How To Make Homemade Plant Food With Household Supplies

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Every good gardener knows that fertilizer is essential to a lush, happy garden. But have you ever thought it would be even better if you could make your own homemade plant food? Guess what, you can!

With just a few household items, many of which would just end up in the trash, you can create a healthy blend of nutrients that your plants will love. Plus, you can avoid spending an exorbitant amount on storebought fertilizers and help minimize your use of potentially harmful chemicals.

Wondering how to get started making your own homemade plant food? It's probably even easier than you think. All you need is a little bit of know-how on your plants' nutrient needs and some common household products.

So what nutrients do your beloved plants crave most? And how do you provide these nutrients from items found in your kitchen, closet, or (believe it or not) dirty fish tank?

We all know that plants rely on photosynthesis to make food. But that's only a small part of how plants feed and keep themselves alive.

Like humans, which require vitamins and minerals to stay healthy, plants require the same. In a sense, you can think of your homemade plant food as a plant multivitamin.

Plants need a diverse range of vitamins and minerals, just like humans. However, there are some key nutrients that plants rely on more than others. The big three, often abbreviated to NKP, are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

If you look at a container of storebought fertilizer, you might notice three numbers separated by hyphens. These numbers represent the ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in that given formula. So why are these three nutrients so important to your plants' health?

Nitrogen

Nitrogen is in an integral part of the photosynthesis process. Without this compound, plants are unable to produce chlorophyll. And without chlorophyll, plants cannot harness the sun's energy to create food.

Nitrogen is also a key part of amino acid structure.

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, which plants use to create cell structures and trigger biochemical responses within themselves. If a plant lacks nitrogen, it will eventually die.

Phosphorus

Phosphorus is also used by plants for structural integrity and growth. Since phosphorus is essential for healthy cell division, plants struggle to create new cells and grow without this vital nutrient. In fact, one of the most obvious signs of a phosphorus deficiency is small, stunted plants.

And that's not all:

Phosphorus also has a major role in flower and fruit production. If you grow vegetables or fruit in your garden, then maintaining your soil's phosphorus levels should be one of your main goals when using homemade plant food.

Potassium

Lastly, potassium rounds out the big three plant nutrients by controlling light absorption, protein synthesis, and biochemical reactions. While these are some of the most important functions of potassium, they are just a few of the ways in which plants use this mineral.

Since potassium helps transport fluids and nutrients throughout each plant, a deficiency can leave your plants super vulnerable to changing weather or climate conditions. Another common sign of insufficient potassium is yellowing leaves.

On the other hand, a surplus of potassium can make your plants more drought-tolerant.

Since plants can only absorb the form of potassium known as K+, you need to make sure that you include the right type of potassium in your homemade plant food. Don't worry, though, because if you follow one of our homemade plant food recipes below, you'll be covered!

Other Nutrients

Yes, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium play the largest roles in maintaining your plants' health. But there are actually 17 essential nutrients in the plant world. While other nutrients might improve the size, appearance, or taste of your plants, these 17 nutrients help keep your plants alive.

Excluding the three essential nutrients already covered, these 17 compounds include calcium, magnesium, sulfur, chlorine, iron, manganese, zinc, copper, boron, molybdenum, nickel, oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen. But you won't be including all of these nutrients in your homemade plant food.

The truth is: Even storebought fertilizers don't include all 17 essential nutrients.

But the more of these essential nutrients you can fit into your homemade plant food, ultimately the better.

Our Favorite Homemade Plant Food Recipes

garden plants

Image by pexels

Now that you know a bit about your plants' nutritional needs, you're ready to learn a bit about creating your own homemade plant food from scratch.

And you're in luck:

We've collected some of our favorite homemade plant food recipes below. Some of them require everyday items that you are almost guaranteed to have in your home. Others, though, might require a quick trip to the store.

No matter which of these recipes you choose to try out, though, your plants are sure to thank you. And your gardening supplies budget will thank you, too!

Household Chemical Fertilizer

sprinkler

Image by pexels

One of the easiest homemade plant food recipes is a simple mix of three household items plus water. Even if you don't have these three items already in your kitchen or bathroom cupboards, you can easily find them at your local grocery or drug store.

To make this household chemical fertilizer, you'll need:

  • One teaspoon baking soda
  • One tablespoon Epsom salt
  • One-half teaspoon ammonia
  • One gallon water

The easiest way to make this homemade plant food is to purchase a gallon jug of purified water and adding your other ingredients directly (we recommend labeling the jug so that someone doesn't accidentally use it for something else).

Or, you can use an emptied and cleaned milk jug filled with tap water.

Before you apply this homemade plant food to your garden, we suggest letting it sit for a while to allow everything to dissolve. Once it's all dissolved, though, you can apply this fertilizer directly to your plants' soil.

Compost Tea Fertilizer

If you've been in the gardening game for a while, you might be familiar with compost tea. But if not, we're going to teach you how to make this easy and versatile homemade plant food.

When it comes to making compost tea, you will need to have an existing compost pile. Composted kitchen scraps or yard clippings will work equally as well in your compost tea. You can also invest in a bag of storebought compost if you don't have access to a compost pile.

Turning your solid compost into compost tea is remarkably easy. All you need is a large plastic bucket (five gallons works best) filled about one-third with compost and then filled almost to the top with water.

Let your compost tea steep for five to seven days, stirring with a shovel or stick several times per day. Stirring helps aerate the tea, adding necessary oxygen to the mixture.

After these five to seven days, strain the solid compost from your tea and store the remaining liquid in an airtight container. You now have a homemade plant food many gardeners call "liquid gold."

If you want your compost tea to brew perfectly, there a couple of things to keep in mind.

First, avoid using a bucket that has been cleaned or otherwise in contact with bleach. Second, avoid using water that contains chlorine (such as city-treated water). Both of these chemicals will kill the good bacteria in your compost tea.

Aquarium Water Fertilizer

If you own a large fish aquarium, you have access to one of the best homemade plant food sources around. Dirty tank water, filled with fish waste and bacteria, is a treasure trove of beneficial plant nutrients.

For those familiar with aquaponics, this will come as no surprise. And innovative gardeners have been using fish in their gardens for centuries, if not longer.

So how can you take advantage of this fertilizer in your own garden?

To make this homemade plant food, there is no step-by-step recipe or steeping period. Using dirty aquarium water is as simple as saving your aquariums old water after cleaning and adding it to your plants' soil.

While we're not saying you should start up an at-home aquarium just to get your hands on some dirty water, this is a great method for those who already partake in the fish-keeping hobby.

Molasses Fertilizer

Believe it or now, sticky molasses is filled with vitamins and minerals. When used as a fertilizer, this product can help your plants grow big and strong. And it can even help keep pests away from your beloved plants.

As the byproduct of removing sugar from sugarcane or sugar beets, molasses is all the other good stuff left over from the plant. But not just any molasses will do. For making your own homemade plant food, we recommend using blackstrap molasses.

And here's the beauty:

Using molasses as a fertilizer is extremely versatile. You can add molasses to your compost tea, household chemical fertilizer, dirty aquarium water, or even your storebought fertilizer of choice. You can also mix molasses with plain water and add it to your plants' soil.

However you choose to use blackstrap molasses in your garden, we suggest using a one-to-three ratio of molasses to other liquid.

Using Homemade Plant Food In Your Own Garden

Some gardeners are hesitant to use homemade plant food because it doesn't come with instructions or a suggested feeding schedule. But this is no reason to shy away from using at-home fertilizer in your garden.

As a matter of fact:

If you're currently using storebought fertilizer, and your plants are responding well to it, we recommend keeping the same regimen as you switch to a homemade option. From there, you can adjust as needed based on how your plants respond to the new plant food.

If you don't already follow a fertilizing routine, it's easy to get started. We suggest referencing the following fertilization guidelines when first starting out:

  • Houseplants once per week
  • Outdoor container plants once every two weeks
  • Garden plants once every two or three weeks
  • Landscape plants once per month

While you want to give your plants enough food to stay healthy and beautiful, remember that it is possible to fertilize too much. Avoid becoming overzealous and watch out for signs of over-fertilization.

As for actually applying your homemade plant food, you can either completely or partially replace your normal watering. The amount of fertilizer you use will depend on how much water it contains. The less water, the more concentrated, and the less total fertilizer you will need.

If your plant's soil still looks dry after adding the fertilizer, go ahead and give it a good watering as well. That will also help distribute the plant food throughout the soil and your plants' roots.

Whether you choose to create your own homemade plant food from household chemicals or from dirty fish tank water, we're confident that your plants will love it.

How do you fertilize your plants? Tell us about your methods in the comments!

Amanda Dcosta
 

Amanda writes about botany and plants from the deserts of Oman where summer temperatures climb to 130 Fahrenheit. Amanda has a BSc in Botany and is a co-author of Encyclopedia of Cultivated Plants: From Acacia to Zinnia. Read more articles by Amanda.

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