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Fertilizing Herbs Naturally with Homemade Mixes

Herbs are easy to grow and use in cooking, but giving them the proper nutrition through natural fertilization is key to getting the best flavor and health. While chemical fertilizers may be tempting for their fast-acting results, fertilizing herbs naturally is a better option for your plants and the environment. The good news is, that homemade organic fertilizers are simple to whip up using ingredients you may already have at home.

Fertilizing Herbs Naturally – Why It’s Beneficial

Fertilizing Herbs Naturally

Fertilizing herbs using natural methods has some clear advantages over chemical options:

Avoid Chemical Residues

Chemical fertilizers can leave behind salts and residues that build up in the soil over time. This can damage your plants’ health by creating too-high concentrations of certain minerals. Organic fertilizers break down fully and don’t leave these harmful leftovers.

Healthier Plants

Natural organic fertilizers release nutrients more slowly over a longer period. This leads to steadier, less “feast or famine” growth. The slow and steady absorption of nutrients makes it easier for plants to process effectively. Organic fertilization methods also improve soil texture and feed the microbes and fungi that plants rely on.

Environmentally Friendly

Synthetic fertilizers can leach into groundwater and contribute to blue-green algae blooms that are harmful to ecosystems. Organic methods are much gentler on the environment. There’s no need to worry about pollution, toxicity to people or wildlife, or other unintended consequences.

Best Natural Fertilizers for Herbs

Many organic amendments make excellent herb fertilizers. Here are some top choices:

Compost and Manure

Compost and Manure
Credit: Oregon State University | License details

Composted manure provides a complete package of macronutrients plants need – nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK). Compost alone also supplies micronutrients like magnesium, calcium, and iron. Work aged manure or compost into the soil before planting at a rate of 2-3 inches mixed into the top 6 inches of soil. Compost and manure tea can also be used.

Fish Emulsion

This fertilizer is made from fish waste and provides fast-acting nitrogen and micronutrients. The fishy odor dissipates quickly once applied. Dilute fish emulsion concentrate 5:1 with water and apply monthly as a foliar feed during the growing season.

Worm Castings

Worm Castings
Credit: Sippakorn Yamkasikorn

The nutrient-rich excrement of worms, AKA vermicompost, is very gentle on plant roots. It contains more beneficial microbes than regular compost. Mix worm castings into potting soil before planting or side dress established plants with 1 inch of castings monthly.

Bone Meal

A source of phosphorus and calcium made from ground animal bones. Sprinkle 2-4 tablespoons per square foot of bone meal into planting holes or mix 1 cup per cubic foot of potting soil. It provides long-term fertilization and helps produce bountiful herbs.

Seaweed and Kelp

Dried seaweed and kelp provide potassium, magnesium, iron, and other trace elements. They come in meal form to mix into soil or liquids to use in foliar sprays. Kelp meal can be added to soil, while liquid kelp is ideal for foliar feeding every 2-4 weeks.

Making Homemade Herbal Fertilizers

With a few simple ingredients from your kitchen, compost bin, or garden, you can easily whip up powerful organic fertilizers:

Compost Tea

Place a shovelful of finished compost into a burlap sack and steep it in a 5-gallon bucket of water for 2-3 weeks. Agitate the bag occasionally. The resulting “tea” contains nutrients and beneficial microbes. Use it to water soil around herbs or as a foliar spray.

Manure Tea

Like compost tea, manure soaked in water releases nutrients. For best results, aerate manure tea by bubbling air through it. Use within a day of brewing to prevent pathogens from growing. Dilute manure tea 2:1 before applying.

Banana Peel “Tea”

Bananas contain good amounts of potassium, an important nutrient for herbs. Steep peels from 2-3 bananas in 1 gallon of water for 1-2 weeks. Apply the potassium-rich liquid around the base of plants.

Coffee Grounds

Used coffee grounds contain nitrogen, potassium, and other minerals. Put grounds in an old sock and steep in a bucket of water for 24 hours to make “coffee bag tea.” Apply it to the soil weekly.

Eggshells

Crushed eggshells add calcium and deter pests. Boil 6-8 washed shells in 2 cups water for 10 minutes. Let cool completely before spraying leaves or watering soil.

Epsom Salts

Dissolve 1-2 tablespoons of Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) per gallon of water to provide magnesium, an essential nutrient for herb health and flavor. Apply this soil drench monthly.

How to Apply Natural Fertilizers

Natural fertilizers can be applied in different ways:

Top dressing

Spreading dry amendments like bone meal or coffee grounds over the soil around plants. Gently water after top dressing to help carry nutrients down to the roots. Use 1/2 cup per large plant.

Side dressing

Digging 2-inch deep trenches alongside rows of plants and burying organic matter like compost. This puts nutrients right where active roots can access them. Mound soil back over trenches after side dressing.

Foliar feeding

Spraying diluted liquid fertilizers directly on plant leaves. Nutrients are absorbed quickly through the foliage. Use compost tea, manure tea, and banana peel tea this way. Spray in the morning or evening to avoid leaf burn.

Soil drench

Pouring soluble fertilizer solutions over the soil at the base of plants. Liquids like Epsom salt solution can be applied as a soil drench. Avoid getting the leaves wet as it may burn them.

When to Fertilize Herbs

Timing your fertilizer applications helps ensure herbs get nutrients when needed most:

Spring

Early in the growing season, herbs put on new growth and build their root systems. Apply nitrogen-containing fertilizers like compost and fish emulsion weekly or biweekly to support rapid growth.

Summer

During the active growing months, continue feeding herbs to replace nutrients used in producing abundant foliage. Fertilize lightly every 2-3 weeks with compost tea or manure tea to prevent excessive new growth.

Fall

As plants prepare for dormancy, use low nitrogen amendments like bone meal 2-3 times in the fall to avoid frost damage to tender new growth. Support root growth for winter survival.

Conclusion

Herbs thrive with the steady supply of nutrients provided by organic homemade fertilizers. Whipping up your own blends is simple, cheap, and effective. Avoid the drawbacks of synthetic fertilizers by going natural. A periodic dose of compost tea, eggshells, or other organic matter will give your herbs the healthy fertility they need to flourish.

FAQs

How often should I fertilize my herbs?

Fertilize herbs every 2-3 weeks during the peak growing season in spring and summer, tapering off in fall. Too much fertilizer can negatively affect flavor and damage plants.

When is the best time to fertilize herbs like basil and parsley?

Fertilize herbs in spring as they come out of dormancy and again in midsummer if plants look stressed or are producing lots of foliage. Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers in the fall to limit frost damage.

What homemade fertilizer is best for container grown herbs?

Compost tea, worm castings, and fish emulsion are excellent organic fertilizers for herbs in containers. Apply them throughout the growing season for steady nutrition.

Can I use fresh manure to fertilize herbs?

Only aged or composted manure should be used. Fresh manure can burn plants due to its high nitrogen content. Allow raw manure to compost for 6+ months before using.

Should I fertilize herbs after harvesting?

A: Yes, resume fertilizing herbs about 2 weeks after harvesting. This will replenish nutrients removed by cutting foliage and help the plant regrow. Use a balanced organic fertilizer.

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