I really hesitated writing this post, but my thoughts and reservations about Miracle-Gro® have percolated for years. It’s now time to write about this blue/green brew. Let’s begin with a conversation I have with nearly every gardener I meet. It usually goes something like this:
Gardener pats the soil. “The [insert plant] is planted. I’ll just come back later and give it some Miracle-Gro®. Right?”
“Well, I wouldn’t. I never use Miracle-Gro®.”
Gardener, with a confused look, “Doesn’t the plant need to be fed?”
“Maybe not. How’s your soil? Have you tested it?”
“Test my soil? Why and how would I do that?”
Me, mentally banging my head against the garden fence. “We don’t feed plants. We nurture the soil in which they grow. Testing your soil shows whether it has the right balance of nutrients and its texture from clay, silt, sand or more likely, a mixture of the three. Contact your local Cooperative Extension Service. These nice folks will help you with everything you need to complete a soil test.”
The conversation either ends with the gardener thanking me, or with them drifting away still determined to drench their plants with this chemical fertilizer. Miracle-Gro®, often overused, leaches nitrogen and phosphorous into storm drains where it eventually meets up with ponds and ground water. Too much nitrogen and phosphorous causes algae bloom and is called nutrient pollution. Many soils already have plenty of potassium and phosphorous so they may not need more, and both nutrients remain in soil for a long period of time. So, test your soil before using any fertilizer.
Miracle-Gro® has an N-P-K ratio of 24-.8-16 for the single packet serving you mix and spray or drench. The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company (Scotts) also makes other formulations along with potting soils and other products like Osmocote®–which I also don’t use–but today, I’m only focusing upon their liquid fertilizer. The nitrogen, potassium and phosphate are derived from ammonium sulphate (ammonia treated with sulfuric acid and often a by product of coal production), potassium phosphate, potassium chloride, urea and urea phosphate. This is information I gleaned from the label online.
If you look at Scotts current website, they have their laser beam focused upon beginning gardeners, the ones I also coach in The 20-30 Something Garden Guide: A No-Fuss, Down and Dirty, Gardening 101 for Anyone Who Wants to Grow Stuff. The company doesn’t money on experienced gardeners. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions why.
As a group, Americans hardly know where our food comes from anymore, and the idea that we need a fluorescent fertilizer to grow plants is yet another way we’ve been manipulated. Does Miracle-Gro® work? Yes, I suppose it does, but at what cost? Instead of dosing our plants with fertilizer, shouldn’t we enrich our soil and help earthworms and other beneficials in the bargain?
The thing I hate most about Miracle-Gro® isn’t that their parent company, Scotts is aligned with Monsanto–although that makes my skin crawl–it’s that Scotts made a fortune making gardeners feel they need glow-in-the-dark fertilizer to grow. Scotts has unleashed a variety of commercials on the public. They have products to sell, but you don’t have to buy them. An early commercial I remember showed a dingy gardener with a dead plant. The idea was that if only the gardener had used Miracle-Gro®, their plant would have lived and thrived. Later commercials compared a normal plant in a pot with one that appeared to be pumped up on steroids. The steroid hopping plant was–you guessed it–given Miracle-Gro®. Egad, do we want our plants to look like they went to the gym and lifted heavy things? I know I don’t.
However, Scotts’ newest commercials irk me the most. One shows two Millennials growing their first garden. They are treated like idiots, and trust me, the most educated group of people on the planet isn’t dumb. The couple talks about how their plants died until they found Miracle-Gro®. It also shows them spraying it on everything like it’s just water. Their newest commercial incarnation is called “Grow Something Greater.” I’m not going to link to it because I don’t want to give it more page views. It’s smart, and the company did its marketing by tapping into things Millennials care about including doing something greater. The commercial shows 20-30 Somethings eating with each other in celebration. They show flirting. They show herbs on a fence. Don’t fall for it.
If you believe Miracle-Gro®, my grandparents wouldn’t have been able to feed themselves without it. I promise you they did. My grandmother never talked to me about feeding plants. She did speak a lot about the soil as she ran it through her fingers testing its texture.
If your soil is well and healthy, your plants will be too. Think of plants as people for a moment. We know that if we eat salad, complex carbohydrates and protein while limiting our sugar intake, we are usually healthy. A body with a healthy immune system is able to fight off viruses and bad bacteria. Sure, we sometimes need an antibiotic, but we shouldn’t use them all the time. Furthermore, being loaded up on steroids, i.e., too much fertilizer makes us sick. Steroids lower our immune system’s ability to fight infection and viruses. Plants are not so different. They need the best soil to stay their healthiest. I’m not saying they never need fertilizer, but the truth is, they don’t need much–unless you’re growing in containers that leach out nutrients when you water. I use alfalfa, manure and mixed organic fertilizers when needed, but these vitamins are made with ingredients that break down and enrich the soil naturally. Good soil full of compost and beneficial fungi helps your plants fight off infections and viruses. Any fertilizer is simply a vitamin pill.
My gardens look healthy and happy without a bit of Miracle-Gro®. I haven’t used it since I was a new gardener over 32 years ago. Yes, I used it then because I thought I had to. I guess that’s why I’m on such a rant. You see, Miracle-Gro® made me feel as if I needed them when I was only nineteen years old, and my grandmother lived far away. It was only after I learned more about gardening that I realized the quickest solution isn’t always the best. If you want to use a foliar or liquid drench fertilizer, use something good for your plants and your soil like Authentic Haven Brand Moo Poo tea, or John’s Recipe™ by Ladybug Natural Brand™. You can also make your own manure tea. I show you how in the book. You don’t need Miracle-Gro®, and they don’t need real gardeners either.