What Organic Fertilizer for Depleted Soil, Beds & Borders?

nora_54(5)April 18, 2006

We moved in late last summer and the beds & borders in addition to the lawn had been neglected for 5 years, at least. We have sandy soil, zone 5, northern Indiana. A soil test last fall showed PH 6.3-6.5, depleted nitrogen, deficient phosphorus, adequate potash. This spring, we applied lime as needed for the lawn area only, which is a different problem and forum. However, the foundation beds, which look like they were installed 5-6 yrs. ago, are nicely edged, shaped and have some nice plant material we would like to keep in place with 3-4 inches of pine bark mulch. We took out some dead shrubs, and I am relocating others and working in spaghnum peat moss, composted cow manure and organic top soil in large sections as we go. I would like to fertilize these beds organically, but I am unsure of what to do with what we've moved and with what I am leaving in place? Here is a list of some of the existing plants:

Weeping Japanese cutleaf maple

Weeping cherry



mock orange



Karl Foerster grass

asiatic or oriental lilies




Thanks for any help you can give me.

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pablo_nh(z4/5 NH)

The peat moss won't really help you, IMO- the manure and compost will. Manure covers the N and P that you need.

Not sure of the question about moving plants... you can leave them in place, as long as the manure is either rabbit manure, or aged cow/horse/chicken manure. Swap them, compost them, put them elsewhere, pot them up and replant later...

    Bookmark   April 18, 2006 at 2:18PM
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squeeze(z8 BC)

compost, lots and lots of compost - pull back the nitrogen robbing bark mulch, apply as much compost as you reasonably can, work it into the top few inches, recover with the bark mulch - repeat spring and fall for your lifetime! for the pH in the beds, the compost will eventually bring it to neutral, but powdered eggshell will help


    Bookmark   April 18, 2006 at 3:35PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Organic fertilizer is made from ORDINARY corn meal, corn GLUTEN meal, soy bean meal, alfalfa meal/pellets, cottonseed meal, milo meal, flax meal, and some other stuff. Sometimes you'll find feather meal and blood meal in them. What these are is sources of protein for the soil microbes. If you visit your local feed store you'll find these ingredients in 50-pound bags for $5-$10 each. This cost is about 1/6 the cost of commercially bagged organic fertilizer. The application rate is from 10 to 40 pounds per 1,000 square feet (or 1-4 pounds per 100 square feet) depending on how much protein is in them. The more protein, the less you use. So soy bean meal might go on at 10 pounds per 1,000 while ORDINARY corn meal goes on at 20-40 pounds. If you want to feed small plants (like rose bush size) individually, you can scatter a heaping handful inside the drip line of each plant. Otherwise figure the square footage and apply like that. I fertilize with corn meal at 20 pounds per 1,000 on the major federal holidays.

I'm linking to a page with lots of different ingredients on it. You can use any material you can find from the list. The grains all take about 3 weeks to really kick in. Blood meal kicks in just about overnight (in other words, it's HOT!!). Feather meal kicks in sometime in the next year. Similarly, ordinary human hair is not on the list but it is packed with glacially slow-release protein.

I used emphasis for the two different kinds of corn meal above because they are at opposite sides of the protein spectrum and you really need to know what you have. Corn GLUTEN meal is often used at 40 pounds per 1,000 as a preemergent herbicide. The only problem is that at that rate you are severely overdosing with protein. There is no real harm from the overdose, but stand back because the grass and plants will practically lift you up as they explode out of the ground at that high application rate.

Here is a link that might be useful: Crude protein in various grains

    Bookmark   April 18, 2006 at 4:07PM
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peggy_g(Melbourne,Fl Z9)

dchall, excellent link! Thanks

    Bookmark   April 19, 2006 at 8:44AM
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Squeeze or anyone-can you advise on a good source of compost since I don't have a compost bin here yet?
I am excited about the link dchall, there is a farm market/feed mill less than a mile from us. Thanks again.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2006 at 8:56AM
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Where did all the leaves from the trees I see growing all over northern Indiana go last fall? If those are available then peat moss will be unnecessary. Peat moss has no nutrient value and needs lots of manure added to it to give the soil bacteria something to eat while they attempt to digest that peat moss. Compost and shredded leaves will do more for your soil, better, than all the peat moss you can buy, and the leaves should be free.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2006 at 7:10AM
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laceyvail(6A, WV)

My soil is also very sandy and like yours has plenty of Potash but no nitrogen or phosphate. When I lime I use only what's sometimes referred to as high carbonate lime--never dolomitic because the addition of more potasium or magnesium could cause soil toxicity. I also use plenty of wood chip mulch--unlike raw sawdust, it does NOT rob the soil of nitrogen, and adds organic matter. In the vegetable garden, I have permanent beds under permanent hay mulch. The paths are wood chips. For the first few years, I also side dressed in the veggie garden with supplements from Gardens Alive--root crops alive, tomatoes alive etc. For the rest of the garden, I side dress with Espoma products.

Stuff washes out of sandy soil so fast that even after almost ten years of adding organic material, several plants--Viburnum 'Shasta' and iteas--still get chloritic by the end of a summer, particularly if it's a rainy summer, no matter how I have side dressed with dried blood.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2006 at 7:50AM
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If the organic matter you put in soil in the spring is pretty much gone by fall you are not adding enough. That organic matter is not "washing" out of your sand, it is being digested by your soils bacteria who are so starved that they don't have any, the humus, to store for later. It takes a lot of organic matter to amend sand, especially if that OM is tilled into the soil. A far better way to get OM into sand is to plunk it down in the fall as a mulch.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2006 at 7:06AM
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Seasons and seasons and seasons of incorporating lots of organic matter into the soil will build up the available nutrient content. Using an organic fertilizer in the short term and towards the end of the seasons will work very well at supplementing your crops until years of organic composting and incorporation begint to pay off. Even then, i recommend adding supplements to your soil because your plants can uptake the nutrients much quicker than the organic matter can be broken down in the soil, releasing its nutrition to plants. Here is what i do for my flowering plants. Pre-planting in incorporate tons of compost material into the plants. Pre-planting I add Super tea grow that supplies a boost of the essential nutrients that promote the growth of your plants. Mid-season once the nutrients have been used up, I encorporate Organic Iguana Juice Bloom, which supplies all of the nutrients that promote flower growth, thereby extending the quality and duration of my flowers. For all edible crops I use sweet leaf, which is an amazing taste enhancer. i will include the link where you can find all of these amazing products.

Here is a link that might be useful: Top qulaity organic nutrients

    Bookmark   April 24, 2006 at 12:03PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

dchall, excellent link! Thanks

Just following in the footsteps of my favorite GardenWeb mentor, Metaxa. If you liked that one, you may like this one. Metaxa used to call it, NPK of stuff.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2006 at 8:18PM
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laceyvail(6A, WV)

kimmsr, it is not the organic matter that is washing out of my soil, it is the nutrients. I have huge ornamental gardens and I spread a dumptruck load of wood chips every season as mulch, as well as leaves in many places that I have picked up in town. Sandy soil behaves very, very differently from other soil. I have been an organic gardener for 45 years in many places in three states and two zones, and have never dealt with such difficult soil until I moved to this spot 10 years ago.

It has taken me years to even begin to build the soil, and what compost I have is saved for the vegetable garden. My soil has improved but it will always be basically sandy soil and will always have the problems associated with that soil type.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2006 at 7:28AM
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catkin(UDSA Zone 8)

Where is the old gang?

    Bookmark   April 29, 2006 at 11:29PM
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lacey, your sandy will always be sandy, just as mine here near the shores of Lake Michigan wil always be sandy. But if enough orgnaic matter is in the soil that will hold the nutrients and moisture in that sand. By itself, sandy soil is unable to hold onto nutrients or moisture and they flow right through, but sufficient quantities of organic matter, 6 to 10 percent in the soil, will hold them and allow those to build up for future generations. You will never make loam, and probably never even sandy loam, but all you need is lots of organic matter and that is where most people fail because they simply do not add enough OM while thinking the are adding sufficient quantities. Use the simple pests I very often suggest here;
1) Structure. From that soil sample put enough of the rest to make a 4 inch level in a clear 1 quart jar, with a tight fitting lid. Fill that jar with water and replace the lid, tightly. Shake the jar vigorously and then let it stand for 24 hours. Your soil will settle out according to soil particle size and weight. A good loam will have about 1-3/4 inch (about 45%) of sand on the bottom. about 1 inch (about 25%) of silt next, about 1 inch (25%) of clay above that, and about 1/4 inch (about 5%) of organic matter on the top.
2) Drainage. Dig a hole 1 foot square and 1 foot deep and fill that with water. After that water drains away refill the hole with more water and time how long it takes that to drain away. Anything less than 2 hours and your soil drains too quickly and needs more organic matter to slow that drainage down. Anything over 6 hours and the soil drains too slowly and needs lots of organic matter to speed it up.

3) Tilth. Take a handful of your slightly damp soil and squeeze it tightly. When the pressure is released the soil should hold together in that clump, but when poked with a finger that clump should fall apart.

4) Smell. What does your soil smell like? A pleasant, rich earthy odor? Putrid, offensive, repugnant odor? The more organic matter in your soil the more active the soil bacteria will be and the nicer you soil will smell.

5) Life. How many earthworms per shovel full were there? 5 or more indicates a pretty healthy soil. Fewer than 5, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, indicates a soil that is not healthy.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2006 at 6:58AM
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