The 'Weed' That You Can Grow And Use To Water Your Garden

Keen amateur gardeners may already know that fertilizer is an essential garden ingredient that will help plants grow bigger and produce more fruit. But did you know that you can create your own nitrogen-rich plant fertilizer for absolutely free using something you may already have in your garden or find in surrounding woodlands and parks? Yes, nettles are weeds that are actually good to grow in your garden.

It may not be necessary to use fertilizers if you have healthy soil, but if your plants show signs of nutrient deficiency, like yellowing leaves and other discoloration, homemade DIY fertilizers can be an affordable remedy. However, If you want to use this garden hack it's very important to be aware that you're not the only one relying on those stinging nettles for nutrients. Erica's Little Welsh Garden on YouTube points out, "Stinging nettles are a vital food source for the caterpillars belonging to the Red Admiral, Tortoiseshell, and Painted Lady butterflies."

Butterflies lay their eggs on the underside of the nettle leaves so that when they hatch there is a great food source ready and waiting. So be mindful of this when harvesting nettles for your homemade fertilizer, and be sure to check the underside of leaves for eggs before you snip them off. Erica suggests as a rule of thumb, try to take a maximum of just one-third from any patch of nettles that you find.

How to make homemade plant fertilizer from stinging nettles

To make this homemade fertilizer you'll need a bucket without holes in the bottom and preferably a lid, because leaving this mixture to ferment for a few weeks will create a strong smell that may not please your neighbors. You'll also need a pair of sharp garden scissors and some heavy-duty garden gloves to protect your hands. Lastly, save up a bucketful of rainwater that has been sitting for a little while. Rainwater is superior to tap water as it's free of salts, minerals, and treatment chemicals, and contains nitrates, an important macro-nutrient, that will help the fermentation process.

Wearing protective gloves, cut stems with nettle leaves, not forgetting to check the undersides for butterfly eggs. Roughly chop these up until your bucket is half full and then fill the rest up with your saved rainwater. Use a stick to prod down the vegetation so it lays underneath the surface of the water. Now put the lid on and leave the bucket at the far end of your garden where any smell won't be a nuisance. After a few weeks, your homemade fertilizer will be ready to harvest and use in your garden. Keep in mind that it will be very concentrated. A good dilution ratio is one part fertilizer to 10 parts water.

What is homemade fertilizer made from stinging nettles good for?

Because nettle fertilizer is so high in nitrogen, chlorophyll, and plant polyphenols it's the perfect tonic to use at the beginning of the season on seedlings to stimulate vigorous leaf growth. You can also use it on anything throughout the season that doesn't flower — like your kale, cabbages, and other brassica. However, it's not as useful when it comes to plants that produce fruit or root veggies.

This is because while you may end up with a big bushy leafy plant, when it comes to harvesting your fruits and vegetables you may be disappointed with the output. All that energy will have gone into producing the plant leaves instead. So if you want to grow things like potatoes or tomatoes you'll need to switch to a fertilizer that will provide a broader spectrum of nutrients and that are high in potassium.

If you want more instant results you can also try a quicker method of steeping one ounce of nettle leaves per cup of boiling water for 30 minutes, a bit like brewing tea. Once the leaves have wilted, skim them off and add 10 parts water to one part nettle juice as above and leave until cool. This method is less stinky and nicer to use on your indoor houseplants.