Fertilization is a component of growing plants that many people hear about, but not many people understand. They know that it involves using certain chemicals, usually animal waste, to enrich the growth of plants. But how does it work? Why is it even done? And how often do you need to do it for your plants to be healthy?
Plants only need fertilizer every four to six weeks, ideally starting after they are first planted. If you have a potted plant that you bought already grown, you can still fertilize it on the same timeline. Just know that if you are looking to grow big and tall, it is better to start earlier.
But this leaves a lot of questions about fertilizer unanswered. So, consider what fertilizer actually is.
What Is Fertilizer?
Fertilization is the process of plants extracting nutrients from foreign waste products (that is, waste products that they themselves did not produce). This usually means the animal waste product, which is exactly what you think it is. From that, you can gather that fertilizer is the waste product in question.
However, some fertilizer is more than just repurposed waste product. Repurposing waste product is simply the most efficient way to make fertilizer, and certainly the easiest. There are other fertilizers, usually the ones available at the store, which are the product of advanced chemistry and are even more effective.
Can Natural Fertilizers Be Bought At A Store?
The short answer is no, but that does not mean store-bought fertilizers are without merit. The thing is that fertilizer is a naturally occurring phenomenon. It happens when animals defecate on and around plants, after which the plants convert that waste into nutrients for themselves.
Basically, animals have evolved to use all the nutrients plants don’t use, and plants have evolved to use all the nutrients that animals don’t use. It is literally the circle of life. This is why the most natural fertilizers you can find at home are the leftovers of making food, but not the food itself.
Store-bought fertilizers are the product of ingenious chemistry that simply does not take place in the natural world. They use things to boost the health of plants that the plants themselves have never encountered, meaning that the plants are receptive to it, but have no natural way of being exposed to it.
Ultimately, this is a good thing and necessary. It just also means that it is probably not what you are looking to use if you are growing houseplants on your windowsill.
Are There Fertilizers You Can Make At Home?
Yes, and they do not even require you to repurpose waste. The two easiest options are using “pasta water” and using clippings from other plants. You need mac and cheese for one, and an extra plant for the other.
Food waste is the easiest to use to fertilize house plants as it is easily the most common. If you want to start with something simple, here is a little exercise you can do: First, make some mac and cheese. This is the only time you are going to see any exercise begin with that sentence, so savor it.
Making mac and cheese involves boiling the macaroni in some water, and then straining it to separate the water from the macaroni. When you do this though, do not let the water go down the drain. You see, that water now has a bunch of different things in it, including some forms of microscopic life.
Everything in the world has bacteria on it. This might sound alarming, but it is the truth. Just as true is the fact that most of this bacteria is not harmful to humans, and that which is harmful to humans is pretty easily dealt with. Dried macaroni has bacteria on it, as well as still-living wheat cells. These are separated out when boiling.
When they are separated out, they go into the water. The water becomes a soup of all manner of tiny lifeforms and the waste product of these lifeforms. It is, essentially, a little ecosystem teeming with life. This is exactly the kind of thing your plants love to extract nutrients from. Wait for that water to cool, then use it on your plants.
What you will see is that your plants will be super-charged by that water. It will have all the advantages of watering them normally, as well as a degree of the advantages of fertilizing your plants. This method will work with any pasta, so whenever you make mac and cheese, spaghetti, ramen, whatever, you can use this.
Now, this is not to say that this manner of fertilization is as effective as store-bought fertilizer. But store-bought fertilizer is far from a “natural” solution, and it can be extremely expensive. You are not going to be able to feed the world off of plants fertilized with pasta water, but you will help your plant’s health tremendously.
Using plant clippings requires the presence of at least two different plants, and generally is more effective the more kinds of plants you have. You will notice that the leaves of your plants wilt and fall away as naturally as the tides. While this can be a sign of poor health, usually it just happens like humans clipping their nails.
The thing is, those wilted leaves also have living matter still in them. Not only that, but it is healthier for your plant if you cut them off sooner rather than later. And the sooner you cut them off, the more living matter is in them. You might be able to tell where this is going: Cut off those wilted leaves and make use of them!
Imagine you have three different plants (though I am sure you do not have to imagine). Start by clipping off the wilted leaves from each of them. Now, you should have clippings from Plant A, Plant B, and Plant C. Simply put the clippings from A into B, B into C, and C into A. Now they can all make use of each other’s nutrients.
Plants actually do this on their own and it is not impossible for them to use their own clippings as sources of nourishment. However, they can get more out of it if you use clippings from other plants. This works on the same principle as crop rotation, which makes use of certain plants’ tendencies to extract only certain nutrients.