion, only supply nitrogen to plants for 2 weeks. Blood meal’s extended release period can be beneficial to plants when applied according to package directions. Applying too much blood meal can flood the soil with nitrogen and burn your plants. Always follow label instructions to avoid overdoing it. It’s also a good idea to make a note of the date (perhaps in your garden journal) that you make an application so you don’t accidentally apply another dose of blood meal too soon.
How to use Blood meal and Bone meal as an Organic fertilizer
What is bone meal?
As you might guess from the name, bone meal is derived from animal bones. And although bone meal and blood meal sound similar and are both organic fertilizers, they differ in the nutrients they contribute to help plants grow. Blood meal is high in nitrogen while bone meal provides phosphorus and calcium.
Nitrogen availability in soil changes frequently, thanks to the ebb and flow of organic matter, such as decomposing leaves, mulch, and compost. The quantity of phosphorus and calcium, unlike nitrogen, is relatively stable in the soil. In fact, researchers have found that most non-agricultural soils—the soils that make up most gardens—naturally have adequate phosphorus and calcium for plant growth. When phosphorus levels are too high, plant roots don’t develop relationships with mycorrhizal fungi, which help the roots take up water and nutrients.
Special note: mycorrhizae are particularly good at gathering phosphorus from the soil. Too much soil phosphorus can also damage nearby water systems. Excess phosphorus will run off in stormwater or overflow from irrigation systems. Once it makes its way into freshwater systems, it promotes algae growth and degrades the water quality overall.
When to Use Bone Meal vs. Blood Meal
The very best way to know if your soil would benefit from blood meal, bone meal, or any additive, is to do a soil test. Available from many county extension offices, as well as a multitude of online sources, a good soil test will measure the relative acidity of the soil (pH) and the level of several essential nutrients.
Soil tests can be done at any time of the year. For best results, test your soil before the next growing season. Fall and winter are good times to submit a soil test. There is rarely a need to test soil every year; testing soil every 3 or 4 years is usually adequate. A soil test report will include levels of nutrients and recommendations for soil amendments. Phosphorus and calcium, found in bone meal, are regularly included in a soil test report, but nitrogen, because it changes soil quickly, is not usually reported. Instead, you’ll receive a nitrogen application recommendation based on what you intend to grow in the soil the following season.
How and When to Apply Blood Meal and Bone Meal Fertilizer
If phosphorus and calcium are recommended via the soil test, bone meal may be a good soil amendment. Blood meal is a great way to boost the nitrogen available to plants. Remember, follow fertilizer package directions exactly when applying blood meal and bone meal. This will help you avoid wasting the product, harming your plants, or damaging the environment.
When applying blood meal or bone meal, it’s best to work them into the soil prior to planting. This allows the nutrients to be readily available to the plants as they grow. Follow the recommended application rates on the fertilizer package, as overapplication can lead to nutrient imbalances and harm the plants.
Here are some guidelines for applying blood meal and bone meal:
Blood Meal: 1. Wear gloves and protective clothing when handling blood meal, as it can be a potential source of pathogens.2. Sprinkle the blood meal evenly on the soil surface around the plants, avoiding direct contact with the foliage.3. Lightly incorporate the blood meal into the top few inches of soil using a rake or garden fork.4. Water the area thoroughly after application to help activate the blood meal and prevent nitrogen burn.5. Avoid applying blood meal during periods of heavy rainfall, as it can leach into waterways and contribute to pollution.
Bone Meal: 1. Prior to planting, sprinkle bone meal in the planting hole or trench according to the recommended application rate.2. Mix the bone meal into the soil at the bottom of the hole or trench.3. Place the plant or seeds into the hole and cover with soil, ensuring good contact between the roots and the amended soil.4. Water the newly planted area thoroughly to help activate the nutrients in the bone meal.
It’s important to note that blood meal and bone meal are not suitable for all plants or situations. Some plants may have specific nutrient requirements or may be sensitive to high levels of certain nutrients. Always research the specific needs of your plants and consult with gardening experts if you have any doubts or questions.
In conclusion, blood meal and bone meal are valuable organic fertilizers that can provide essential nutrients to plants. Blood meal is high in nitrogen, while bone meal supplies phosphorus and calcium. Use blood meal to boost nitrogen levels in the soil, and bone meal when phosphorus and calcium are needed. Remember to follow the recommended application rates and incorporate the fertilizers into the soil before planting. With proper use, blood meal and bone meal can contribute to healthy plant growth and vibrant gardens.