Bone Meal Fertilizer: Pros and Cons

Bone meal poured on soil under shrub with shovel

The Spruce / Almar Creative

If you have been looking for ways to fertilize your soil and promote a healthy garden, you have most likely come across bone meal fertilizer. You may have heard others boast about its nutrients and how it promotes healthy blooms and vegetables.

But, is this the right type of fertilizer for your gardening needs, or will its rich nutrients become an attractive nuisance to nearby animals? Learn more about the composition of this soil enhancer, its benefits and risks, and the best way to apply bone meal fertilizer. As with any soil amendments, make sure to get a soil test before you add any fertilizers, as too much of one nutrient can be just a detrimental as too little.

What is Bone Meal Fertilizer?

Bone meal fertilizer is made from steamed animal bones, which are then ground into a fine powder or granules for application on plants or crops. Bones are full of nutrients and minerals that benefit your plants, helping to make them healthier and stronger. However, bone meal fertilizer is not suitable for every situation.

Bone Meal Fertilizer Benefits

There are a number of reasons to consider bone broth fertilizer as a nutrient-rich soil amender.

Rich in Calcium

Calcium is famous for building strong bones, and it is also beneficial for plants. Bone meal fertilizer is packed with this essential mineral. It helps keep the cell walls of your plants strong and healthy and promotes sturdy growth.

Rich in Phosphorus

Phosphorus is another key nutrient found in bone meal fertilizer. This mineral plays a big role in photosynthesis, root, flower, and seed production, energy transfer within the plant, and other vital functions. Phosphorus is the "P" in NPK that you frequently see on fertilizer. It leads to higher fruit and seed yield, promotes flowering, and boosts pest and disease resistance.

Doesn't Need Frequent Applications

Bone meal fertilizer breaks down slowly, making it the perfect long-term fertilizer that only needs to be applied once per year. As it slowly breaks down throughout the season, the bone meal will continue to feed your plants.

All Organic

If you employ organic gardening methods, bone meal fertilizer is a great option. On top of being completely free of chemicals, the natural decomposition process feeds the microbes in the soil. It contains micronutrients like magnesium, zinc, and iron that boost plant health and benefit soil's microbial growth. This improves the overall structure and quality of the soil, which in turn improves the quality of your plants and produce. Plus, it doesn't burn plants if too much is accidentally applied.

Drawbacks of Using Bone Meal Fertilizer

While there are many solid reasons to consider using bone meal fertilizer, there are risks to consider as well. This fertilizer is not a one-size-fits-all solution, so evaluate the following factors. Plus, it isn't going to be a suitable choice for vegan gardeners!

May Attract Animals

The smell of bone may attract unwanted attention from animals that may try to dig up your garden. This may also be a concern for dog owners since any dog loves a good bone to chew.

Having your dog digging up your garden is not your only concern here. If your pup ingests too much bone meal they could experience digestive upset. The worst-case scenario may involve surgery to remove a large concentration of bone meal and soil.

Not Suitable for All Soil pH Levels

According to studies reported by Colorado State University, phosphorus from organic fertilizer like bone meal is only available to plants in acidic soil, with a pH level of 7 or lower. If your soil is tipping towards alkalinity, bone meal fertilizer will have no real impact. Make sure to know your soil pH before amending it.

How and When to Apply Bone Meal Fertilizer

Before applying bone meal fertilizer to your garden, it is important to perform a soil test. This will help you determine whether or not it is the right choice for your soil.

Applying bone meal is simple and doesn't need to be repeated often. When it comes to how much bone meal fertilizer to use, the general rule of thumb is 3 cups for every 100 square feet of soil.

When working the bone meal into the soil, be sure to turn the soil well, evenly mixing it into the ground so there are no clumps or deposits of the fertilizer left unmixed. This will help distribute it throughout the soil as well as make it less likely that animals will attempt to consume it. Bone meal fertilizer takes about four months to fully break down in the soil, so don't reapply within this time period.

Bone meal fertilizer makes a wonderful organic fertilizer to supply your plants with important nutrients like calcium and phosphorus, promoting strong, healthy plants and produce. However, it may not be suitable for every garden. Be sure to perform a soil test before choosing a fertilizer for your garden.

The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. University of Rochester Medical Center Health Encyclopedia. n.d. Bone Meal.

  2. Philip J. White, Martin R. Broadley, Calcium in Plants, Annals of Botany, Volume 92, Issue 4, October 2003, Pages 487–511,

  3. Sawyer, J., Creswell, J., Tidman, M. Phosphorus basics. Phosphorus Basics | Integrated Crop Management.