All plants need food in the form of plant nutrients, and the hosta family is no different. Concocting your own natural fertilizer is educational and fun.
Making your own fertilizer allows you to compose a blend that matches the unique needs of your soil, plants, and environmental conditions. Combining plant nutrient sciences with the art of gardening, gardeners get the opportunity to experience first-hand how our decisions affect nature.
Gardening is an art form involving your intellect, intuition, care, and curiosity. Growing vibrant hosta plants with their varied foliage forms and features is an easy introduction to one of the best physical and mental health practices – gardening.
Making your own hosta fertilizers adds an exciting dimension to your gardening regime.
Why Make Your Own Fertilizer?
There is a growing awareness of the need for agriculture to move back to basics and away from imagining that success in farming (or gardening) is a product of chemical input – fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides.
Books like The New Organic Grower – A Master’s Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener are great sources of advice. You can get the 30th-anniversary edition here.
This article references some of Eliot Coleman’s (and others’) advice on making your own organic natural fertilizer.
Making natural fertilizers is a fundamental shift to realizing that soil fertility can best be raised by increasing the percentage of soil organic matter and using natural inputs.
Healthy soil, rich in biodiversity and natural compounds, increases plant vigor, improving plant resistance to pests and diseases. Healthy soil also improves the general plant quality and, thus, its nutritional value (yes, hosta plants are edible).
What Are the Nutritional Needs of Hosta Plants?
Hostas efficiently get what they need from the soil, so you may not need additional fertilizer if your soil is rich in organic matter and drains well.
If you use a fertilizer, add no more than two ounces of actual nitrogen to every 125-square-feet of hosta plant beds, and a shortage of nitrogen will cause the yellowing of your hosta leaves.
The second essential nutritional element required by hosta is phosphorus, which aids a plant’s ability to metabolize fat, carbohydrates, and proteins, promoting cell formation.
Hosta plants thrive in the shade because their photocells are larger, a product of phosphorus. A shortage of phosphorus will cause the edges of your leaves to darken, the plant’s attempt to attract more light.
How to Make Fertilizer for Your Hosta Plants
Many organic growers focus on providing for all of the plants’ nutrient needs within the media itself. To accomplish this, a blend of organic fertilizers must be added.
Compost can provide a significant amount of phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, trace elements, and minor amounts of nitrogen, depending on its quality and age.
However, additional fertilizers are needed to ensure an adequate supply of all the plant-essential nutrients. Rates of fertilization are often given in parts per million (ppm), which expresses fertilizer concentration. One ppm is equivalent to 1 milligram/kilogram (mg/kg).
The Mathematics of Calculating Fertilizer
• A cubic foot of soil weighs between 74 and 90 pounds – let’s average it out at 80 pounds.
• A hundred square feet of soil worked to a depth of 12-inches would then weigh about 8,000 pounds
• One part per million (ppm) would be a millionth of 8,000 pounds. One ppm then equates to 0.128 ounces per 100 square feet.
A 100-foot square bed (10 by 10) should generally contain:
- Nitrate-nitrogen (N) at 10 to 200 ppm (1.28 to 25.6 oz. per 100 sq. ft.)
- Phosphorus (P2O5) above 3 ppm (0.384 oz. per 100 sq. ft.)
- Potassium (K2O) above 25 ppm (3.2 oz. per 100 sq. ft.)
- Calcium (Ca) above 30 ppm (3.84 oz. per 100 sq. ft.)
- Magnesium (Mg) above 10 ppm (1.28 oz. per 100 sq. ft.)
- Sodium below 130 ppm (below 16.64 oz. per 100 sq. ft)
Chloride below 200 ppm (below 25.6 oz. per 100 sq. ft)
Remember to take soil tests to determine your actual needs.
By using a recipe that contains a complete fertilizer blend and testing the performance in small batches, you can assess the supply of nutrients without necessarily having to measure nutrient concentrations.
Eliot Coleman Base Fertilizer Mix
Published in The New Organic Grower, 1995 – see reference above.
Add 3 cups of fertilizer mix for every 20 gallons of potting mix
• 1 part blood meal
• 1 part colloidal (rock) phosphate
• 1 part greensand
Evan Quigley Fertility Mix
Published in Growing for Market, March 2022
Evan’s low-cost recipe for healthy soil and great crop quality:
• Longer rotations with cover crops (resting production fields every other year or more) and using silage tarps and minimal tillage techniques.
• About 4 tons or less of farm-made vegetable-based compost per acre. That is 9.2 pounds of compost per 100 square feet.
• Correcting significant mineral deficiencies (Ca, P, K, Mg, S, B, Cu, Mn, Zn) based on soil tests and off-farm mineral inputs like bone meal, potassium sulfate, and lime.
• Targeted slow-release nitrogen applications to meet crop needs using mostly feather meal. Put everything on pre-plant (no more foliar or fertigation routines).
• Compost to hit P target based on soil test
• Kelp 200 lbs/acre (biological stimulant) – 7.3 oz. per 100 sq. ft.
• Humates 200 lbs/acre (biological stimulant)
• Wollastonite 500 lbs/acre (experimenting — biological stimulant, calcium, and silicon) – 18.3 oz. per 100 sq. ft.
• N applications, in addition to N from compost, as 25% alfalfa and 75% feather meal to target:
o 130 lbs/acre N for ‘extra’ high feeders in greenhouses, i.e., 4.8 oz. per 100 sq. ft.
o 100 lbs/acre N for regular greenhouse and field crops, i.e., 3.7 oz. per 100 sq. ft.
o 50 lbs/acre N for low feeders like hosta, i.e., 1.8 oz. per 100 sq. ft.
Compost, humates, and minerals are applied to the vegetable gardens at planting time in 5-gallon buckets for ease and simplicity.
Only medium and high feeders receive additional slow-release N (feather meal) on a bed-by-bed basis. This saves money while increasing quality. For ease and labor savings, all the nitrogen is applied prior to planting.
Potting Mixes Using Natural Fertilizer
These recipes come from a variety of sources and present a wide range of options for working with organically acceptable materials.
NOFA-NY Classic Formula for Horticultural Potting Mix
Credited to the 1992 NOFA-NY Organic Farm Certification Standards
• 1/3 mature compost or leaf mold, sieved
• 1/3 fi ne garden loam
• 1/3 coarse sand (builder’s sand)
NOFA-NY Sterile Peat-Lite Mix
• 1/2 cubic yards shredded sphagnum peat moss
• 1/2 cubic yards horticultural vermiculite
• 5 pounds dried blood (12% N)
• 10 pounds steamed bone meal
• 5 pounds ground limestone
Eliot Coleman’s Organic Potting Mix
First published in the Winter 1994 issue of NOFA-NJ Organic News
• 1 part sphagnum peat
• 1 part peat humus (short fiber)
• 1 part compost
• 1 part sharp sand (builder’s)
To every 80 quarts of this add:
• 1 cup greensand
• 1 cup colloidal phosphate
• 1 1/2 to 2 cups crab meal, or blood meal
• 1/2 cup lime
Vernon Grubinger’s Typical Recipe for an Organically-Approved Potting Mix
From Sustainable Vegetable Production from Start-Up to Market and adapted from recipes in The Real Dirt: Farmers Tell about Organic and Low-Input Practices in the North-east, 1994.
Jean-Martin Fortier’s “All-Purpose” Mix
Adapted from The Market Gardener, 2014.
Note that a bucket measures 4.2 gallons.
• 3 buckets peat moss
• 2 buckets perlite
• 2 buckets compost
• 1 bucket garden soil*
• 1 cup blood meal**
• ½ cup agricultural limestone
*A light garden soil is recommended. Fortier prefers to use un-sterilized garden soil to introduce living organisms into the mix.
**Double the blood meal amount if using mix for potting-up seedlings. Feather meal can be substituted for blood meal.
Luna Circle Recipe
Credited to Tricia Bross of Luna Circle Farm in Gays Mills, Wisconsin, presented at MOSES Conference, 2001.
• 2 buckets black peat (1 bucket = 8 quarts)
• 1/2 bucket compost
• Fertility mixture:
o 1 cup greensand
o 1 cup rock phosphate
o 1 cup kelp meal
• 2 buckets sphagnum peat moss
• 1 bucket sand
• 1 bucket vermiculite
Directions for mixing:
• Screen the peat and the compost and combine them with the fertility mix.
• Mix well.
• Add the sphagnum, sand, and vermiculite.
• Mix well again
Bedding Plant Recipe
Adapted from On-Farm Composting Handbook, by Robert Rynk (ed.), 1992.
• 25% compost
• 50% peat moss
• 25% perlite or vermiculite
Growing Mixes for Large Containers
Container Mix for Herbaceous and Woody Ornamentals
Adapted from On-Farm Composting Handbook, by Robert Rynk (ed.), 1992.
Equal parts by volume of:
• coarse sand
• peat moss or milled pine bark
Growing Mixes for Pots and Baskets
Published in the September 1990 issue of Greenhouse Manager in an article entitled “Recipes for Success in Media Mixes,” by Kathy Z. Peppler.
• 30% topsoil
• 60% peat
• 10% perlite
• 5 pounds lime per cubic yard
• 3 pounds dolomitic lime per cubic yard
As can be seen from the above recipes extracted from the National Centre for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), there are several options for creating a recipe that works for you to grow hostas with fabulous foliage.
I hope this article boosted your knowledge enough for you to start developing an instinct for great gardening.