Using Bone Meal For Plants? Risky – Use This Instead
What you use instead of bone meal for plants depends on how much effort you want to put into this, but the cost isn’t much and neither is the time.
There are 3 products I generally use when planting in my organic garden.
I’ve already discussed the risks of using bone meal.
These alternatives are in order of importance, in my opinion, so if you just want to keep it simple, use the first.
Update: 3 years after writing this article, I decided to start selling these products, since I’ve used them so successfully myself. I’ve put links to them down below so you can learn more.
1. Mycorrhizal fungi are a very specific class of fungi that wrap around and penetrate plant roots and form a relationship whereby both the fungi and the plants benefit.
They’re incredibly important for plant health and are believed to have been critical in the evolution of trees. They are a big deal in the organic gardening world.
They do a lot of things but are often specifically credited with bringing phosphorus to plant roots, which is a good thing because plants have a difficult time getting phosphorus out of the soil since it is held very tightly.
These fungi can actually supply more phosphorus than using bone meal for plants because the plant can actually obtain and use the phosphorus.
Mycorrhizal fungi also bring water and other trace minerals to the plant, in addition to helping to protect the plant from root-feeding microbes. The fungi do all of this work for the plant in exchange for food from the plant.
Mycorrhizal fungi are found everywhere in nature but are often lacking in our residential gardens. Fortunately, they can be purchased as a powder and should be applied directly to the roots or seed or in the planting hole whenever you are planting. They can also be watered into porous soils and is often used after aeration of turf.
Instead of using bone meal for plants, I always use mycorrhizal fungi in my organic garden.
2. Sea minerals is a very concentrated, mineral-rich ocean water from the Pacific Ocean. It is so full of nutrients and life that it is the most incredible broad-spectrum product to spray directly on your plants and soil.
There has been a lot of research and the benefits are unbelievable. This is often my first choice for an organic biostimulant.
3. Liquid seaweed is different. It has many of the same nutrients as sea minerals, but you want to use it for its natural plant growth regulators that stimulate many processes in plants.
Although the nutrients are beneficial, it’s really all about the regulators. Regular applications improve many aspects of plant growth.
Organic Planting Recipe
When planting anything from annuals to trees, I am no longer using bone meal for plants.
Instead, I like to make a recipe in a pail and then briefly dip the roots of each plant into it, or spray it onto the rootball.
Here’s a recipe per 1 gallon of water, and it can be adjusted according to the size of the pail. Mix the first 3 ingredients in one pail and after dipping the plant, rub the fungi onto the roots separately.
Amounts will change depending on the product you buy. Make sure you get products allowed in organic gardening and follow the instructions on the label.
- Water – 1 gallon
- Sea Minerals – 5 Tbsp
- Liquid seaweed – 5 Tbsp
- Endo/Ectomycorrhizal Fungi – 5 ml per plant/15 ml per tree
(All of my products are available here.)
Feel free to post any questions below about these ingredients.
I read that mf doesn’t benefit cole crops, is there any other vegetable(how about fruits like berries) that can’t benefit from it?
I used to know this stuff better than I do now, but I do recall the beet (Chenopodiaceae) and kale (Brassicaceae) families don’t form mycorrhizalassocations, and the blueberry (Ericaceae) family needs very specificspecies of fungi that aren’t included in general inoculants, although youcan find them as specialty inoculants.
Phil,Any links you may have to buy those products? I started to google it anf found a zillion with lots different fungi.ThanksFranck
Look for product called Myke’s or Espoma (brand) named Bio-tone. Myke’s is a higher concentration.
this guys nuts…. bonemeal’s just fine, just use dust particle mask soil microbes love bone & blood meal. Jamaican bat guano or peruvian sea guano they r awesome but expensive compared to bone meal>> mycro>fungi isn’t phosphorous lol
You’re right – microbes love blood and bone meal. That’s not the problem. You might enjoy doing some research into BSE. Thanks for the comment, though. I also agree that bat guano is good. I would use it if I lived in Peru, but it doesn’t make much sense to ship it up to North America.
Using sea water will cause damage to your soil and plants… if not then why do we not see lots of trees growing in the oceans of the world?
Hi Sam, do you really want me to explain to you why trees don’t grow in oceans?
I disagree with sea water is going to ruin plants
My nation used this sea water to water there gardens for years and never rinsed seaweed of salt or sand. There garden beds were always full and lush
They even watered there vegetables back in the day when plants were grown in the sandy beaches
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sounds like sam and veggie gardener would benefit from an organic master gardener course!
What about porcine blood & bone meal?
Hi Lauren, good question. I’m not sure about pig b&b meal.
I bought some bone meal and Im gonna try it and see what happens
ive done some research on Mycorrhizal fungi, and its a very complex. there are hunderds of species and can be very plant specific. how can we find out what species are beneficial to what plants. ive also done some experiments between broad spectrum Mycorrhizal fungi and without. ive actually found plant deformaties in the Mycorrhizal fungi treated plants, ie: deformed leaves smaller plants ect, compared to non treated. any info would be greatly apreciated. ps sory for the long post!
It’s generally best to buy a good quality product that has a mixture of species, such as those put out my Mycorrhizal Applications. The Glomus genus has a few species that are fairly universal and should be included in a good mix.I can’t speak much to your tests, except to ask what product you used and what kind of plants you applied it to. There are plenty of bad myc products out there, but unless it included some other weird ingredients, I’m very surprised it caused a negative reaction.
Why not just use plain rock phosphate?
Yes, that’s my choice for phosphorus, preferably soft rock. The issue there is that we’re somewhere around peak phosphorus on this planet (like peak oil), so we really need to start recycling all manure and other sources of P.
Interesting suggestions. Mycorrhizal fungi will help the plants pull out the P that is already in the soil, but can’t dissolve P that isn’t there. Kelp and sea minerals will be good sources of potassium and micronutrients, but I don’t think either of them will actually provide much phosphorus. They should all work quite well if you didn’t need extra P anyway.
Thanks, yes, you’re absolutely right on all points. When I wrote this article, I wasn’t thinking about alternative phosphorus sources as much as beneficial products people can use while planting. To me, it’s more important to bring in broad-spectrum nutrition when planting than arbitrarily bringing in phosphorus.But indeed, for phosphorus, there are much better sources like rock phosphate and urine and manure.
I have a bare spot in my garden, it is about 10 x 8 ‘. Seeds dont like to sprout &if they do the plants are spindly &die off quickly. Any suggestions?
Here are some ideas:-if the soil is visibly poor, amend it with lots of compost-test it for pesticide residue or other toxins-build a raised bed
Can I add these after planting…its a bit late for my crops. I’m a first time allotment-er so I am still learning
Yes, you can add them all after planting. The first one can be watered into the soil. The second two should be sprayed onto leaves regularly – I do it monthly.
My supplier for my planting garlic recommends planting with bone meal as a source of phosphorus. Are any of the 3 better for this requirement?
No, but fish bone meal is great for phosphorus, as is soft rock phosphate. They’re a little harder to find. I have the fish bone on this page: http://www.smilinggardener.com/sale/mineral-fertilizers/
In the Last 15 yrs. I’d found that a Garden Book on Flowering Bulbs–“Recommended that a approximateTable-Spoon of Regular ‘Oatmeal’ be placed in a ‘watered hole’ before placing a ‘Flower-Bulb” on top of it-!”The Reason was quite simple–So the Bulb would have something to Eat”-! Then, I found another Thing thathelped–“Was to mix a Table-Spoon of Epson-Salts into an Empty-Plastic Gal of Milk Carton filled with Water & Pour 1/4 cup of water over the Bulb after you covered it with Soil-! This same thing can be done with any Potted Plants also-! It perks them Up-! I’ve also read that you can plant an Onion nearby a Rosebush & it discourages Rose-Pests-! All 3 of these Things are ‘Non-Poisonous’ to Animals & Humans-! I also used aRasp to grind-up Chicken-Bones-! I’ve also used slices of Rotten–Bananas Buried next to Rose-Bushes forPhosphorus-! For Simple Uses–that seem to help plants–Try It–You’ll Like It-! DDT was found to be Quite”Dangerous” to Bugs, Eagles, Animals & Humans–“Beware of What You Spray On Any Plant, Tree, or Bush”-!
Willow water is an excellent rooting hormone and so easy to make. It really does stop newly transplanted trees/plants going into shock.
I am told bone meal granular sprinkled on grass deters rabbits from decimating my front lawn. I tried it and it worked for nearly 2 months. We have a rabbit infestation where I live.Now I am worried about using it.Thoughts?
Sounds like it may be worth it for you. Just don’t breathe in the dust (stand upwind when you apply it).
Hi, I’m struggling to find any kind of list of ingredients for any mycorrhizal products available online. I’m a vegan, and I just want to know the likelihood of animal products being in these mixes, i.e. as carriers or the like. Are you able to advise? Apologies if this has already been addressed; I feel like I’ve been all over the internet with this question today!Thanks.
I’m not sure if any products use bone meal or something like that as a carrier, but I doubt it. I know mine doesn’t have any animal products because I’ve asked the manufacturer.
Many thanks for your reply Phil. That’s good to know that I can go ahead and buy it from you; I’ve tried contacting a couple of uk suppliers too, which would be better for air miles, so I’ll wait to see if they reply first. Thanks again.
Darn, I can’t ship to the UK. I wouldn’t worry too much though – they should all be vegan. Please let me know if you learn something different.
That’s ok Phil, I’ve had a positive response from one of the UK companies I contacted.A representative from Symbio, a company based in Surrey, England, responded that in their Transplanter mix, their:”Mycorrhizal fungi are on a mineral support… There are also fungi and bacteria in the product which are grown on wheat germ… The base of the product is Zeolite which is also a mineral.”So I’m just going to go ahead and get that one.For information, the other company I contacted was Rootgrow, based in Kent, England. A representative there replied to my query that there was:” a very small amount of bio-additives in our product including hoof and horn. The percentage of hoof and horn in the rootgrow product is 0.04%”Even that tiny percentage rules the product out for me. But I thanked the representative for her time anyway. I’m happy that I can get the Symbio product. 🙂 Thanks for the conversation Phil. It’s been good to find out about all this! 🙂
Thanks for sharing Donna!
The squirrels as usual for this time of year are digging in all of my potted plants on the patio. . .I do not want to do anything that would hurt them. . .I have read so much online about things like putting bone meal or blood meal, human hair or pet hair, hot sauce or hot peppers around the top of the soil but like I said, I do not want to hurt them I just am trying to find something that they would not like the smell of . . .any suggestions????? I am a vegetarian and will not use “bone meal or blood meal”.
Here you go, Judy: https://www.smilinggardener.com/organic-pest-control/how-to-keep-squirrels-out-of-the-garden/
As u talked about replacements is sea weed fertilizer a natural source and does it enhance phosphorus levels too .is sea weed/fish emulsion are to be considered wholly organic?
Seaweed isn’t a good source of phosphorus, but fish fertilizer has some.
Why not just use Fish Bone Meal Most has a little bit of nitrogen but you get a good dose of Phosphorus ..
Hey Sharks can’t get cancer so maybe we should be inhaling these dust particles LOL jking people please do not do that lol..
Yes, fish bone meal is a good one, too.
sharks can get cancer just like every animal
Yes, they can get cancer – but rarely do.
When I put bone meal into the holes for some baby rhododendrons I was planting years ago, a local racoon dug up all of the plants to get at the bone meal, so I’ve avoided it since then for that reason, and nothing else has been dug up. Would the dirt clods among the roots of uprooted trees in the forest be a good source of mycorrhizal fungi? And if so, would the type of tree make a difference?
I live north of Toronto, Ontario, Canada….. love your sight! Interested in your products!
Can you explain using sea minerals, and making sure it doesn’t lead to root lockout? Isn’t the salt in sea water bad? Plant roots hate salts when they build up to much.
Also, is a store bought see mineral product the same as going to my beach 5 minutes away and bringing a pale home to dilute in well water?
I’m interested in using it, I just don’t fully trust it’s application yet. I think I’ll probably just have to run some personal tests next growing season because I can’t find any science to fully explain how plants deal with the salt aspect of sea water.
I think this will answer your questions: https://www.smilinggardener.com/sale/sea-minerals-fertilizer/
I use bone meal and I got so sick about an hour after. I was deathly ill for about 2 to 3 days. And don’t feel great even now.5 days later. Never been so sick. Will definitely be trying something else.
Hi –I am planting dahlia bulbs for the first time and it is commonly recommended to put in a handful of bone meal into the hole before putting in the tuber. For various reasons including animals that will be attracted I cannot use bone meal. It is primarily for high phosphorus. The bulbs cannot be wet for a while when first put in the ground as they will rot so dipping in your recipe will not be ideal for this particular application. Can I just rub the Mycorrhizal powder on the tuber or do I just put it in the hole and either way – how much per tuber? Can I put a powdered seaweed product in the hole as well and how much? Or just wait & do the seaweed and sea minerals water solution after the tuber shoots are 12″ tall? Perhaps Guano in the hole if it doesn’t burn them? Any thoughts would be appreciated. I am growing in containers with organic media that is primarily a peat moss mix with addition of worm castings, humus, biochar and rock dust and will be feeding microbes regularly. Thank you.
Just a pinch of mycorrhizal powder is all that’s needed. And probably just a pinch of powdered seaweed (you also sent me an email asking about nitrogen; seaweed usually isn’t high in nitrogen – it’s more of a broad spectrum fertilizer). I’m not sure if guano will be beneficial, at least not touching the tuber. And then yes, wait a little while to do the seaweed/sea minerals, perhaps when you start watering.
Hi Phil – Thank you for how to do this. Out of curiosity – I just noticed that there is such a thing as dry “Fish” Bone meal (3-16-0) and is OMRI certified. Do you have thoughts on this as a substitute for bovine bone meal? I like your recipe for dipping or spraying the best – it seems more gentle for absorbing for young plants and roots. But, wondering what is your take on a fish version.
Fish bone meal is excellent – no health issues there.
in re: fish bone meal: is this ocean fish or freshwater fish?
Farmed fish or wild caught fish? Sustainable?
Ocean fish bones contain a lot of fluoride.
Would this be okay for plants?
Shrimp compost is probably a safer option.
Good questions. The company doesn’t specify the type of fish used or where it’s sourced. It only states it’s derived from fish tankage. It is approved by OMNI, CDFA, and WSDA, so it’s definitely used in organic agriculture and horticulture. The WSDA publishes metals testing but it doesn’t say anything about fluoride.