Age-Old Wisdom meets Modern Tools
Fertilizer Tea from Plants, Weeds, and Grass
Using your own garden weeds and grass, you can make homemade fertilizer tea. Here’s how.
Yes, garden plants appreciate a spot of tea now and then too—just like I do—as a pick-me-up. No expensive Earl Grey or Darjeeling for them though, instead I make a free fertilizer tea from plants, weeds or grass that they appreciate even more.
Compost tea and manure tea have been mainstays of the organic garden for a long time. It is not hard to toss some compost into a bucket of water and let it steep for a few days to a few weeks, stirring daily. Cover with a piece of screening or row cover to keep mosquitoes from breeding in it. Strain off the liquid, return the solids to your compost pile, and use the liquid as a soil drench or a foliage spray, either full strength or diluted.
Garden teas made from plants are just as easy and don’t require you to pick up a load of manure or use any of your precious compost. Next time you are weeding the garden throw all the weeds into a bucket or trash can, chopping them up as you go. When it is about half full, fill it with water. Don’t use chlorinated water; rainwater is the best (also free!)
Screen the top to keep mosquitoes out. Stir daily or if using manageable sized buckets you can pour it from one bucket into another to mix things up and keep it aerated. Let it soak for 3 days to 2 weeks. Strain and use the liquid right away as a fertilizer or foliar feeding. It can be diluted or used full strength on established plants. Since plant leaves tend to absorb more nutrients faster than roots, foliar feeding is an efficient way to fertilize. Weeds are full of nutrients they have absorbed from your soil so it is only fitting to extract the water soluble ones and return them to your garden plants.
Some plants make extra nourishing fertilizer tea:
- Stinging nettle is high in nitrogen, calcium, iron,vitamins A,B, & C, phosphorus, potassium, boron, iron, zinc, selenium, and magnesium. A natural insect repellant, when sprayed on leaves it can help plants resist insect and fungal attacks.
Be sure to wear gloves when collecting nettles.
- Alfalfa is high in nitrogen, vitamin A, folic acid, potassium, calcium, and trace minerals. If you don’t have access to it you can use alfalfa hay, meal, or pellets. This is a “weed” whose growth I encourage in my garden, along with clover. Both are legumes and make a great soil-enhancing mulch or nitrogen-rich tea.
- Horsetail is a deeply rooted weed that draws up minerals including potassium, silica, and iron from far below the soil.
- Willow is rich in growth hormones, making it especially good for getting young transplants off to a good start.
- Comfrey is rich in calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, vitamins A,B,& C, and trace minerals.
I always add a few comfrey leaves to each batch of tea.
- Chicory is high in potassium, calcium, and vitamin A.
- Dandelions can be put to good use making a tea that is full of vitamins A & C along with calcium and potassium.
Don’t have any of those plants? Grass works well too. Fresh grass clippings are high in nitrogen and potassium. Gather up your clippings next time you mow the lawn, fill a bucket 2/3 full of them, add water and steep 3 days, stirring daily.
Fertilizer teas are fast-acting and free. Apply them no more than every two weeks or when your plants need a boost. They are especially effective on newly transplanted ones and those in blossom or setting fruit. Brew up a batch of weeds and throw a garden tea party for your plants!
About This Blog
Get inspired by Robin Sweetser’s backyard gardening tips and tricks. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer’s Market.