Container Fertilizers--Any acceptable conventional products?

kristimamaApril 4, 2011

Hi all,

I haven't posted in a long time, but Justaguy and Al in particular, please don't laugh too hard at my question (since I've traditionally been so headstrong about using organics only in my containers).

The truth is, I'm considering going over to the "dark side" and using something non-organic in my many containers. I'm still 100% organic in the ground, but am realizing that my potted citrus in particular need some extra help this Spring after an extraordinarily frosty and wet winter here in the Bay Area.

I'm wondering, from you Organic folks, what brands of conventional fertilizers (in particular the time released products) you may have tried for your containers. (I know from the container boards that some of you who garden organically in the ground also use more conventional approaches for containers. Would love to get your words of wisdom here.)

I don't know any of the brands or any of the products out there. I tend to have a knee jerk negative reaction to anything owned by Scotts and Miracle Grow (yes, I can own my own crazy politics)... and I need some honest education here about my options and even the lingo.

I don't want something that I'm spraying or applying with great frequency, so I think some sort of time released product would be the place to start. I only know the term osmocote, and I use it like the word "kleenex" and I"m sure there are dozens of "osmocote-like" products out there.

Also, I'm not looking to get the best and most beautiful priced specimen citrus plants... I'm just looking to green them up primarily (and secondarily, of course, is blooms and fruit, but I was getting that already with organics.)

I'm also looking for something with a relatively small impact on the environment ( I realize this is a loaded issue) and something that is a good all purpose ratio, so that I can throw one product into most of my potted plants.

I truly appreciate any information from other organic enthusiasts about what they are (or would be) comfortable with when choosing a conventional product for containers (most of which for me are edibles).



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Bearing in mind that it is not an organic product (with the understanding that organics in a container gardening situation are not the most reliable and efficient source of plant nutrients), I use Osmocote Plus when planting any woody or non-seasonal plant in a container. The 12 nutrients it provides are released over a period of 6 months, so on any kind of permanent or long term container planting, I refresh each year at the start of the growing season or whenever I repot.

For seasonal/annual plantings or for supplementation, I use DynaGro liquid all-purpose fert (7-9-5) that includes a range of trace elements also. This is a very popular product for a lot of container gardeners (visit the CG forum for confirmation). MiracleGro works very similarly but lacks the trace elements......this may or may not be a factor when fertilizing only a seasonal planting.

You may find a combination of a timed release fert (like Osmocote) supplemented with occasional liquid fertilizer applications (like the DynaGro) will provide the best results for you.

btw, Osmocote is the most widely available and widely used timed-release fertilizer for consumers (Osmocote in its commercial forumlations is also the most widely used product of commercial growers). But it is also owned by the Scotts/MiracleGro company. FWIW, Scotts/MG is not necessarily a bad guy :-) Just a horticultural products megacorp that has recently acquired a substantial number of smaller, similar companies with some less than popular brand identification (i.e., MiracleGro, RoundUp, etc.). Doesn't necessarily mean they are out to destroy the planet :-))

When used properly in a container gardening situation, there is minimal concern of any fertilizer - regardless of source - having a negative impact on the environment. While leaching will and does occur with the frequent watering container gardening requires, if the product is applied correctly and responsibly (i.e., any liquid fertilizer applied weakly, weekly), it is of minimal significance.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2011 at 12:08PM
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Dan Staley

I pretty much do the same as GG, with a clay-based weak addition in the top few inches. Far easier than struggling with products that depend on biological activity to work.


    Bookmark   April 6, 2011 at 3:57PM
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I've attached a link to the Container Gardening forum discussion of this topic. It includes a pretty nice outline of the science behind container fertilization which could help you with your decisions.

Here is a link that might be useful: fertilizer program for container plants

    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 10:07AM
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Can't agree with the assessment of Scotts/MG as a benign corporate entity. Here's what Pesticide Action Network had to say when Bush's EPA director joined Scotts a few months ago:

The New York Times is reporting that Stephen Johnson, head of the Environmental Protection Agency under Bush, has joined the board of directors of Scotts Miracle-Gro. The company is the world's largest producer of chemicals for the lawn care and garden sectors."

"Not that this should come as a shock -- we've long noted the cozy relationships between agencies like EPA and the companies they're supposed to regulate. And the EPA under Johnson was particularly friendly to the pesticide industry. Some examples:"

* Johnson allowed the continued use of neurotoxic organophosphate insecticides, despite objections from the Agency's own scientists. A letter from the scientists' unions to Johnson complained that, "Our colleagues in the Pesticide Program feel besieged by political pressure exerted by Agency officials perceived to be too closely aligned with the pesticide industry and former EPA officials now representing the pesticide and agricultural community...."
* In 2007, he gave the green light to methyl iodide, a highly toxic, carcinogenic new soil fumigant promoted by Arysta Lifesciences. Prior to his decision, more than 50 prominent scientists including five Nobel Laureates sent Johnson a letter urging him to reject Arysta's proposal. He ignored them and signed off on methyl iodide. Just a year before, the head of Arysta's North American division had been installed as EPA Region 10 Administrator.

Johnson's tenure at EPA was so ruinous that an editorial in Nature titled "The EPA's tailspin" warned that "The director of the ... Agency is sabotaging both himself and his agency," and several Democrats called for his resignation.

A few years later and it seems that Scotts has rewarded Johnson for a job well done defending the pesticide industry � and that the warnings sounded by scientists about pressures exerted by "former EPA officials now representing the pesticide and agricultural community..." remain just as relevant today.

Well played, Scotts.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 5:59PM
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Dan Staley

Feel free to recommend a fertilizer for the OP instead of ululating and rending your garments. Rending is not helpful. Recommending is.


    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 9:38PM
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Sorry Dan, I find your multiple snarky posts every day on GW unhelpful, wish there was a block function just for you. But the OP asked for acceptable conventional fertilizers, one measure of acceptability to consumers is spending their money with companies they do or don't want to support. I don't consider Scotts/MG an environmentally friendly or sustainable firm, so I gave one example why.

I think Jobe's organic fruit & citrus granular is good. Nothing wrong with compost tea during citrus growth flushes either.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2011 at 1:36AM
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Know the truth about your hydroponics nutrients. You are not given the proper hydroponics nutirents for what you are paying.

Click the URL to Reveal the truth which I truly believe you have all the rights to know whats really in the product you are paying for.

Here is a link that might be useful: Shocking News About Hydroponics Nutrients

    Bookmark   April 14, 2011 at 2:20AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Hi, Kristi. It HAS been a while! ;-) You know I wouldn't laugh at you, but I'm glad you're taking a second look at your nutritional supplementation program. It might be a good idea to revisit what you're doing a little more holistically, so we can see if maybe some of your problems are related to other issues - like pH for example .... or even nutritional antagonisms.

I agree with Pam and Dan. I tend to look at things from the perspective of what's easiest & what works best. Call me over-simple because I tend to eliminate the political and ideological aspects of growing my little patch of green stuff, but all I care about is what works. There are a lot bigger problems for me to wrestle with than whether or not the pound or two of fertilizer I use in a season comes from a nonrenewable source. For those who DO care, that's fine, I leave room for them and hope they leave room for me - it's only fair.

It's hard to argue against the ease/efficiency/results of using soluble products as nutrient sources for container culture. They're simply easier and allow a greater margin for error. They're available immediately when you apply them, and you know exactly what and how much your plants are getting. Since we know that an excess of any one nutrient can be as limiting as a deficiency, depending on organic sources of nutrients that depend on soil organisms to break them down into elemental form that plants can assimilate virtually ensures excesses and/or deficiencies which we know to be limiting.

If you're considering a controlled release product, Dynamite in the green container (18-6-8) is fairly readily available and is a good product. It has the macros in a favorable ratio (except Ca, and that can be fixed) and has all the minors likely to be deficient in container media. Personally, I like the control afforded by regular applications of Foliage-Pro 9-3-6.


    Bookmark   April 19, 2011 at 5:19PM
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Alaska Fish Fert. Or a cold pressed type is better but AFF works good for potts and its cheap. Purchase both grow 5-1-1 and bloom 0-10-10 it works good for what you want.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2011 at 3:41AM
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Although many people here tell me this will not work I have for many years now used compost as the growing medium in the containers we have, just compost and nothing else. Peat moss is a non renewable resource and the harvesting of it is not sustainable. Coir requires large amounts of non renewable energy to get from where its at to where we are, and might be better used there. Finely ground bark might be okay but does need nutrient supplements (as does peat moss) that should not be derived from non renewable resources. All synthetic fertilizers are made from non renewable resources and some "organic" nutrients are also or depend on large amounts of non renewable resources.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2011 at 7:04AM
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I really like how kimmsr is thinking.^ We need to switch to sustainable agriculture for the better of the planet.
If you where to plant in pure compost that compost should contain a good amount of stick material for drainage and not be too strong.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2011 at 10:51PM
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Not to get into a debate about sustainability, specifically the sustainability of peat moss, but the way kimmsr thinks is simply no longer supportable. And the inappropriateness of compost as a container medium is well documented. It continues to decompose and compact and as a result, loses porosity and impacts proper drainage. And while compost IS a nutrient source, it is not a reliably consistent nutrient source.

kristimama is well-advised to follow recommendations for soluble ferts for container culture. They are just the most efficient and reliable method of delivering necessary nutrients under any container growing situation.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2011 at 11:37AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I agree with Pam.

About peat:

Here is a reply I often leave when the non-renewable thing comes up:

"Sorry, but I'm not buying the non-renewable lament. In Canada alone, there are more than 270 million acres of harvestable peat bogs. If we make the conservative guess that the harvestable portions of these bogs are 10 feet deep, that means there are probably more than 900 billion cu. ft. available for harvest, just in Canada! That doesn't even take into consideration what's available in Europe, Asia, or places like New Zealand where they also mine peat, or those bogs that are NOT considered harvestable. Canada currently has mining/harvesting operations underway on approximately 40 thousand acres or about .014% (that reads 14 one thousandths of 1 percent)."

Check the math - it's accurate and conservative. It's more likely that the next ice age will be upon us and glaciers will have covered what's available before we even use a noticeable percentage.

Renewable/non-renewable = moot.


    Bookmark   April 26, 2011 at 12:27PM
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I see what you are saying here but.....You are not looking at the bigger picture that peat is home to much insect/life so...the peat is not the prob. Then the fuel it take to move that around thats 40k acers of homelss wildlife....But you are right it is more likely an ice age will accure and that will all be gone anyway.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2011 at 1:28AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I think I AM looking at the big picture. ;-)

BTW - Peat is largely STERILE, antifungal, and home to very little insect life for that reason ...... and we're thinking the carbon footprint involved with grinding and transporting coir and CHCs from Sri Lanka to your potting bench is somehow less than that of peat?

Practically everything we do steals habitat from wildlife if you chase cause & effect far enough. Mowing your lawn keeps the trees from growing for the woodland creatures - clearing farmland so your family can eat also displaces wildlife - building a road - a school for the kids ...... The size of Canada is said to be about 2,466,614,400 acres. That's 2.5 BILLION acres with ALL the peat harvesting going on within what would be an 8 mile square. I have no trouble living with that, but YMMV.


    Bookmark   April 29, 2011 at 2:58PM
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Dan Staley

I generally as a rule defer to Al, but peat bogs are not only important carbon sinks (the largest soil C pool) but have interesting biodiversity as well. Just because the compounds present can render sterility in some instances, that doesn't mean the ecosystem is sterile. Plenty of insects up there, as well as other invertebrates and small vertebrates (+ birds) as well. [/ecologist hat]

And I highly doubt committed container gardeners try all compost in their containers more than once.


    Bookmark   April 29, 2011 at 5:24PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I guess I wasn't very clear - sorry about that .... I think our MG was talking about harvested peat and not the peat bog proper. Harvested peat is pretty much considered sterile (the living moss used through the ages as a wound dressing) because it's low pH inhibits the growth of many micro-organisms (probably why it's so widely used in seed starting media) and is usually very nearly totally devoid of any insect life.

I hope that's easier to agree with. ;-)


    Bookmark   April 29, 2011 at 8:40PM
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Dan Staley

...maybe I have to work on being less literal in these forums while I work on this paper...


    Bookmark   April 29, 2011 at 10:39PM
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I see now. There is alot of peat and we wont touch nearly that much.

So we dont get of subject I have found some very good organic nuitrients that I have to try myself. General Hydroponics makes an all vegan organic blend called General Organics. It could be the best of both worlds.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2011 at 1:21AM
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If one simply accepts the industries position without thinking about it then one will conclude that there are ample researves of peat moss available. But, if one actually looks into it and thinks about that sustainaibility you will conclude that the harvesting of peat moss is not sustainable and that peat moss is a non renewable resource. the link below is one of many you can find that will help people with open minds.

Here is a link that might be useful: sustainability of peat moss

    Bookmark   April 30, 2011 at 6:12AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I read it and it really is nothing but an editorial opinion piece that meshes nicely with the mindset of the magazine's readers - no surprise there. If you read her last paragraph/summary, you'll clearly see what she "thinks"; and I think anyone that takes the time to reason through it as I did instead of taking some one's obviously biased opinion as gospel, will see that we can easily afford to sacrifice 14 one thousandths of 1% of what's considered harvestable in just Canada - and that doesn't even take into consideration the incalculably vast reserves that AREN'T considered harvestable.

That's sort of like having a train 100 miles long filled with corn & thinking anyone would notice if a kernel went missing.


    Bookmark   April 30, 2011 at 3:25PM
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Yes Al is very right. Harvesting peat is way down on the list.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2011 at 1:02PM
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Looks like your post has been hijacked. We use lots of compost and compost teas as well as good old fish emulsion. We do this in our raised beds and in our containers. For non eating type flowers I think that osmocoat product is a good time released product but I don't think its organic, but I may be wrong?

    Bookmark   May 1, 2011 at 8:31PM
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prestons_garden(9B SZ 22 HZ 6 SoCal)


billy_b and I will save you from the hijackers.

I use liquid fish and seaweed which works great, just take a look at the photos and judge for yourself.


    Bookmark   May 9, 2011 at 12:44AM
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Non-conventional.....crack three eggs in the pot every three or so weeks and stir it in a little. I have experimented many times showing eggs to be just a touch less effective than MG. On another note....the extended feeding ferts by Scott's et al. are only time-released with respect to nitrogen via the coated my knowledge....and thinking the time-release is based on water contact. The rest of the fert blend is just micronutruients and a regular fert chemicals. I believe the only exception is Osmocote, and I don't know the manufacturing process there, but don't think that Osmocote has any micronutrients....would need to check the label.

Btw, IMO, the ferts out there are pretty much the same chemicals acquired and blended based on supply and cost...nothing new. I can say that the water soluble inorganice blends, i.e. Miracle Gro, have some better quality ingredients for better solubility.....

    Bookmark   May 9, 2011 at 3:14PM
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Yes Fish fert has it all in it. It is the best!!!

    Bookmark   May 10, 2011 at 3:02PM
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Isn't that the whole reason why you grow your own food?
Because you KNOW what you put in it.

I would suggest before you switch to chemical nutes try a product called Insect Frass made by Organic Nutrients.

I use it along with a Nitrogen fixing bacteria.
I like Azos from xtreme gardening.

I have been using it for a couple seasons now and I must say.
This stuff makes organic gardening EASY!

I just premix my potting soil with 1 cup frass per gallon soil and water.
Thats pretty much it.

The insect frass is basically pure insect poop.

Insect Frass is also a Chitin source.
I like it better than crab meal because insect chitin is non-calcified, so it doesn't take a whole season to break down.

You could probably get it at your local specialty gardening supply or hydro shop.

You can also buy it on the website

    Bookmark   May 12, 2011 at 2:55AM
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What are you growing in containers? Just citrus?

    Bookmark   May 12, 2011 at 3:04AM
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Hey those are some Beautiful blueberries!

How do you water them? Tap water?

If so, do you have any tips for watering with hard water and keeping acidity down?

Ive been thinking about using captured rain water to water the blues, but after looking at how nasty my roof runoff was, I got nervous.

Sorry for the hijack ;)

    Bookmark   May 12, 2011 at 3:16AM
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You need to let the tap declorinate in a large tub/barrel.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2011 at 12:05AM
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prestons_garden(9B SZ 22 HZ 6 SoCal)


I use tap water and elemental sulfur to keep my pH down.
My blueberries are grown in containers which makes it very easy to control my pH.

Theres nothing that beats rain water..

    Bookmark   May 14, 2011 at 10:41PM
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