Solving the Garden Aisle of Mystery, Part 1: What Soil Amendments Do

If you’ve been to our store, you know that in our garden amendments section we have LOTS of bags and bottles of stuff with funny names, maybe even funny smells, and not a lot of information written on them. I call it the “Garden Aisle of Mystery,” even in my own store.

Here’s part of the Garden Aisle of Mystery…

I know that this section of our store, or any garden store really, can be kind of intimidating, and I want to fix that! So, I’m writing this series as a reference for you. This is the very first of a “mostly monthly” series I want to do to help you figure out what you might need for your lawn, landscape, and/or garden.

So, I’m going to go “mostly alphabetical” as I name and describe a few items per Episode. As I move forward I will probably do some video snippets to embed here on the website as a useful visual guide. Until then, well, you’re stuck with my writing and pictures. If you want some more quick definitions, check out our Garden Glossary.

DISCLAIMER: Before you read about a product and just guess that your lawn, garden, and/or landscape need something, I urge you to take the necessary proper steps: 1) have your soil tested, either with a test kit or through your local UF IFAS County Extension Office; 2) make sure that your plants really have the issue you think they have before treating with anything. We can help.

Agricultural Limestone

Also called Calcific Limestone, Dolomite, Dolomitic Lime, Ag Lime, Garden Lime – Agricultural Limestone is a powdery substance made of pulverized limestone. Limestone is mainly made up of Calcium Carbonate, but can also include Calcium Oxide, Magnesium Oxide, and Magnesium Carbonate.

Agricultural Limestone is used in soil to counteract acidity for plants that need a more neutral or alkaline soil to absorb nutrients. It increased the pH to make the soil more alkaline. Some plants require alkalinity or neutral pH to take up water and nutrients through the root systems. Also, for plants such as hydrangeas, often the pH of the soil dictates what colors the flowers will be.

In vegetable gardening, Agricultural Limestone is used to help combat diseases such as Blossom End Rot. This problem is very common in tomatoes and peppers where the soil does not have sufficient calcium and/or magnesium to complete the transformation of the flower into the fruit.

Blossom End Rot in Tomatoes

Blossom end rot is not your friend, make sure you add lime to your beds with veggies!!

Aluminum Sulfate

Aluminum Sulfate, as with most powdered sulfur compounds, will decrease the pH of soil making it more acidic. This is useful when the soil is already too alkaline for the type of plants you want to plant in a particular place.

Aluminum Sulfate can be used for plants that like acidity, such has roses, blueberries, azaleas, rhododendrons, and blackberries or raspberries. Also, again with hydrangeas, it will change the color of the flowers. It is an acidifier that doesn’t have to break down to provide the acidity. The pH will change instantly once it’s added to the soil.

Acid loving plants: Hydrangeas (left), and Azaleas (right).

This amendment should be worked into the top 6″ of soil with a shovel or rototiller for best results, and if you’re planting a lot of plants that require acidity in an area you can add it to the whole area to instantly provide the acidity the plants will need.

Ammonium Nitrate

Ammonium Nitrate fertilizer (the link will not work during the City of Tampa fertilizer ban June 1 – September 30)

You know on regular bags of fertilizer there’s that 3-digit listing on the front, like 12-6-8 or 3-3-3? That’s your N-P-K indication required on all fertilizers. N = Nitrogen, P = Phophorus, K = Potassium.

Ammonium Nitrate is pretty much straight up Nitrogen. It gives your plants a boost when it’s bloom time and fruiting time. Plants use nitrogen to grow leaves and flowers and fruits.

Plants need nitrogen to grow – it’s in Chlorophyll which is the essential tool for photosynthesis, and it’s in plant proteins too.

This is also one of the things that we cannot sell during the June-September fertilizer ban because it will wash out of the soil and into our beautiful Tampa Bay and Gulf of Mexico during summer rains.

If you’re needing some nitrogen in this form, we’ll have it back on the shelves by October 1. In the meantime we have other organic solutions for you that are not subject to the City of Tampa’s fertilizer ban. Just ask us, we’ll help you out.

Blood Meal

Blood meal is exactly what it sounds like. Blood from animals is dried into a powder. It is an excellent source of nitrogen and iron , and works as a soil acidifier too.

It is a dry powder because it is dehydrated, meaning all liquid is removed.

There are alternatives to blood meal, namely alfalfa meal and feather meal, which are also exactly what they sound like – ground alfalfa and ground feathers.

Bone Meal

Bone meal is dried and pulverized bones from animals (and/or fish). When used in vegetable gardening it increases the flowering of the plants very quickly.

This is because bone meal is a great source of Phosphorus (the P in NPK), which is necessary to make flowers.

Profusely blooming Echinacea (purple cone flowers)

Alternatives to this are soft rock phosphate, urine, and manure. Manure will have to break down before it can offer phosphate, but bone meal, soft rock phosphate and urine all have it immediately available.

I know, I know, you’re thinking “urine, that can’t be right” but I promise, you read it correctly. If you can get over the possible “ick” factor you’re feeling right now, fresh urine is high in nitrogen, moderate in phosphorus and low in potassium and can act as an excellent high-nitrogen liquid fertilizer or as a compost accelerator.

So go ahead, pee in the garden! (C’mon, I had to say it, how often does anyone get to say it?)

A beautiful garden is made up of many things…

Alright, that’s what I’ve got for this blog. I’ll go over more of the items in my Solving the Aisle of Mystery series as we move forward in time, so stay tuned for that.

In the meantime if you have questions about something on our shelves, don’t hesitate to ask.

Let’s keep growing!

Marissa

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