Gardening is a remarkable hobby. For some, it's a fun and relaxing way to spend their time and make their home look pleasing. For others, gardening is a way to create fresh food of their own that's both delicious and rich in nutrients. This can be a great way to save money, as you won't need to buy as many groceries.
To grow healthy and strong plants, though, your garden soil needs to be full of nutrients. This leads many to buy chemical fertilizers for their gardens, but that isn't necessarily the best option. First of all, that defeats the purpose of saving money since fertilizers aren't cheap. Another thing to consider is that chemical fertilizers are actually pretty bad for the environment. Thankfully, there are plenty of eco-friendly ways to improve your soil with stuff you already have, or can make, at home. So, to help you with your garden soil, we'll be covering the following topics:
- Nutrients in soil: 6 basic nutrients your plants need
- 12 easy ways to add nutrients to soil
- How to test soil for nutrients and why you should
Before going over what to add to your soil, we need to cover the basics of what your soil even needs to enhance your plant growth.
Nutrients in soil: 6 basic nutrients your plants need
While there's a wide range of nutrients that plants need to thrive, the following six are what they need in the highest quantity. If there's some sort of nutrient deficit for your plants, it's going to be one of the following nutrients you'll need to add to your soil:
Nitrogen (N): Nitrogen is required for strong stem and leaf growth, as well as that rich green color you find in vegetables like broccoli and lettuce. Deficiencies in nitrogen can cause stunted plant growth and yellowing in leaves.
Phosphorus (P): Phosphorous is essential for the development of plant roots as well as seedling formation. Without enough phosphorous, your plants will experience stunted growth, poor fruit and seed development, as well as slowed maturity.
Potassium (K): Potassium is most important for fruit and vegetable development and flavor, and also improves plant resistance to disease. A lack of potassium can result in slow development, small seeds and fruit, as well as weakness of the stems.
Sulfur (S): Plant roots need sulfur to create amino acids and synthesize protein. Not enough sulfur will result in your plants becoming spindly, developing slowly, and yellowing in the leaves.
Calcium (Ca): Calcium is what plants need to build up their cell walls and membranes. Without enough calcium, plants will be structurally weak and prematurely shed their foliage and blossoms.
Magnesium (Mg): Plants require magnesium to develop chlorophyll, which they need for photosynthesis. Plants that lack magnesium will have yellowing and curling leaves.
Of these six nutrients, we can break them down further into two different categories: primary and secondary. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (also known as potash) are the nutrients plants need the most, and so are considered the primary nutrients. When buying fertilizer at a store, you're pretty much guaranteed to find some mix of these three nutrients in the fertilizer.
The other three nutrients (sulfur, calcium, and magnesium) aren't required as much as the others, so are considered secondary nutrients for your plants. Because of that, they're also a bit harder to find than the primary nutrients.
As we're providing you with soil amendment options, we'll talk about the different nutrients they provide so you can be sure you're adding what your plants actually need to your garden soil.
12 easy ways to add nutrients to soil
While you certainly can buy fertilizer with all the nutrients your growing plants need, there are just so many ways of getting those nutrients at home that it isn't necessary. Here are 12 soil amendments that will promote healthy growth in your gardens:
1. Traditional compost
One of the best ways to get garden beds all the nutrients they need is with compost. Because compost is made with a variety of organic matter, there will always be a good mix of different nutrients it can add to garden soil. You can also easily control what vegetable scraps and other organic materials get added to the compost pile to ensure specific nutrient levels. Aside from creating rich soil, adding compost to garden beds will also improve the soil structure.
Creating your own compost is quite easy as well, it just takes time. You can check out one of our guides on composting at home to get started. If you don't have much outdoor space, don't worry about it! There are also plenty of indoor composting methods that don't require much effort at all to get going.
2. Lomi dirt
Not everyone has the space, energy, or time for traditional composting. However, that doesn't mean you can't benefit from what a compost pile has to offer. Lomi is a small kitchen appliance that is able to break down organic matter in a matter of hours and turn in it into nutrient-rich dirt that is perfect to add to your garden soil. This is also an ideal choice for anyone with large gardens and indoor plants, as you'll be able to receive a steady supply of this soil amendment for as long as you're creating food waste.
To get Lomi dirt with all the essential nutrients you're looking for, make sure to use grow mode. This mode will take 16-20 hours to complete, which ensures the organic matter inside has enough time to break down so that the plant roots can absorb their nutrients. Once Lomi has completed its cycle, you can mix that dirt with any soil at a 1:10 ratio for ideal nutrient levels.
3. Banana peels
When you finish eating a banana, don't just throw the peel in the trash. Those peels are full of plant nutrients that they can eat right up. They'll mostly provide potassium, but they also contain some nitrogen, phosphorous, and magnesium.
There are a couple of easy ways you can use banana peels in your garden bed. The first way is to just lay them on the soil surface a few inches away from your plants. The other option is to cut them up and place them directly in the soil near the plant roots.
4. Coffee grounds
For all the coffee lovers out there, those used grounds of yours are perfect for adding to your garden bed. By adding some coffee grounds to the soil, or even just by sprinkling some on top, you can give your plants a quick boost of nitrogen. Just keep in mind that coffee grounds are also acidic, so they'll be best used with acid-loving plants.
5. Wood ashes
Wood ash is a fantastic way to raise the soil pH level, which is what you want to do if your soil is too acidic. On top of that, wood ash is rich in potassium and can add small amounts of phosphorous, magnesium, and sulfur. To add wood ash to your garden bed, just sprinkle some on the soil surface and gently rake it in. Just be careful that you don't add too much, or that you aren't adding any when your soil pH is already high. This can make the soil too alkaline, which will kill your plants.
6. Egg shells
Being made mostly of calcium, eggshells are the perfect addition to any soil low in calcium. Though not as much, they also do also provide some nitrogen to plant roots. There are a few different ways you can add eggshells to a garden bed. The first is to crush them and till them into the soil. However, you can also steep crushed eggshells to create eggshell water and use that to water your plants. Finally, if you're planting anything new, you can actually add soil and seeds to half an eggshell and use that as a seed starter.
7. Epsom salt
When it comes to soil nutrients, Epsom salts provide a ton of needed magnesium. However, that's not the only benefit you get from mixing Epsom salt into your garden soil. Epsom salt promotes general plant health and plant growth by increasing the production of chlorophyll and deterring pests. To use Epsom salt, all you need to do is mix it into the soil, which you can do easily for both outdoor garden beds and indoor potted plants.
8. Expired animal food
If you've got some pets at home, consider using any expired pet food as a soil amendment instead of just throwing it out. Just like they provide your fur babies with the nutrients they need to survive, they'll provide your soil with plenty of essential plant nutrients. On top of that, it can attract beneficial insects and bacteria that will promote an overall healthy garden.
Manure is a fantastic natural fertilizer. It may not seem like it, but animal feces is filled to the brim with nutrients that will create fertile soil. If you don't have your own livestock, you can check places that board horses to see if they have any to spare.
When it comes to manure, there are a couple of caveats to keep in mind. The first is that you should use it sparingly, as too much can cause a build-up of phosphorous. The other is that you should never use dog or cat feces as fertilizer. Unlike livestock manure, your pets' feces can contain spreadable diseases you don't want to feed your plants.
10. Dead leaves
Dead leaves aren't going to add a ton of nutrients to the soil themselves, but they provide other benefits that create healthy soil for your growing plants. The easiest way to use leaf litter is to crush them up and place them in your garden beds as mulch. This helps regulate soil moisture, blocks weeds from growing and stealing nutrients from plant roots, and provides a habitat for beneficial insects.
11. Grass clippings
As you're probably already mowing your lawn on a regular basis, grass clippings are a super easy and powerful resource to acquire for your garden beds. First off, the grass clippings themselves work well as mulch, just like the dead leaves. They'll help maintain soil moisture retention and prevent weeds from growing.
However, grass clippings are also a fantastic source of nitrogen. They can gradually add nitrogen to the soil when used as mulch, or you can steep them in water to make grass tea. Watering your plants with that tea will give them a quick boost of nitrogen.
12. Cover crops
Although it may seem counterproductive to use more growing plants to add nutrients to your soil, cover crops are actually a great helper to the rest of the garden. Many cover crops will add nutrients to the soil as they're growing. For example, clover adds nitrogen to the soil as it grows. Cover crops also bring the added benefit of attracting pollinators to your garden, which is great for plant health.
How to test soil for nutrients and why you should
Before you start adding organic matter and natural fertilizer to your soil, you should test the soil first. It may sound like a lot, but it's actually really easy to test your soil. The quickest and simplest way to test it is by getting a home testing kit at a local gardening store. All you need to do then is follow the simple instructions on the packaging. If you don't want to buy a test, you can also learn how to test soil for nutrients without a kit.
Either way, your test should tell you the soil pH level and how much of the primary nutrients are in the soil. Doing this before adding anything to your garden beds is important so that you know what to add. If you don't know what you need, you may not add the right nutrients and your plants could still end up nutrient-deficient. More importantly, you need to know the pH level of your soil so that you don't skew it too far in one direction or the other. Having too low or too high of a pH can seriously impede plant growth, or even kill your plants. It really is worth taking the time to test your soil before adding any soil amendments.
Gardening is a wonderful way to add life and beauty to your home, and to add food to your kitchen. However, you need nutrient-rich soil to grow a strong and healthy garden. The fastest and easiest way to add a well-rounded soil amendment is with Lomi. Check out Lomi to learn more about how it can help your gardening efforts! But for now, remember to test your soil and get the right mix of nutrients it needs.
Written by: Sereana Simpson