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What are the Different Types of Natural Fertilizer?

By Bethney Foster
Updated May 16, 2024
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The best known types of natural fertilizer are manure, mulch, and compost. Other types of natural fertilizers include seaweed, grass clippings, and commercially packaged organic fertilizers sold at nurseries and garden supply stores. Ashes left behind in fireplaces and stoves, cold coffee, and other kitchen leftovers can also be used as natural fertilizers.

Manure, primarily from livestock and poultry, is probably the oldest type of fertilizer used by humans and one of the most common ways to fertilize crops and gardens. Manures are usually buried in the soil around plants to avoid losing the nutrient potential before it gets to the plants. Manure contains all of the components of a good fertilizer. This includes nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, along with many different types of nutrients.

Mulching is one of the most common types of natural fertilizer. Mulching materials can include bark, pine needles, or even grass clippings from mowing the lawn. In addition to serving as a fertilizer, many mulching materials will also help water and air to penetrate the soil around plants, which will promote growth.

Grass clippings are spread in the sun to dry for a few days before application. The same principle can be applied with leaves that are raked up in the autumn. As both grass clippings and decomposing leaves generally have a high moisture content, they should be applied sparingly when used as a natural fertilizer. If used too heavily, the decomposition process can lead to soil that is too acidic.

Some gardeners are creating their own natural fertilizers and recycling kitchen waste in the process. Compost is a type of mulching. A compost pile is created that usually includes yard debris, kitchen waste, and other natural materials that will decompose. The compost pile is turned periodically as the items decompose. Once decomposition has taken place, the decomposed matter that is left behind is known as compost and makes an excellent natural fertilizer for yards, gardens, and crops.

Seaweed is often used as natural fertilizer by gardeners who live near the ocean. The seaweed is collected when it washes up, and the gardener then washes away the salt before applying it to soil. It is also available in many nurseries and gardening supply stores.

Another less common natural fertilizer is the ash left behind in fireplaces and stoves. The ash left behind from a wood fire has many of the nutrients plants need. Wood ash shouldn’t be used on plants that need high levels of acid, however. In addition to serving as a fertilizer, ash in the garden will protect plants against snails, slugs, and some insects.

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Discussion Comments
By cloudel — On May 02, 2012

Do people usually use dry manure or fresh manure as fertilizer? I have used dried cow manure before, and it worked all right. I was just wondering if fresh manure might do an even better job.

I rent a house that has an old barn behind it, and I found a lot of dried manure on the floor of the barn. It had turned gray and was dusty, but I decided to try putting it around my plants anyway.

It seemed that they perked up after I added it to the soil. I don’t relish the idea of shoveling fresh manure around them, but I have a feeling that it might be even more nutritious.

By OeKc05 — On May 01, 2012

I usually wait until the grass in my lawn is pretty high before I mow it, so I have large amounts of grass clippings that I can use as fertilizer. I leave it out in the sun for about three days or until it has lost its green color, and then I gather it.

The good thing about grass clippings is that they stick together well, so it is easy to create a thick layer around my plants. They decompose naturally, especially after a good rain, and the living plants get the benefit.

The only bad thing about using grass clippings around plants is that sometimes, the grass has already produced seed, and it will fall around my flowers and cause more grass to spring up. Since I try to keep the flower bed free of grass, this poses a slight problem.

By Perdido — On May 01, 2012

@wavy58 - Pine needles make the soil more acidic, and roses don’t need acidic soil. I discovered this after asking a friend why my roses weren’t flourishing. She informed me that I wasn’t giving them the proper fertilizer.

She said that I should be adding wood ash to the soil. I scraped all the pine needles away from the plants and shoveled in some burnt pieces of wood from the pile where I had burned a bunch of tree branches that had fallen.

Within a couple of weeks, my roses were looking much better. I saw many more blooms than I had before, and new growth was sprouting from all the branches.

By wavy58 — On Apr 30, 2012

I use pine needles around my flowers to keep weeds and grass from growing out of control. This really helps conserve moisture, too, and in the dry months of summer, I don’t have to water them as often as I normally would.

I also can scatter a layer of pine needles a few inches thick on top of my tulip beds in the fall to add nutrients to the soil that can drain down into the bulbs. This keeps my tulips blooming year after year, and some of them have even multiplied.

I’ve been using them around zinnias, chrysanthemums, and lilies. I tried putting them around my rosebushes, but the roses haven’t been doing too well. Is there something about pine needles that roses don’t like?

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