Using Bone Meal For Plants? Risky – Use This Instead

Bone Meal For Plants
Fungi magnified 2500 times – cool, right?

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 the 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 does 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 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.

38 Comments

  1. Goatlady on January 18, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    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?

    • Phil on January 18, 2011 at 6:30 pm

      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.

  2. Franck on March 5, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    Phil,Any links you may have to buy those products? I started to google it anf found a zillion with lots different fungi.ThanksFranck

    • Acelticgrl on May 13, 2011 at 11:11 am

      Look for product called Myke’s or Espoma (brand) named Bio-tone. Myke’s is a higher concentration. 

  3. Veggie Gardener on August 4, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    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

    • Phil on August 4, 2011 at 2:51 pm

      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.

  4. Sam on November 19, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    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?

    • Phil on November 19, 2011 at 2:49 pm

      Hi Sam, do you really want me to explain to you why trees don’t grow in oceans?

  5. liquid mineral on December 5, 2011 at 4:57 am

    This information is extensively useful that why i would like to appreciate your efforts for writing this blog as it genuinely represents the quality information …….above all so many people have commented on this blog which is a good thing to have a view point of the visitors…/////what a great blog

  6. andrea on December 10, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    sounds like sam and veggie gardener would benefit from an organic master gardener course!

  7. Lauren on May 16, 2012 at 6:08 pm

    What about porcine blood & bone meal?

    • Phil on May 18, 2012 at 9:19 pm

      Hi Lauren, good question. I’m not sure about pig b&b meal.

  8. Wzwicke on June 12, 2012 at 1:23 am

    I bought some bone meal and Im gonna try it and see what happens

  9. Lokikatt on September 18, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    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!

    • Phil on October 2, 2012 at 10:12 pm

      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.

      • Rick on October 15, 2012 at 11:40 am

         Why not just use plain rock phosphate?

        • Phil on October 16, 2012 at 4:28 pm

          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.

  10. Dr Dirt on November 3, 2012 at 12:39 am

    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.

    • Phil on November 3, 2012 at 2:28 pm

      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.

  11. pattyklpn on January 26, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    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?

    • Phil on January 30, 2013 at 5:45 pm

      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

  12. LauRan DW on May 15, 2015 at 3:23 pm

    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

    • Phil on May 16, 2015 at 12:27 pm

      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.

  13. Kathy on September 30, 2015 at 9:22 pm

    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?

  14. Korean_Vet on March 21, 2016 at 8:40 pm

    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”-!

  15. Alexis on September 8, 2016 at 4:03 pm

    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?

    • Phil on September 9, 2016 at 4:17 pm

      Sounds like it may be worth it for you. Just don’t breathe in the dust (stand upwind when you apply it).

      • Alexis on September 9, 2016 at 9:39 pm

        Thank you

  16. Donna on October 2, 2016 at 5:20 pm

    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.

    • Phil on October 3, 2016 at 12:30 am

      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.

      • Donna on October 3, 2016 at 8:57 am

        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.

        • Phil on October 3, 2016 at 10:42 pm

          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.

          • Donna on October 3, 2016 at 11:18 pm

            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! 🙂



          • Phil on October 5, 2016 at 2:43 am

            Thanks for sharing Donna!



  17. Judy Leonardi on June 26, 2017 at 2:21 am

    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”.

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