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I was suggested to put bonemeal to my chili pepper to make it stronger. However the plant is already there and I've read about bonemeal in the wiki and found out that bonemeal doesn't move by itself in the soil.

I don't like to spread them on the surface because I don't want to attract bugs. If I want to mix the bonemeal thoroughly in the soil, there is no way to avoid digging out the plant. Even if I can dig out the whole plant, the soil could've been mixed with the root completely because the chili is not small.

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3 Answers 3

Bone meal does not help your plants. This is a myth that is found so extensively you would think it had been propagated from seed. From Linda Chalker-Scott of Washington State University

  • Bone meal supplies high levels of phosphorus and calcium, elements that are rarely limiting in non-agricultural soils.
  • Phosphorus, from bone meal or other sources, does not “stimulate” plant growth; it is only a mineral, not a plant growth regulator.
  • High levels of phosphorus, from bone meal or other sources, will inhibit growth of mycorrhizal fungi.
  • Without mycorrhizal partners, plants must put additional resources into root growth at the expense of other tissues and functions.

I also highly recommend her book about gardening myths which I read and shows how you can achieve the same or better gardening results with less work.

Edit: both blood and bone meal are byproducts from the meat packing industry. Blood meal is a good source of nitrogen. They are sometimes packaged together as blood and bone meal. The key differences are that:

  • nitrogen is mobile and not tightly bound in the soil so it can be used by roots quickly
  • some plants are heavy nitrogen users like corn or many green vegetables so it is a limiting factor

Edit @Ed Staub There is a difference between phosphorous must be present for root growth and "Bone meal helps stimulate strong root growth" or this site. In regards to mycorrhizal fungi "Approximately 90% of all vascular land plants live in some association with mycorrhizal fungi". That does not endorse selling MF supplements it just underlines that if you inhibit the growth of a plant's symbiotes then mineral uptake is decreased until more roots are grown. I would be very interested in any research that substantiates the claims that are made for bone meal.

Edit @Ed Staub In acid soils phosphorous is less available to plant roots as it is tied up as aluminum phosphate down to ph of 5 or iron phosphates below ph 5. Adding bone meal will not supply more phosphorous as it is limited by the soil ph. That's why they recommend liming agricultural soils before applying a phosphorous source. If gunbuster363 is growing his chili's in acidic soil below ph 6 he would get better yields by adding organic matter such as compost or growing plants that tolerate this such as potatoes, beets, cabbage and cucumbers. This question has some great answers on fertilizing vegetables.

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It's hard to believe...it has been practiced by many of my gardening web buddies. –  lamwaiman1988 Jun 11 '12 at 13:04
    
Thanks for the recommendation - my copy is winging its way to me from Amazon even now! –  D_Bye Jun 11 '12 at 13:12
    
Wow that's a myth busting there... Is "bone meal" the American term for "blood and bone"? If so, I'm deeply confused. –  Lisa Jun 12 '12 at 4:26
    
I sprinkled bone meal over my vegetable patch the other day and it seems to have resulted in a growth spurt. I have had on-and-off medium showers for weeks before and since the bone was sprinkled. –  Om Patange Jun 13 '12 at 0:03
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@EdStaub and Kevinsky: I think the comments here and the loose discussion on bone meal's effectiveness would be better served in a new question. One of you, please feel free to ask a question and each of you can provide your arguments that will have to be well researched — no anecdotal evidence. I think that such a "controlled discussion" will be useful for the site. –  Lorem Ipsum Jun 14 '12 at 1:06

Bone meal is primarily recommended for phosphate and calcium. Neither moves very rapidly through the soil. You should find out why bone meal was recommended: do you have a deficiency of phosphate or calcium? When you know that, then you can figure out what nutrients you need to provide, and then you can figure out what amendments you need and how you can best apply them.

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I wouldn't advise digging a plant out just to fertilize it - especially an annual. So regardless of the efficacy of bone meal in general, it doesn't seem like a good fit in this case.

As far as the need for phosphorus in some form - opinions clearly differ, as well as conditions. As @bstpierre noted, you can always test first - if it's worth it to you.

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