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There are many web sites on how to use bone meal with claims like "Using bone meal will help your flowering plants, like roses or bulbs, grow bigger and more plentiful flowers." Is this true for all plants, just vegetables and bulbs or not at all?

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check out the link I've now added to my response at the bottom... –  Bamboo Jun 5 at 11:08

2 Answers 2

It is going to be true if it contains nutrient(s) that are in short supply.

Bonemeal is considered a slow-release high phosphate fertilizer: bones are primarily apatite - a Calcium Carbonate Phosphate, and the phosphate is more tightly bound than in mined phosphates which are often just simple salts (ie. that dissolve easily). It also has a small quantity of nitrates, and I would expect it to make a good source of Calcium (a micronutrient).

So if your soil is short of phosphate relative to your plant's requirements, then yes it would be a good amendment. If the soil isn't short, then you're not going to see much change. Too much and you may even see damage (eg. fertilizer burn). This is true of any required resource of nutrient. E.g. Extra water is only going to be beneficial if it is dry.

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I doubt that you could burn with bone meal... solubility of apatite being rather low. –  Grady Player Jun 16 '12 at 3:33
    
True fertilizer burn may be less of a risk compared to say Ammonium Nitrate fertilizers, but damage is still a potential risk - everything is harmful if there's too much of it! –  winwaed Jul 5 '12 at 13:50
    
I done know... Can't find anything indicating that you could... Good ole le chaltllier's principle should keep dissolution in check. –  Grady Player Jul 5 '12 at 14:22
    
so, is phosphate commonly deficient in garden soils? Or does this change by area? –  kevinsky Jul 11 '12 at 19:27
    
I would expect it to vary by area. For example, some parts of southern England probably have quite a bit as it can be found in some of the Cretaceous rocks of S.England / Low Countries. A sandstone rich area is probably going to have much less - primarily from rotting vegetation & animals I should think. –  winwaed Jul 12 '12 at 13:03

The answer, according to my old Horticultural College lecturer, is no, it's not going to do much for your plants at all, because it takes so long to break down.

UPDATE JUNE 2014: Here's confirmation of the science behind what I've said - I note I've been marked down two points, one of which was done yesterday (no prizes for guessing who that one might be from):-

http://puyallup.wsu.edu/~Linda%20Chalker-Scott/Horticultural%20Myths_files/Myths/Bonemeal.pdf

The only other thing I can find which Linda Chalker doesn't mention is that the phosphorus content in bonemeal is only available to plants growing in soil with a ph of 7 or less, so if your soil is alkaline, the plants won't be able to access it anyway. This was the result of a study carried out by Colorado State University into organic fertilisers - there's a link to it under Wiki.

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I have found this reference as well. Any other ones to corroborate? –  kevinsky Jun 5 at 14:03
    
When I first started reading up on gardening I saw a lot of people on forums who seemed to know what they were talking about be very dismissive of Linda Chalker Scott. Over the years I began to understand why, especially after an online back and forth I had with her. I prefer to see the studies she's referencing rather than count on the conclusions she makes. –  OrganicLawnDIY Jun 5 at 15:44
    
I've actually had good results using the stuff. It breaks down fine in healthy soil. –  J. Musser Jun 6 at 1:14
    
Bones actually contain a good amount of protein as well. Protein = nitrogen once composted. –  J. Musser Jun 6 at 1:17

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