All Things Gardening forum→Espoma vs. Miracle-Gro vs. Shultz

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Southern Indiana (Zone 6a)
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CrazedHoosier
Apr 27, 2019 8:04 PM CST
This isn't so much as a specialized post targeting these brands, as much as it is a general question of fertilizer tiers in the gardening industry. I've mostly used Shultz as a slow release fertilizer, and Miracle-Gro as a liquid, but have now switched to Espoma Bio-tone and Plant-tone as my slow release. Is Espoma fertilizer really what everyone raves about it to be? Is it better than Shultz or Miracle-Gro? What is just about the worst fertilizer you've used? Also, why isn't any of Espoma's fertlizers on any of the "best of" lists on the internet... did I just invest in bad fertilizers?
Maybe we should get a second opinion...
Name: one-eye-luke US.Vet.
Texas (Zone 8a)
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oneeyeluke
Apr 28, 2019 4:41 AM CST
The difference between those fertilizers are synthetic vs organic. The synthetic fertilizers are faster than the organic. Synthetic nutrients feed right away, and leave salts in the soil, where the organic nutrients have to be broken down slowly by the microbes in the soil. When I used the Miracle-Gro in the past, years ago, I had an excess build up of phosphorus in my soil which prevented blooms and caused yellowing to a lot of the plants. I was lost trying to find out why my plants were so distressed with yellowing. I sent a soil sample to the lab at Texas A&M and they told me to not use any kind of fertilizer that had phosphorus in it for the next 5 years. It appeared to me and to Tx A&M the Miracle-Gro had made my soil toxic over the years. That was about 10 years ago. I now only use compost with organic nutrients like Alfalfa meal, cotton seed meal, poultry mix and a few others. My landscape is thriving now and I love it.
NOT A EXPERT! Just a grow worm! I never met a plant I didn’t love.✌
[Last edited by oneeyeluke - Apr 28, 2019 4:45 AM (+)]
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Southern Indiana (Zone 6a)
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CrazedHoosier
Apr 28, 2019 8:00 AM CST
oneeyeluke said:The difference between those fertilizers are synthetic vs organic. The synthetic fertilizers are faster than the organic. Synthetic nutrients feed right away, and leave salts in the soil, where the organic nutrients have to be broken down slowly by the microbes in the soil. When I used the Miracle-Gro in the past, years ago, I had an excess build up of phosphorus in my soil which prevented blooms and caused yellowing to a lot of the plants. I was lost trying to find out why my plants were so distressed with yellowing. I sent a soil sample to the lab at Texas A&M and they told me to not use any kind of fertilizer that had phosphorus in it for the next 5 years. It appeared to me and to Tx A&M the Miracle-Gro had made my soil toxic over the years. That was about 10 years ago. I now only use compost with organic nutrients like Alfalfa meal, cotton seed meal, poultry mix and a few others. My landscape is thriving now and I love it.


How interesting! I decided to use Miracle-Gro liquid Bloom Booster Flower Food last year, and quit using almost a week later. My plants had mysteriously stopped blooming with this "bloom booster". I never understood why until your post... the fertilizer is high in phosphorus! Do you think the Espoma Plant-tone I'm using as a slow release, will eventually have the same problem? Do you still fertilize on a weekly basis with your hungry annuals, such as petunias? I'd love to know your methods!
Maybe we should get a second opinion...
Name: seil
St Clair Shores, MI (Zone 6a)
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seilMI
Apr 28, 2019 1:13 PM CST
Oneeyeluke did a good job of explaining the differences. You can always use organics to enrich your soil. That's a good thing. But you can also occasionally give them a chemical boost too. I use Rose Tone (and Holly Tone which is cheaper and basically the same formula) and I like Bill's Perfect Fertilizer (fish emulsion) from Spray n Grow but I do sometimes use the Miracle Grow or Peter's liquid spray too. I've also used the Osmocote and other slow release fertilizers in the spring. I think the key is to mix it up and not use the same thing all the time. I think that way you don't get that kind of build up of the same chemical all the time. I'm sure you would get tired of the same diet all the time so mix it up and your plants and soil will thank you.
Name: one-eye-luke US.Vet.
Texas (Zone 8a)
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oneeyeluke
Apr 28, 2019 2:56 PM CST
All water that comes from the tap has to be alkaline so the water won't leach heavy metals from the water pipes. The pH is above 7.5, and if you add a lot of synthetic salts with the alkaline water over a long time the trace nutrients become unavailable. Iron lock-out is the result of long term use of the two together. What I do now, is add a little bit compost with a little bit of organic fertilizer only one time a year. After 5 years using this method my pH is closer to normal. Everything is thriving!
NOT A EXPERT! Just a grow worm! I never met a plant I didn’t love.✌
Southern Indiana (Zone 6a)
I'll quit while I'm ahead...
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CrazedHoosier
Apr 28, 2019 5:29 PM CST
oneeyeluke said:All water that comes from the tap has to be alkaline so the water won't leach heavy metals from the water pipes. The pH is above 7.5, and if you add a lot of synthetic salts with the alkaline water over a long time the trace nutrients become unavailable. Iron lock-out is the result of long term use of the two together. What I do now, is add a little bit compost with a little bit of organic fertilizer only one time a year. After 5 years using this method my pH is closer to normal. Everything is thriving!


Our tap water here at at a 9+. It is just awful, limy, and stubborn water. I guess I can expect a nutrient build up a lot sooner? How do you get by with just one application of organic fertilizer and compost? I've always thought that our annuals were such heavy feeders that needed weekly fertilizer!
Maybe we should get a second opinion...
Name: Arlene
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florange
Apr 28, 2019 6:20 PM CST
My problem with Espoma is that they have added bio-tone to all of their products. I used it on my tomatoes last season and the plants were 2x taller with fewer blooms. I didn't use any of it this spring.
[Last edited by florange - Apr 28, 2019 6:22 PM (+)]
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Name: one-eye-luke US.Vet.
Texas (Zone 8a)
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oneeyeluke
Apr 29, 2019 5:42 AM CST
There seems to be a lot of information on the market about plant food and feeding plants. In all due reality, plants get their food from sunlight. Feeding plants is not the same as feeding living babies. More or better doesn't equate bigger plants or larger flowers.
What is going on in the soil is called, "Cation-exchange capacity" (CEC) is a measure of how many cations can be retained on soil particle surfaces. Negative charges (anions), on the surfaces of soil particles bind positively-charged atoms or molecules (cations), but allow these to exchange with other positively charged particles in the surrounding soil water. If one uses the wrong liquid mix repeatedly there can be an imbalance in the soil by having an excess of either (Cation or Anion) which is called lock out! TOXIC soil!
With the correct pH and using rain water only, I can get by with only a very small amount of organic nutrients, one time a year, and all of my plants do sooooo much better than when I feed liquid food.
NOT A EXPERT! Just a grow worm! I never met a plant I didn’t love.✌
Name: one-eye-luke US.Vet.
Texas (Zone 8a)
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oneeyeluke
Apr 29, 2019 10:30 AM CST
Using layman's terms, I will give a little example. Lets say I have 50 little tiny magnets, and 50 little steel bbs, that are the same size. When I put them in a cup together they each make contact with each other. Every bb has contact with the receptor sight of the magnet. Everything has contact and and is happy!

Now say I have 50 little tiny magnets and I put 100 bbs in a cup. The extra 50 bbs will have no place to contact, because of only having 50 magnetic receptor sights. Those extra 50 bbs, are just there in the way and causing conflict. A soil particle has only so many receptor sights for contact with nutrients. If we add too much of the wrong nutrients we will rob the receptor sights, because that valuable space ( those sites) will be filled, so to speak with the "wrong charge".
NOT A EXPERT! Just a grow worm! I never met a plant I didn’t love.✌
Name: one-eye-luke US.Vet.
Texas (Zone 8a)
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oneeyeluke
May 3, 2019 3:55 AM CST
Maybe I can revitalize this thread. For the record, I used synthetic nutrients when I worked in a greenhouse near Collage Station Texas. We raised mostly peppers and tomatoes, during late Winter, and in late Summer we grew Pansies, Copper plants and many more. Thousands of them! All the plants were grown in our own soil mix, (1 part compost and 1 part peat). Now saying all of that, I used fertilizer injectors that mixed synthetic nutrients with water, the term we used is "ppm" parts per million. Those plants depended on that feed to grow and without it they would decline. One of the most valuable things I took away from that job, is you don't need a lot of fertilizer to get maximum results. If the manufacturer says, 1 table spoon per gallon, I only use 1/2 or EVEN LESS and get the very best results. When I switched to building a living soil the need to feeding the plants has ceased all together. I used to love to feed my plants synthetic nutrients, but I don't have to anymore.
NOT A EXPERT! Just a grow worm! I never met a plant I didn’t love.✌
Name: Bob
Northeast Florida (Zone 9a)
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bobjax
Oct 28, 2019 12:59 PM CST
oneeyeluke said: When I used the Miracle-Gro in the past, years ago, I had an excess build up of phosphorus in my soil which prevented blooms and caused yellowing to a lot of the plants.


How long did you use Miracle-Gro before the problem occurred. Thanks.
Georgia (Zone 8a)
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Hamwild
Oct 28, 2019 7:01 PM CST
How often do you recommend using organic fertilizers? I have sea kelp and one from Jobes (which is supposed to be "organic").
Name: Tara
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terrafirma
Oct 28, 2019 7:20 PM CST
I use fish emulsion nearly every other time I water.
Though I also admit to adding/scratching in Osmocote a couple times a year. Shrug!
Georgia (Zone 8a)
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Hamwild
Oct 28, 2019 7:53 PM CST
I wish I could use fish emulsion. I'd attract critters I don't want (raccoons mainly).
Minnesota (Zone 3b)
RpR
Oct 28, 2019 8:19 PM CST
Most people posting here have different base , soil in your local, than each other. What you local natural soil is will affect how fertilizer affects your garden.
I worked at the Minn. Zoo horticulture dept. and when we did pots we doubled, non-organic, recommended dose as it would wash out when watering or with rain.
If you have heavy poorly draining soil, recommended dose should work; sandy soil like norther Minn. has increasing dose will not hurt; acidic Black Gumbo like my South garden has , I over dose with no problems as it is heavy but still drains well.
If you have a garden with new soil, that will perform differently than one that has been used for decades and how that changes will depend on how you have amended it with over those years.
My North garden had/s very sandy clay but after thirty years, it now gets clumps. Thirty years ago it did not clump at all.
The North rose garden which is approx. 35 ft. from the veggie garden has not been amended like the veggies garden and if you do get a clump, if you grab it in one hand it simply dissolves into loose soil, the clumps in the veggie garden are not clay-like, like my South garden gumbo but it still takes two hands to break them up, or clean them off of a potato.

I use/have used multiple types of chemical and organic fertilizer over the years; some have had noticeable results with in days.
I often bought in large quantities : 1 gallon, 2 1/2 gallon sizes for money saving reasons but I never kept on using the same ones over and over and over as even the ones with wowee results had that go away over time.
I also turn my soil over, due to planting potatoes very deep more than any reason , deeply which brings soil down sixteen , or more, inches up to the surface. (With rotation both gardens get totally turned with in a four to five year period)

The ONLY way you can make a semi-absolute determination is to take garden plots, x feet by x feet, and treat each plot over a three or more year , period with each getting ONLY a certain fertilizer but each getting the same dose in the same time application growing the same veggie or flower.
Then you will see what works and what does not work so well.
Bad water is not something I have. The water up North is calcium laden, while the South water is now osmosed neutral but twenty five years ago it was naturally acidic well water.
Both gardens/lawn respond better to rain water than city water but neither suffers from the water.
I generally do not add dry fertilizer, although I do , more or less because I have some lying around for the roses or flowers and want to get rid of it.
Some is slow release, some organic or some -- well this is new , to me -- of any type.
Rain is generally not a lacking up here and when I do water , I water heavily so, I am not worried about build up in the soil for that reason also.
[Last edited by RpR - Oct 28, 2019 8:20 PM (+)]
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Hamwild
Oct 28, 2019 8:31 PM CST
I'm curious what black gumbo looks like, as I also live in the South. We have heavy clay in the entire yard, which proves useful in some ways and can be a pain in others.

I don't think anything has been done in the yard at all. We are probably the fifth or six owner of this house. I didn't amend the soil when I planted, just mixed native soil with garden soil and in the hole it went. The rest of the beds are 100% clay, as I wasn't about to dig it all up, hehe.
[Last edited by Hamwild - Oct 28, 2019 8:32 PM (+)]
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Hamwild
Oct 28, 2019 8:36 PM CST
Do you feel mulch has a factor in fertilizing? Odd question, but I've read schools of thought on needing different nutrients with the breakdown of mulch verus some folks who feel mulch has no factor in fertilizing.
Minnesota (Zone 3b)
RpR
Oct 28, 2019 9:35 PM CST
Hamwild said:I'm curious what black gumbo looks like, as I also live in the South. We have heavy clay in the entire yard, which proves useful in some ways and can be a pain in others.

I don't think anything has been done in the yard at all. We are probably the fifth or six owner of this house. I didn't amend the soil when I planted, just mixed native soil with garden soil and in the hole it went. The rest of the beds are 100% clay, as I wasn't about to dig it all up, hehe.

https://homeownerbob.wordpress...

The top picture is an extreme that we do not get in Mn, except in extreme droughts, when sloughs up here dry out, but the other picture is what black gumbo can look like after heavy rains and then ten or more days of truly dry weather

What is under your top, growing soil is just as important as what it is growing in during bad weather, or in the long run at any time.
Way back, and even nowadays in some areas they do DEEP soil ripping to bring lower, not screwed up soil to the surface.
After decades this can greatly improve the soil but in some areas the soil will always need major redux to work well.
Under out black gumbo is a yellow clay that is pathetic as far as soil qualities compared to the black soil.
It used to be many feet down but now some areas, North, with hilly fields the poorly maintained soil has hill tops showing a yellow , not black color.
My home town is literally on the edge where the glaciers stopped. The rive that runs through town separates flat South, you can see for five or, going farther South, a lot more miles , from hilly North where seeing one mile is an average of short and long viewing distance.
North of town the soil is good but South of town it has been called the best soil in Minn.

Our advantage is A: high water level, B: even with yellow clay under black soil, soil still drains well. When my age was still in single digits , artesian wells were very common in the area, not any more but they are still around.

IF, if your garden area is big enough, it would be worth the effort to rent a , or hire, a small tractor with a plow and plow over the garden area.
Then if you can get a hold of it, pile mulch, not wood chips, manure or compost on top and work that in with a roto-tiller.
That should give you a better top eight inches soil to work with and improve over time.
Even with my good soil, using mulch, a lot of, makes every thing better but I also use Sheep manure raw enough the straw it is in still looks like the straw it is in.
[Last edited by RpR - Oct 28, 2019 9:40 PM (+)]
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Name: Bea
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bumplbea
Oct 29, 2019 8:56 PM CST


Reading about everyone's journey with clay soil its different for everyone. I can identify with each example.

When I moved to Oregon the soil was hard pack clay. For the first few years added all sorts of recommended amendments. The soil was so hard packed being a large animal pasture for many years and never tilled it took days of soaking before the shovel could be used to even dig a hole. Digging was exhausting. At least with concrete you can use a jackhammer, not this stuff and in summers it gets so dry it becomes a fine powder and blows from the slightest breeze.

No matter how much amendments, manure were added, or graded and tilled ...Every year the clay soil was back to hard pan clay.

Building up the garden beds was a lasting alternative in this case. I ended up hauling in tons top soil and mushroom compost 6 to 8" in each garden bed. It's all a mature garden now and not the high up keep as each bed has mature plants with space to add new plants.... Thanks to the deer and gophers .

Soil is light and fluffy, drains well, and easy for new plants to adjust . Added compost from the horse manure and compost pile yearly, and mulch to keep down the weeds. Never needed to fertilize. I only use half strength liquid fertilizer in pots. I learned early on that fertilizer cases fast growth which in turn creates more of a bug infestation and the plants become chemical junkies.

The usual problem is the acid rain in the northwest . To help control the soil ph lime is added to the soil every few years in some areas of the garden where plants were not acid loving and required a higher ph level to do well.

Every area is different finding what works is key. There is a lot of good info
From Hamwild, RpR and Tara with years of experience. We are all gardeners determined to take the worst soil and turn it into better soil to and lovely gardens.



I’m so busy... “I don’t know if I found a rope or lost a horse.”
Name: kathy
Michigan (Zone 4b)
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katesflowers
Nov 3, 2019 7:03 AM CST
Thank you Luke, RpR, Hamwild and others who stepped up to this vital discussion. Our soil is everything. Without healthy soil we have nothing.
"Things won are done, joy's soul lies in the doing." Shakespeare
[Last edited by katesflowers - Nov 3, 2019 8:35 AM (+)]
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