Sunday, April 24, 2011


It's been a while since the roses were fed. I think around the middle of February was their last meal. A few are looking a little spent after their heavy blooming. The other day my friend was going to the feed store on her lunch hour, so I asked her to pick up 50 pounds of alfalfa pellets for me. The bag cost $11.10. The fellows at the feed store made a comment about the alfalfa, and she said, "Oh, no, it's not for my horses. My friend feeds it to her roses!" They couldn't believe it and then had a big laugh about it. Imagine giving perfectly good horse feed to roses!! offers this about alfalfa meal.
Alfalfa meal: Derived from alfalfa plants and pressed into a pellet form, alfalfa meal is beneficial for adding nitrogen and potassium (about 2 percent each), as well as trace minerals and growth stimulants. Roses, in particular, seem to like this fertilizer and benefit from up to 5 cups of alfalfa meal per plant every ten weeks, worked into the soil. Add it to your compost pile to speed up the process.

Wikipedia says:

Triacontanol is a growth stimulant for many plants, most notably roses, in which it rapidly increases the number of basal breaks. says:
Alfalfa provides many nutritional benefits not only for plant use, but for soil organisms as well. One very important ingredient is triacontanol, a powerful plant growth regulator. Orchid and rose growers make an alfalfa tea and spray it directly on as a foliar fertilizer. Alfalfa is very high in vitamins, plus N-P-K-Ca, Mg, and other valuable minerals. It also includes sugars, starches, proteins, fiber and 16 amino acids. Approximate analysis is 3-1-2. Alfalfa helps plants create larger flowers and increases the tolerance to cold. Make alfalfa tea by soaking 1 cup of alfalfa meal per 5 gallon of water.
Dry alfalfa is a good slow-release source of nitrogen, but since you will be "digesting" it by letting it ferment in water, the resulting tea is a soluable, fast-acting nitrogen source. Also, by making alfalfa (or manure) tea, you don't have to worry about weed seeds sprouting from the fertilizer. Orchid and rose growers use alfalfa tea as a foliar spray. If you grow delphiniums and irises, they also love alfalfa tea. Some iris growers mulch their beds with alfalfa meal. And an additional benefit for delphiniums is that the Epsom salts in the tea help to ward off slugs and snails. In addition to nitrogen, alfalfa supplies enzymes and trace elements that are not present in chemical nitrogen fertilizers.
I am applying alfalfa pellets to my garden beds this weekend. In the past I have applied it in the form of alfalfa tea (soil drench) at the rate of one gallon per bush. I mix it in a 32-gallon trash can with about 16 cups of alfalfa pellets. (Recipes vary.) The pellets provide nutrients to the plants over a two to four month period while the tea is an immediate source of nutrients because of the fermentation process used in making the tea. I have never used it as a foliar spray, but I should give it a try one day.

A study on the International Society of Horticultural Science website reports that application of alfalfa pellets seems to be a tool for control of root-knot nematodes.

When I first saw the list of minerals, enzymes, vitamins and amino acids contained in alfalfa, I was amazed. Why does alfalfa contain all the beneficial things listed below? Because of its root system which can grow deeper than 15 feet and is able to fix nitrogen in its root even in poor soil. Here's a fact sheet to check out.

Here is Mr. Inkpen's list of Alfalfa ingredients:
Triacontanol (growth stimulant)
Vitamin A (high concentration)
Pantothenic Acid
Folic Acid
Crude proteins (16 - 25% in dry alfalfa)

Amino acids (% in alfalfa meal).
Tryptophan, 0.3 %
Aspartic Acid, 2.3%
Threonine, 1.0 %
Serine, 1.0%
Glutamic Acid, 2.7%
Proline, 1.2%
Glycine, 1.1%
Alanine, 1.1%
Cystine, 0.2%
Valine, 1.0%
Methionine, 0.3%
Isoleucine, 0.8%
Leucine, 1.6%
Tyrosine, 0.5%
Phenylalanine, 1.0%
Histidine, 0.4%
Lysine, Total, 1.1%
Arginine, 1.1%

Minerals (contained in dry alfalfa)
Nitrogen 3.75-5.5 %
Potassium .75 - 3.5 %
Phosphorus .3 - .7%
Calcium 1 - 2 %
Magnesium .30 - 1 %
Sulphur .2 - .5 %
Manganese 30-200 ppm
Iron 20-250 ppm
Boron 20-80 ppm
Copper 5-20 ppm
Zinc 20-70 ppm
And here's his recipe for Alfalfa Tea:
The Mix:
Choose a garbage bin or barrel with no leaks and a tight fitting lid. Position it in an out of the way place - you don't want to have to move it once it's full. For a full size garbage bin (20 gallons) add 16 cups of alfalfa pellets or alfalfa meal (4 cups to every 5 gallons or 22 litres of water)

Add 1 - 2 cups of Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate crystals) (or one quarter to half a cup to 5 gallons) Optionally, add two tablespoons of Iron Chelate
Fill with water, put on a tight lid to prevent mosquitos from breeding in your "swamp"
Let stand for one week until it bubbles with fermentation. Your nose will tell you that it's ready.

Some garden friends I know use alfalfa meal/pellets as their only fertilizer. It is certainly an economical one.


  1. The 'stench' from the alfalfa tea makes me gag. One time when I made a batch, our neighbor came out his side door, and he must have gotten a whiff because he said 'What's that smell?' We have a 6' high privacy fence and he didn't see me or what I was doing. I didn't clue him in either.

    I may just try this dry. Do you notice weeds popping up from the dry pellets? We went to a feed store out west of town to buy this and it was around $10. Cheap that's for sure.

    Thanks for this info.

    I did buy some milorganite, right around $10. How much do you use for your roses?

    Thanks for this informative post.


  2. Sherry, I have a 50 lb bag too! And a 15 lb bag of blood and bone meal. I'm planning on feeding my roses after the first flush, probably in a few weeks. Alfalfa has made a tremendous difference in my soil. I gave up on the tea (too much stink and work hauling the buckets of water all over the yard). What I do now is soak the pellets in some water till they get mushy. Then I plop a handfull or two under each rose. I will also mix in the bone and blood and cottonseed meal. Yummy!!!

    We have veggies this year and I'm thinking of doing a compost tea foliar for the veggies. Maybe I'll have enough for the roses. We'll see.


  3. I've got a bag here too. I used to use it a lot at the old house and then forgot about it for a few years. Last year, several roses seemed to be struggling and I tried it again...with the result of probably saving 3 roses that are much more vigorous this year. I also let it ferment and then dump water and dissolved pellets on. For Flowerlady, I think it also works to dump it on top, but you have to be careful you don't draw deer or rabbits, if those are problems in your yard.

  4. Great informative post, Sherry! I always knew that alfalfa is good, but not that it is THAT good. I used it this year on roses that had difficulties to produce basal growth and sure enough they made a couple of new basal canes after being fed with alfalfa. By now I really swear by it!

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  6. I tried just sprinkling the pellets (without making it into tea) for the first time this spring. I plan to do it again here soon.

  7. Sherry: Thanks for a very informative post! I did not know alfalfa at all, needless to say the benefits of it. Now I got to find a store that sells this. If I have had this, maybe I could have saved some roses I lost last year.

  8. I have used the pellets, but I am aiming to try the tea. Thanks for the post, Sherry! It's a great reminder. I have to get going! Now is the perfect time.

  9. Sherry, I'm in awe of this post! Honestly, I've been in the dark re. alfalfa meal as a fertilizer. I'm so excited to learn of it's qualities and uses! I'll definitely use it, as I'm having a very difficult time amending my soil aka sand. I'll also like to use it as a spray for my orchids..they'll love it! Thank you!! Thank you!!

  10. That's a really good price for alfalfa, lucky you! Just make sure it does not contain salt or wormicide :).

  11. Sherry,
    I'm so glad you posted this... was just at the feed store this week contemplating Alfalfa pellets. Also wondering what do you know/experience about Calf Manna??? Decided not to purchase anything as it can be kind of confusing what to use for what and how much. So far I've been an ardent user of seabird guano, bone meal and blood meal on my (very few) roses. Just not sure what is over-kill. Thanks for the good information.

  12. Great Blog!! Alfalfa is really good for health. Your thought processing is wonderful. The way you tell the thing is awesome.

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