You don’t need Miracle-Gro®

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You don't need Miracle-Gro. My son smoothing soil after  planting garlic. You get good soil from adding compost and manure to your garden.

My son smoothing soil after planting garlic. You get good soil from adding compost and manure to your garden.

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.

My shredded leaf piles that I use for mulch and a compost starter.

My shredded leaf piles that I use for mulch and as a compost starter.

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 potager last fall.

The potager last fall. You don’t need Miracle-Gro®.

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.

Making manure tea.

Making manure tea.

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.



I'm a writer, born and raised in Oklahoma, and an obsessive gardener who grows shrubs, perennials and vegetables on my acreage each year. My favorite veggies have to be homegrown hybrid or heirloom tomatoes, Genovese basil and hot and mild peppers. It's an Italian salsa garden at my house.

25 thoughts on “You don’t need Miracle-Gro®

  1. Great rant! Just saw a Scott’s commercial the other day and they had these cute Scottish guys selling the public with their infectious accents, darn. Unfortunately there is no one that is going to go on TV and sell compost and manure : ) Thanks to people like you we are getting the word out. We give a two sided sheet called “Healthy Soil is the Key to Healthy Plants” to everyone ponential customer we meet. I figure even if they don’t hire us I have given them some good advice. We used compost tea as a foliar spray most of the year. If it is real cold or real hot we use liquid seaweed extract. It really helps plants deal with planting stress in the heat and cold. I prefer Maxicrop but there are others, not all work as well though. Happy Gardening!

    • Thanks Laurin. I know you guys are trying to educate the world as well one customer at a time. Rock on!

  2. Reminds me of the comedy movie Idiocracy. The planet is facing a food shortage because they have been watering with a sports drink.

  3. Miracle Gro has just soft-launched Nature’s Care – an all organic line of soils and fertilizers in Home Depot over Memorial Day weekend in Oregon. Not sure how it will do. They had it on an end cap near the veggies. Looks like they are trying.

    • Hey Dawn, I think the only reason they are trying is because they want an even bigger share of the market. They realize that many gardeners, especially those in the Millennial generation don’t buy their products. I would love to see them switch their focus to organics, but when I’m at the stores, I see the organic line hidden in the back of the stores while the chemicals are in the checkout line. Thanks for commenting.

  4. This is an important story that needs to be told. Just because a company has a lot of money to advertise, doesn’t mean you need to buy it for your garden. Composting is an excellent way to improve your garden soil’s texture, and it basically just reuses your old food/yard waste and turns it into valuable organic matter. Thanks for sharing, Dee. Great post.

  5. Last weekend at the festival in the park i talked to many people who wanted to garden but insisted they had brown thumbs. i told them what i’ve learned from you and others, no one has a brown thumb. it takes interest and good soil to garden. i told them everyone kills something – just don’t let it defeat you – keep trying. i even gave a young mother my phone number bc her family is getting ready to move onto 5 acres and she doesn’t know where to start. now i wish i’d thought to tell her about your book. when i talk to her again, i’ll tell her. i just got so excited that i lost my head. ha!

    • Jennie darling, you’re a wonderful ambassador for gardening. All it takes sometimes to get people interested in growing is someone kind to help them. You’re that kind someone. Keep on growing my dear.

  6. I picked up some Miracle Gro potting soil earlier this year, mostly because it was all the store had at the time. The plants are doing okay, but I’m also overwhelmed with mushrooms and tons of tiny flies. Only the plants that had the Miracle Gro soil has these problems, the others are fine. That was more than enough to convince me that Miracle Gro isn’t some magic stuff.

    • Hi Amber, it’s hard to find good potting soil sometimes. Yes, the MG potting soil probably has too much nitrogen in it which is causing you to get more bugs and maybe even the mushrooms. I buy potting soil from my local nursery. It has nothing in it except whatever granulated organic fertilizer I put in it. Thanks for writing. You’re right. MG is no miracle.

  7. OK, I now realize that I need to become a fan of your blog and read EVERYTHING. I remember my grandma and grandpa’s ‘compost pile’, and it was awful but they had a beautiful garden that fed all 7 of us (I didn’t even know we were poor, we ate so well.) and I want to get to using a compost bin. But for now, to get started, I ordered what I thought was a great organic soil from a local nursery. But, the soil seems not-quite-right. It’s very mulchy, not how I picture ‘soil’ being at all. The plants are all pale and just not healthy looking, so I figured they needed a boost. So, I JUST today used Miracle Gro’s organic blood meal. Did I do an awful thing? And what can I do to help the garden perk up at this point? I don’t have (or have the money for right now) a compost bin.

    • Aileen, you didn’t do an awful thing. This blog is a no shame zone for one thing, and you actually used blood meal which is a great source of organic nitrogen. I just wouldn’t buy more Miracle-Gro products because Scotts is aligned with Monsanto. Plus, they make enough money. From the description of your potting soil, I think it did have too much bark in it and thus tied up the nitrogen. Next time you have trouble, try a balanced organic fertilizer from a company like Rabbit Hill or Ladybug Brand. Annie Haven also has wonderful Moo Poo manure tea. Plus, you can buy organic compost. I do all the time because I never make enough compost to satisfy my hungry garden. Thanks so much for stopping by, and I hope you’ll come back again.~~Dee

    • Hi Aileen, you don’t need a commercial compost bin. All you need is a place to pile your organic waste. It will compost on it’s own. If you want something a bit more organized use a couple of wood pallets. I have a three bin compost system made from four pallets attached to my cedar fence (use some scrap plywood to keep it from discoloring the fence). If I stir and water the compost regularly it breaks down in 4-6 weeks. I get plenty of material from our own yard and food waste, plus I ask my neighbors for their bagged leaves in the fall. It gives us plenty of fertilizer for our ~1/6 acre lot.

      • You’re absolutely right Andy. You can also pile compost in wire cages. I’ve done that too. Sometimes, I just pile it period. 🙂 Thanks for your thoughts!

        • What about pests? Doesn’t it invite rats? We live in rattlesnake country, and I’d be of attracting rodents and in turn attracting snakes…

          • Aileen, if you use dried matter, leaves, small twigs and such with green matter like fresh leaves, scrap vegetables, etc., you will be fine. I live where we have copperhead snakes, rattlesnakes and water moccasins. The only reason a compost pile would attract vermin is because it has meat and dairy in it. Those type of products will attract mice and rats, and they attract snakes.

  8. Great post! I only used Miracle Grow once and then learned of the “side effects” of overuse. I started composting and using that instead and have had very good success. The first thing people ask when they see my garden is, “what do you fertilize with?” they are shocked when I tell them just compost! A composter in our Master Gardener group always says, “It’s not rocket science it ROT science” Love it!

  9. Oh what great information! I didn’t know and truly didn’t use much Miracle Gro until I purchased some geraniums at a green house owned by the Amish. I bragged on his geraniums as they were gorgeous and he said they like to be fed often with Miracle Gro. I consider myself only a rookie gardener, but if we are given information of how to care for our annuals, isn’t it a shame that composting doesn’t come to mind? I have been working on my compost bin for a year without much success because it was too cheap and fell apart. I have not given up. I really love your blog!

    • Thank you so much Jill. We all learn step by step. I understand how composting doesn’t always come to mind. Now, it’s back out to the garden for me.

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