In the long term, all plants need fertilizer. The trade offers a sheer mass of universal as well as special fertilizers. Whether in liquid form, as sticks or granules for mixing into the plant substrate. Among them is also a nitrogen fertilizer made from horn shavings. We explain what it is all about.
A more exotic way to provide nutrients to one’s plants is to fertilize with horn shavings, a granule made from cattle horn and hooves. Compared to artificial fertilizers, horn shavings offer the following advantages:
- Renewable raw material
- More compatible with the soil
- Overdosage almost impossible
- Long-term effect
Horn shavings – nitrogen fertilizer with long-term effect
Cattle horn is naturally high in nitrogen. Nitrogen is considered one of the most important nutrients for plants, but is only present in small quantities in the local soils. Therefore, it is necessary to help out here. Horn shavings are ideally suited for this purpose, as they contain hardly any other substances and thus do not unnecessarily burden the soil with potassium, phosphates and the like.
Unlike many artificial fertilizers, horn shavings cannot develop their effect in the soil on their own. This requires the assistance of various soil organisms. Only when fungi, microorganisms, bacteria and the like decompose the horn shavings in the soil, the nitrogen contained therein is released.
Horn shavings, horn grit and horn meal
The speed of decomposition depends, among other things, on the size of the crushed horn particles. Usually, the trade offers three different variants:
The coarsest form is horn shavings. The horn particles are coarsely ground and can be several millimeters in size. The decomposition takes a relatively long time, which makes this variant a long-term fertilizer. The effective period is usually several months.
Somewhat finer than horn shavings is the so-called horn grit. The material as well as the contained nutrients are the same, but horn grit is more strongly ground. Accordingly, the decomposition of the horn and the release of nitrogen and. Co to soil and plants.
Horn meal is the most finely ground variant of biofertilizer. The release of nutrients is correspondingly the fastest.
Temperature, moisture content as well as the aeration of the soil are also decisive for how quickly the horn shavings fertilizer unfolds its effect.
Tip: Mix the horn shavings with fresh compost soil. This usually contains a lot of microorganisms, fungi and bacteria, which then immediately start to decompose the horn shavings.
Mixing horn shavings fertilizer and compost soil also has another advantage: the compost supplements the nitrogen of the horn shavings with other nutrients that the plants urgently need for healthy growth.
As an alternative to compost, you can also supplement the horn shavings with manure or animal meal. Which of these is most suitable depends on the plants in question, on the one hand, and on the given soil properties, on the other.
Other animal slaughter waste such as blood and bones can also be used for fertilizing. How to fertilize with blood and bones, read here.
How to use horn shavings as fertilizer?
Vegetable plants such as cabbage, pumpkin, eggplant or cucumbers have a high nitrogen requirement, which is why fertilizer made from horn is ideal here. An added bonus here is that horn shavings can deter slugs. To do this, simply spread the shavings all around the plant in question on the surface of the soil.
Lawns also have a high nitrogen requirement. If you are seeding a new lawn, you can work horn shavings into the soil in advance as a slow-release fertilizer, preferably in the spring.
In summer, horn meal fertilizer should be sprinkled over the lawn if needed. Horn meal is also very suitable for lawns that are already several years old. Especially in areas that are becoming bare, the nitrogen fertilizer can get the growth going again.
By the way: horn shavings should only be used outdoors. In tub and houseplants, the decomposition of the horn – if at all – is extremely slow.
Basically, when using horn shavings as fertilizer, keep the following in mind:
- Always apply the horn shavings fertilizer at the beginning of the gardening season, i.e. in the spring. Alternatively, you can also start with it when you sow new seeds or plant new plants.
- As a rule of thumb, mix about 30 – 50 grams (equivalent to a good handful) of horn shavings into 20 liters of soil.
- If you apply the horn shavings directly to the soil or in the bed, you should work them in with a rake.
- If new shrubs or bushes are being planted, you can mix some of the excavated soil with horn shavings and then place it deep into the planting hole. This will also provide the deeper soil layers, and thus the roots, with slow-release fertilizer.
After applying the fertilizer, whether by mixing, incorporating or, in the case of turf, scattering, it is important to water the soil well. This is because if the horn shavings are decomposed on the surface, the nitrogen can escape into the air, thus doing your plants no good at all.
Attention: dogs, foxes and other animals often react to the smell of the horn shavings. As a rule, it is not too harmful to health if the crushed horn parts are swallowed, but better stop digging holes early.
How ecological are horn shavings and what alternatives are there?
Horn shavings offered on the market often do not come from Europe, but from South America. In this country, cattle usually have their horns removed when they are young so that they do not self-harm or injure other members of the herd in the cramped stalls. In South America, however, cattle are often kept on large pastures. Here, the risk of injury from the horns is much lower.
So if you want to use horn shavings as fertilizer, always consider the origin. From an ecological point of view, the long transport route is questionable. When it comes to animal welfare, it must first be said that horn shavings are the waste product of slaughter cattle, but how the animals were treated while alive is usually impossible to determine.
If, on the other hand, you prefer a nitrogen fertilizer that is just as ecological, but vegan, you can use stinging nettles, for example. Bring after the excavation some nettle leaves or also cut off nettle plants into the planting hole. Become this now. Covered with moist soil as well as the actual planting material, a slow decomposition process also begins. In the process – as with horn shavings – nitrogen is slowly released into the soil.
By the way, if you buy organic or vegan products in stores, such as lettuce, it may still have been fertilized with horn shavings or other animal (waste) products. According to EU law, this is allowed without further labeling.
The basic idea of using horn shavings as fertilizer is not wrong. After all, it is a waste product that is produced anyway and would otherwise be disposed of. Whether you now use the imported horn shavings as fertilizer, or rely on vegan alternatives, is of course up to you.
I have 30 years of experience and i started this website to see if i could try and share my knowledge to help you.
With a degree a Horticulture BSc (Hons)
I have worked as a horticulture specialist lead gardener, garden landscaper, and of course i am a hobby gardener at home in my own garden.
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