Bone meal is a mixture of crushed and coarsely ground bones that is used as an organic fertilizer for plants and formerly in animal feed. As a slow-release fertilizer, bone meal is primarily used as a source of phosphorus.
Bone meal once was often used as a human dietary calcium supplement. Research in the 1980s found that many bone meal preparations were contaminated with lead and other toxic metals, and it is no longer recommended as a calcium source.
As a fertilizer, the N-P-K ratio of bone meal is generally 4-12-0, though some steamed bone meals have N-P-Ks of 1-13-0. Bone meal is also an excellent organic source of calcium.
Organic fertilizers usually require the use of microbes/bacteria in the soil in order to make the nutrients in the fertilizer bio-available. That can result in irregular release of phosphorus/calcium. In sterile potting soil, there may be no microbes to release the nutrients.
Finely ground bone meal may provide quicker release than coarsely ground.
Phosphates do not easily pass through soil. So mixing the bone meal with the soil or putting it in the planting hole can help.
Bone meal is frequently used in preparing holes for blooming bulbs, for the phosphorus. It may help tomato plants prevent blossom end rot. However, blossom end rot can happen even though sufficient calcium is present if watering is irregular. High phosphorus fertilizers are also useful for transplant root growth.
Traditional Bone Meal is a valuable shrub fertilizer used in plant establishment - for roses, bulbs, pre-seeding new lawns, and annual renewal of herbaceous plants. Bone meal is a long lasting 'organic fertilizer' too.
More than a shrub fertilizer - bone meal is also:
- Kind to emerging seedlings,
- An amendment for acid soils,
- Benefits bulbs and root crops,
- Sterilized and widely used by gardeners,
Where to use Bone Meal in your garden:
- When planting shrubs and trees - ensures strong root growth so your plants are well-established. See quantities below for bone meal mixed into the back fill and sprinkled around the planting hole. It is often recommended for use with roses.
- Rake in before seeding/planting/turfing new lawns. Supports strong root growth for healthy drought resistant lawns. Best applied well before the growing season and before grass cutting.
- My choice of fertilizer when planting new perennials or after dividing them. Mixed into soil and watered in with new plants in late summer it helps them make strong roots then leaves come spring. A nitrogen fertilizer in The Fall would be no good.
Proprietary composts used for seed sowing often seem low in nutrients. Try mixing bone meal into homemade or bought in seed composts a few weeks before sowing seed. It's kind on new seedling roots.
When it comes to planting out greens and flowers fish, blood and bone is probably better.
- Depending on the brand, bonemeal contains phosphates (P2O5) in amounts ranging from 10 percent to 13 percent. (On fertilizer packages, phosphorus [P] is the second element listed in the series of three, with nitrogen [N] coming first and potassium [K] coming last.) Some brands of bonemeal also contain up to 4 percent nitrogen.
- A natural organic fertilizer, bonemeal generally is recommended for bulbs and roses but can be used in just about any situation where a controlled-release form of phosphorus is needed. Because the nutrients from bonemeal and other slow-release fertilizers are insoluble in water, they must be converted to a form that plants can use. This takes time, so you shouldn’t expect an immediate response when using bonemeal.
- Other sources of organic phosphorus include rock phosphates and colloidal phosphates. Both are relatively expensive and can be difficult to find. If you can find rock phosphates that list on the packaging a guaranteed analysis of the nutrient content, then using these according to directions is fine. I do not recommend using colloidal phosphates because their fine particles make them difficult to apply.
- Cheaper synthetic alternatives offer high levels of phosphorus that are more immediately available to plants. However, super phosphates (0–20–0) and treble super phosphates (0–46–0) are made by treating minerals with acid and aren’t considered natural or organic.
- Bulb Booster, a complete fertilizer (9–9–6) with some controlled-release forms of essential nutrients, is another alternative. This may be the most economical way to go when fertilizing bulbs because you would only need to apply one fertilizer once a year.
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