My first step in building my fertilizer game

I have some Miracle Grow liquid all-purpose fertilizer that’s been sitting around. I’ve been using it on my potted plants. I figure if I follow the instructions and only fertilize every couple of weeks, I probably am not doing any harm. Don’t know if I’m doing any good. It’s running out, so recently I bought a bag of the cheapest granular fertilizer I could find. Recently I dissolved a bit of it and diluted it in water and used that. Again, I figured if I kept the amounts low I probably wouldn’t do any harm.

I know I should be doing soil analyses. I finally found the King County (Seattle) Soil Testing Program web site “Each resident in our service area is eligible for a total of five free basic soil nutrient tests for properties they either own or rent. Additional soil tests can be ordered for $20 each.” They also have a link to A&L Western Laboratories, which is where they send soil samples.

I also followed a link on the Miracle Gro label, which took me to the Washingotn State Agg Department…I as able to look up the two fertilizers on the Fertilizer database page.

Screenshot_2021-05-08 Washington State Department of Agriculture(1)

Then I made a spreadsheet to explore how much macronutrients there are in the Miracle Gro when diluted according to the instructions. I then calculated how much of the granular would be required to match. Just to start getting a better idea of how this works. Unfortunately I don’t have a scale yet.


You do not say what you are fertilizing: garden, fruit trees, ??
So it’s difficult to advise. If it’s just plants that are not food producing probably miracle grow and chemicals may be all you need. But if you intend to feed some plants for food, that’s a different story. I have lived and gardened here in king co for over 30 years. This volcanic soils needs a lot to be useful and productive, so if you are serious about improving your soil, let me know and I will have a series of questions that you can answer to guide my advice.
Take care,
Kent, wa

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Dennis! Thanks!

The things I described is for non-food. For example, I have about 100 hydrangea starts, plus other flowering and non-flowering plants. I used chemicals because I have never fertilized anything before and I wanted to do something quickly. I went from nothing to a backyard full of nursery pots in one season.

I posted the images from the fertilizer database because 1) I expected to see copper in the Miracle Gro and didn’t, and 2) I didn’t like seeing the heavy metals in the 16/16/16, although I don’t where the reported PPMs fit in the range.

I haven’t used the fertilizer on the fruit bushes & trees except for a little rhododendron fertilizer I put on the blueberries once. I would be totally happy to learn how to analyze my soil and nurture and improve it and make my own potting soil. Most of my food production is tied up with the fruit trees, although I do have some small spaces for vegetables.

Hi Eric,
Feel free to contact me directly by email or phone should you just want to discuss soil improvement. Below are a few things I have learned since moving to my property in 1993.

  1. Volcanic origin soils are typically not high in organic or clays but often are accompanied by hard pans especially on our high plateaus which were typically formed from glacial action. So to improve the Cation exchange capacity (CEC) so that plants can actuallly access the soil nutrients, you need to add a lot of organic material and conditioners.
  2. The three best conditioners for the money that I have found are: river sand, compost consisting of yard waste, grass clippings, horse manure, and leaves, and planting a green manure on my garden space to grow during winter. Each spring I till the green manure into my soil to improve texture and increase the CEC. Each year I build a large compost that I till with my tiller and in the spring I spread it on key fruit growing and garden spaces.
  3. I add a lot of river sand each year primarily for two reasons: to give my earthworms the grit they need to consume huge volumes of organic materials converting them to useful nutrients. Second, I imported European and Canadian crawlers to help the native red wrigglers do their work.
    If you live near a horse barn that is the best source for manure as most barns want to have people come get it at no cost. Most parks do not care if you collect leaves each fall.
    Getting the soil test from King County is a good start. So if you want to discuss any subject I have mentioned, you may call me at (253) 326-0887 or email me directly at
    Take care and do not hesitate to contact me if I can help you better understand soil improvement.

CEC is the key to fertility! Worth reading up on before you get too far along.
A post I made this AM to another thread: here in the pacific Nw where volcanic soils predominate, and we have so very little clay content in native soils, what we have to work with is a very low CEC that often causes rainfall to runoff more than actually be absorbed. So we have to do more than the average bear to make nutrients actually available for plant uptake. Does no good to keep adding fertilizers if the soil cannot absorb them or mineralized them so that plant roots can access the nutrients.
Since the Cation exchange capacity is a key indicator of soil fertility, the most common ways we have to increase it is to add supplements like compost, river sand etc.
How do you increase cation exchange capacity? Consider this quote:

“Improving CEC
You can improve CEC in weathered soils by adding lime and raising the pH. Otherwise, adding organic matter is the most effective way of improving the CEC of your soil.”
3 years ago I imported European and Canadian crawlers to help improve my soils. Each year I add river sand to help the critters grind up the large quantities of horse manure and straw I add to the compost. This material is then tilled into my garden each spring along with the green manures I grow during winter. I can say that my soil is 20 times more fertile than when I arrived and purchased the property in 1993.
So to me there is no upper limit to the organic material to have fertile soil. Having a high CEC makes all nutrients more available for plant uptake.

As you can see, I have as much an interest in creating good material for containers as I do beds and fruit trees. And I have fruit trees in the ground and in containers. So lots of variables.

this is the front area with 3 plum trees, 3 cherry trees, 2 pears and 3 grape vines … original soil under the wood chips. In the foreground is where I had raspberries but I just ripped them out because I thought they might have raspberry bushy dwarf virus. I want to put some vegetables there and in the other similar area where I ripped out raspberries.

this bed is topsoil from Pacific Topsoils I brought in 20 years ago. Right now it’s planted with dahlias and zinnias, although next year I might do vegetable production. In the containers are an espaliered three way apple, a fuji or honey crisp apple, and a plum. In the back you can see a fig that’s coming out … I’m giving it to someone I met here.

this is the back where you can see all the starts … the slope in the back is mostly the lawn I dug up


I have had a minor revelation since I made this post … pick the soil up, hold it, feel it, look at it, smell it. It’s so obvious that I can’t believe it didn’t occur to me before. To a certain extent it actually has … I’m not that shut off from my senses. But not as an explicit conscious activity.

It was only a couple of days ago when, after telling a friend of mine about this post, I picked up the dirt to show her, and realized that I was holding what is basically fill material. A minor panic came over me, as I mentally traced the paths of the tree roots down into the ground. Did they find what they needed? I felt some relief, remembering that the plum tree I planted fifteen years ago is healthy and vibrant. "Ah yes, of course! as I thought about how the retaining wall would have actually been constructed, and where the dirt immediately behind it would have come from.

As I’ve aged, I’ve noticed a tendency to take certain parts of the experience of existence and wall them off behind a circle of “I know how this works.” Driving to the store. Taking out the trash. Checking my bank balance online. I have done them so many times they have become completely rote. And for good reason. And yet, I look out at the small puddle that forms in the street whenever it rains, and wait for the young children to walk by, because I know one of them will walk right into the middle of it and stomp their feet. I celebrate their delight in the simple pleasure of making water spash.

The soil, dirt actually, that lies immediately behind the retaining walls is horrible. I don’t know if the raspberries did or did not have a virus, but I don’t see how they could have survived in such barren a place. I have dug many places in my garden, and have roughly classified the soil into two categories “good”, and “ok”. Until now I have never classified any soil as “bad”, but while amusing, even that misses the point, which is having been more shut off from my senses than I would prefer, no matter how good my intentions.