Bonemeal is an organic fertiliser high in phosphorus. Phosphorus is one of the three major nutrients that plants require for healthy growth and is represented by the chemical symbol ‘P’. Unlike liquid fertilisers, bonemeal releases nutrients slowly, making it ideal for providing long-term nutrition for a wide range of plants.
What is bonemeal?
Bonemeal is produced from animal bones, often from cows as a by-product of the meat industry. The bones are washed, sterilised, and ground into powder or ‘meal’. A similar but alternative to bonemeal is fish, blood, and bone, which is made from fish waste.
Because bonemeal comes from animals, dogs and foxes can be attracted to it and dig the soil to find it. This can result in your newly planted plants being dug up. Burying bonemeal deeply in the base of the planting hole usually avoids problems. Alternatively, use mycorrhizal fungi in the planting hole instead. This vegan alternative to bonemeal also encourages strong root formation, and gives plants a good start.
Fertilizers are food for plants that can be bought in concentrated and compact form such as pellets, granules, powder, or liquid. Fertilizers can be artificially produced (inorganic) or based on plant or animal products (organic).
Most fertilizers are what is known as compound, which is a blend of the three major nutrients that plants need for healthy growth. Product labels carry a detailed breakdown of these as a percentage of N (nitrogen), P (phosphorus) and K (potassium). Fertilizers are used to improve plant performance and higher crop yields, although plants that are growing on healthy soil shouldn’t actually need fertilizer and applying it unnecessarily may do more harm than good.
Which plants benefit from bonemeal?
Bonemeal can be used for a wide variety of ornamental and edible plants. Apply bonemeal before sowing or planting out, use it as a top dressing for established border plants in spring, and around fruit trees and bushes in autumn. Bonemeal boosts rooting and is therefore useful when planting hardy woody plants in autumn, as root growth continues through milder spells in autumn and winter.
How to use bonemeal
- Check the level of phosphorus in your soil before applying bonemeal, as excessive levels of phosphorus can hinder plant growth. Either buy a DIY soil testing kit or send a sample off for professional soil analysis
- Where the soil pH (the level of acidity or alkalinity) is above 7.0, bonemeal is much less effective. Find out the pH level using a simple test kit, available from garden centres, DIY stores, and online
- Don’t use bonemeal with mycorrhizal fungi products as the bonemeal inhibits the action of mycorrhiza
- Ensure containers of bonemeal are stored well out of reach of pets and small children. When applying bonemeal, choose a still day or keep the wind on your back to avoid inhaling dust. Wear gloves and wash hands afterwards
Bonemeal buying advice
- Bonemeal is widely available from many retail outlets such as garden centres, nurseries and DIY stores, as well as online
- Bonemeal is sold according to weight and a wide range of pack sizes can be bought, from as little as 500 grammes up to 25 kg sacks
Where to buy bonemeal