How to make safe, cheap and effective fertilisers for plants

Fertilise your garden and potted plants using things available in the house. Learn how to use egg shells, coffee grounds, tea leaves and more to nourish your plants. Your plants in the balcony or terrace garden can be green and lush with these useful tips.

My niece just moved into her own home. It is a cosy two-bedroom apartment that she has done up on her own. Everything in her home is colour coordinated and aesthetically arranged, with the walls and the drapes and the furniture and artefacts, harmoniously blending into each other. So, pleasing to the eyes and to the soul.

But, I felt a tinge of disappointed, seeing the terracotta planters with wilted plants lined up in the balcony. She, of course, made a rookie mistake made by most amateur gardeners, of over fertilising the potted plants in her balcony garden. Like most new gardening enthusiasts, she packed the pots with expensive compost and topped it with slow releasing fertilizer granules. It proved to be a deadly combination that killed the plants, overnight.

Gardening is quite a challenge, especially a container and indoor gardening. Anyone can grow plants, but it requires a little bit of knowledge of how to do things right if you want the plants in your garden to thrive. It is best to learn how to tackle the challenges gardening presents, before starting a container garden in your balcony.

I rarely buy compost or fertilisers for my potted plants and make do mostly, with stuff available at home. You will be surprised at the number of common household items that you would normally chuck into the dustbin, that can double up as excellent supplements for household plants. They feed the plants, providing them with essential nutrients and help keep them lush. The best part of the bargain is that these fertilisers cost you nothing, are safe and highly effective.

I am sharing here my list of items from around the house that make excellent plant fertilizers and boost the healthy growth of both leaves and flowers.

Expired Medicines

Medicines that are past their expiry date are not suitable for human consumption. Most of us have a stash of medicine, in the medicine chest, which can be bought off the shelf and used during mild illnesses. The common cold and fever tablets, medicine for a headache or body pain, tablets for acidity etc., are commonly available in most homes. If these tablets cross the 'best before' date, it is best to not use them. Instead of throwing these tablets away, dig holes in the soil in the potted plants and deposit a tablet each, in each of the pots.

As the plants are watered the medicine in the soil starts to dissolve and slowly releases the nutrients into the soil, which the plants take in. Apart from the medicines mentioned above, you can also use antibiotics, multivitamins and any other medication that you might have at home in capsule or tablet form.

Another effective way to use these tablets is crushing them and adding them to the water used for watering the plants. Be cautious, don't overfeed the plants as that could kill them. Drop just two or three crushed tablets in half a bucket of water and use it for watering 10-12 plants. Repeat this every 20 days. You'll be surprised at how quickly your plants begin to respond to this feed. There'll be newer leaves and shoots and flowering plants will produce more blooms.

Coffee Grounds

I was presented a French Press Coffee Maker for Christmas and I have since been brewing coffee from freshly ground coffee beans. The taste is, of course, comparable to the best filter coffee that I have ever had, but there is another advantage to it. I get loads of coffee grounds that I now use to feed my potted plants.

Coffee grounds are a good source of nutrients that plants love, particularly, nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. You'll find the foliage improving once you begin adding coffee grounds to the soil. A word of caution though, don't overdo it, space out the days when you add the coffee grounds to the soil.

Coffee is said to make the soil acidic and it boosts the growth of plants that like acidic soil, such as hydrangeas, roses, azaleas, gardenias, money plant and bougainvillaea, to name a few.

Tea Leaves

Don't throw away the tea leaves after you've brewed the tea. Set them aside for use in your plants. To be used as a fertiliser the tea leaves will, of course, have to be devoid of sugar and milk. Allow the dregs to cool and throw them into the soil around the plants. Like coffee, tea leaves are a rich source of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, among other minerals, all of which are essential for healthy plant growth. They make an excellent plant fertilizer and are economical as well.

Egg Shells

Did you know egg shells are a good source of calcium and that they make a cheap fertiliser for your plants? Calcium deficiency in plants can cause the leaves to curl and turn yellow and it also destroys the tips of terminal roots and buds.

Wash the eggshells thoroughly under running water, to remove all residue of the egg white. Coarsely crush the shells and mix them in the potting soil. Do this once in every 4-6 months. You can also use the water in which the eggs are boiled for watering the plants. Allow the water to cool, before watering the plants.

Banana peels

Flowering and fruit-bearing plants love banana peels as they are rich in potassium, a mineral necessary for flowering and bearing fruits. You can dig a pit and throw banana peels into it before you plant saplings. However, if your plants are planted in containers you'll need to devise an alternative method.

I usually bake the banana skins in the oven, until they are crisp and then run them through a blender to form a coarse powder, which I then sprinkle in the soil. You can also sun dry them before pounding them into a powder to add to the soil.

I do the same with vegetable peels. I also let veggie and fruit peels stand in a bucket of water, overnight, so all the water-soluble nutrients present in them blend with the water. I use this water to feed the plants.

Rice, Pasta & Potato Water

Don't throw away the water in which you boiled your rice, pasta or potatoes, instead, cool the water and use it for your plants. The water is not just rich in starch, but also has vital minerals good for your plants. Also, know that plants need starch.

Water in which pulses, beans and rice are soaked before cooking is equally good and should not be thrown away – it can make a great feed for your plants.

Vegetables such as potatoes and brinjals are usually dropped in water after being chopped, to avoid them turning black, due to oxidation. The water-soluble nutrients present in these veggies dissolve in the water, as they sit in the water, waiting to be cooked. Feed your plants this water and see them bloom.

For me gardening has always been a hobby, which I am quite passionate about. I love to keep a few plants around my apartment and look for new ways to keep them healthy, without spending too much money on them.

The gardening tips that I have provided work well for potted plants as well as plants grown in gardens. These fertilisers are not just easily available; they are economical, free from harmful chemicals and are environmentally friendly as well. They have always worked for my plants and I am sure your plants will love the nourishment as well. You don't have to spend huge sums of money on compost and fertilisers and other plant foods. Your potted plants in the corner of your balcony will thrive on the nourishment that the waste materials you feed them with, will provide. Remember, to not overdo it though. Excess nutrients can harm the root system, burning them and killing the plants. Slow and steady is the key here. Feed your plants, varied supplements, at regular intervals and they'll grow healthy and strong.

Do you have a garden? I'd love to know how you look after your plants. Do you have any tips on plant care that you'd like to share? Please post your tips in the comments section and also any doubts that you might want to be answered.

Article by Juana
Juana is a freelance writer, with years of experience, creating content for varied online portals. She holds a degree in English Literature and has worked as a teacher and as a soft skill trainer. An avid reader, she writes on a variety of topics ranging from health, travel, education and personality development.

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Author: Natarajan04 Jan 2018 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 3

I am little skeptical about using expired medicines unless is it a multivitamin or aspirin like tablets, that in a diluted form/ dose are known to help plant growth. Some studies have shown that paracetamol can hinder plant growth. it has been shown to damage antioxidant defensive system of wheat roots.

Epsom salt is a good fertilizer for plant food (1 part baking powder, Epson salt, regular salt with half portion of household ammonia for 1 gallon of water is used once a month as a homemade plant growth booster). Some other tips include use of aquarium water, when cleaning the tank periodically, instead of discarding the water, you can use some to water your flowering plants.

Author: Juana04 Jan 2018 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 3

To begin with, the use of aquarium water is a good suggestion. I guess the fish poop along with the bacteria would be beneficial for plants.

I have been using expired medicines in my garden, with some wonderful results. There was a time when I was growing veggies, in a potted garden, using the tips mentioned in the article.

The recommended dosage of expired medicine, as a plant fertiliser is very less. Do you have the data of the amount of paracetamol that was fed to the wheat plants, and at what stage of the plants' growth was paracetamol used?

Anything in excess is bad, and anything given at the wrong period of growth is bad as well. Apples are good for humans, but can we feed them to an infant?

I honestly did not know that Epsom salts can be used as a plant feed. But, how many people have Epsom salts, just lying around, at home? I had some that came as part of a gift set, (from overseas) for a foot spa.

Anyway, that is beside the point. You mention (1 part baking powder, Epson salt, regular salt with half portion of household ammonia for 1 gallon of water). Can you define ‘1 part’ and ‘half portion’ please? One part and a half portion can mean anything – 1 cupful, 1 bucketful, 1 kg and 1 quintal are all a part/a portion. Am I right?

Author: Anosua M08 Apr 2018 Member Level: Gold   Points : 2

A very useful informative article indeed. I love gardening which I inherited from my father. But I am fond of kitchen gardening. Can you please guide me some homemade fertilizers for kitchen gardening?
One thing about this article is the point where the use of old medicine is discussed. Could you please specify which medicines can be used for which plant? It will be then really helpful for me.

Author: Juana02 Jul 2018 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 4


You can make your own compost from kitchen waste. Compost making bins are available online. They are compact and easy to use. All that is required is for you to dump all the organic waste from your home into it. Things like vegetable and fruits peels, bits of cardboard and paper, egg shells, coffee and teas grounds, dry flowers and leaves etc. Compost bins are compact in size and can be left in one corner of the balcony/terrace/garden etc.

Don't use fresh peels directly, as they will attract bugs that could damage your garden. Fresh peels can also cause diseases to your plants as they are more prone to develop mould and fungus that could spread to healthy plants.

All items mentioned in the article can be used to fertilise your kitchen garden. You can use generic old medicines that are lying in the house - the odd aspirin or paracetamol.

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