Much like oil refining, the processing of cotton produces some byproducts. One of those byproducts is the cottonseed meal. It’s a safe fertilizer that you’ll love to use in your garden for a different variety of plants from veggies to shrubs and roses too.
For many gardeners, cottonseed meal is the perfect fertilizer. It’s easy to use, doesn’t burn the plants even the sensitive flowering perennials or annuals, and its slow-release action and organic nature, mean that it will enrich the soil and benefit the plants for a long time.
So what do you need to know about cottonseed meal? When should you use it, and when should you find an alternative fertilizer? This article covers cottonseed meal fertilizer from all angles.
The Truth about Cottonseed Meal
As a slow-release fertilizer, cottonseed meal is also a little acidic. It usually contains about 7 percent nitrogen, 3 percent phosphorus, and 5 percent potassium. As such its high concentrates of nitrogen make it a valuable fertilizer that speeds up the growth of your flowering plants and veggies and protects them against disease.
Since the cotton processing industry is a huge one, you can imagine how much cottonseed meal is produced every year. It is estimated that the number is around 14 million pounds of the precious stuff. Not all of that material goes into feeding animals. More and more people are using cottonseed meal as a fertilizer in their gardens, farms, and greenhouses.
If you are a vegan or care about the vegan lifestyle, you’d be pleased to know the cottonseed meal is purely a plant-based fertilizer with no animal ingredients or any animal byproducts that go into making it. So you know for sure that the veggies you grow with this fertilizer are one hundred percent vegan.
Benefits Of Cottonseed Meal in your Garden
Besides its value as a fully vegan fertilizer, cottonseed meal also has a high protein concentration that slows down the decomposition of the material. Since the nutrients are not readily available to the plants, microbes in the soil need to break them down first. This can take anything from a couple of weeks to more than four months. In gardening jargon, this means you don’t have to fertilize the plants so often and you won’t have to worry about plant burning either.
We mentioned the high quantities of nitrogen in cottonseed fertilizer compared to other organic fertilizers. Its average NPK is 6-2-2, although you might find products in the market with 7-3-5 labels or similar values. In addition to remaining active in the soil for months, this organic material also improves the soil aeration, fights off the spread of pests while promoting the growth of good bugs and earthworms.
If you have plants that love moist soil or have a low tolerance to drought, cottonseed meal fertilizer is famous for soaking up water and keeping it for long periods of time. This in effect reduces the number of times you have to irrigate the plants.
One other benefit has to do with the acidic nature of the fertilizer. You can add it to alkaline soil to improve its pH and give it a balanced structure that most plants can grow in. However, you should watch out not to accidentally increase the acidity of the soil if you use too much cottonseed meal. This is especially true for well-balanced soil with low to moderate pH.
Types of Plants that Need Cottonseed Meal
While it might be safe to say that cottonseed meal is a wonderful fertilizer for a wide variety of plants, we have to make reservations about certain plants that do not relish the acidity nature of the fertilizer. From the dainty roses and vegetables to camellias, rhododendrons, turf, and shrub, cottonseed meal is perfectly safe and highly recommended as a fertilizer.
- Vegetables: Your vegetable garden needs different types of fertilizers, preferably organic ones. Usually, you’d want to mix your cottonseed meal with regular garden fertilizers at a ratio of 4:1. For every cup or cup and a half of garden fertilizer, add in 4 to 6 cups of cottonseed meal. You could do away with garden fertilizers altogether and mix your cottonseed meal fertilizer with rotten leaves, hay, and bits of grass.
- Turf: For a lawn that looks lush with healthy grass, cottonseed meal is the go-to organic fertilizer. Apart from the absence of any off-putting odors, the fertilizer stays for months feeding the grass, keeping it healthy, and preventing the spread of pests and diseases. About 1 to 2 inches of the fertilizer gives the soil just the right density for the roots of the grass to establish and take hold.
- Roses: Your rosebed is probably the part of your garden you spend the most time at. You can use a combination of cottonseed meal and bone meal fertilizers to the roses to give them the bright colors and strong fragrance you desire. Using cottonseed meal alone might increase the acidity of the soil which is not to the liking of the quaint roses.
- Shrubs: For small shrubs, it’s recommended to use about one cup of cottonseed meal. Large shrubs could take up to 3 cups of the fertilizer. Water the shrubs generously to accelerate the breakup of the organic material. When transplanting shrubs, use a mixture of cottonseed meal and soil to get good results.
How Is Cottonseed Meal Fertilizer Made?
As one of the oldest plants used in the textile industry, cotton has been a staple of many cultures. While the cotton fibers that wrap around the seeds are the most precious part of the plant, those seeds are often a good source to extract oil. What remains of this cottonseed pressing process is the meal. For centuries farmers used the meal to feed animals until they discovered that, as a fertilizer, it had great qualities.
Sounds straightforward, right? Well, the devil, as they say, is in the details. First, the cotton is harvested and air-dried to make processing it much easier. Then the fibers are pulled out and the seeds are removed in what is known as ginning. This involves using machines with fine-toothed combs to separate the seeds from the cotton.
The seeds are rich in oil content and they go through a processing of their own to remove the hulls and extract the oil. There are two ways to go about it. Either through pressing or using solvents. Solvent oil extraction sterilizes the seeds and usually leaves trace amounts of oil in the meal. Fertilizers made of this meal are usually high in nutrients and proteins.
Press oil extraction squeezes every last drop of oil out of the seeds leaving seed powder or meal that can be sold loose or packed into cakes and used as food for animals. As for the hull, that too can be used as mulch. So in a way, people use every part of the seed in gardening and nothing goes to waste.
How to Use Cottonseed Meal in your Garden?
One of the best features of cottonseed meal that endear it to every gardener no matter how unskilled they are, is that it’s perfectly safe to use it as a fertilizer. It doesn’t burn the plant and its slow-release mechanism allows it to stay in the soil, nourishing the plants for months without impacting the soil or the plants in any negative way.
In general, you can add anything between 2 and 4 pounds of cottonseed meal for a regular patch of about 100 square feet. You can increase the dose if the soil is particularly poor. Go as high as 8 pounds of the fertilizer without fear of increasing the acidity of the soil. After adding the cottonseed meal, mix it well with the topsoil to create an even and well-distributed mixture.
You can also use cottonseed meal when transplanting plants. Dig a hole double the size you usually need for the plant, add one cup of the fertilizer and mix it well, then cover the hole around the plant. Once the plant establishes, you can add two more cups of the material to help it grow. For larger plants, use 4 cups of cottonseed meal.
Disadvantages of Cottonseed Meal Fertilizer
For all these benefits and upsides of the cottonseed meal, as a fertilizer, it has some drawbacks. The first one is the acidity of the material. If used in great quantities, it can make the soil more acidic. Now some plants such as blueberries would flourish in this acidic environment, but most other plants have a low tolerance for it. You might need to balance the pH in the soil with bone meal or agricultural lime.
Since it’s a one hundred percent organic material with an affinity for humidity and retaining moisture, it will grow mold and develop fungal infestation if left out in the open. So make sure to store it in sealed containers and keep it in a dry place.
One other issue has to do with the cotton growing process itself. Most often farmers treat cotton plants with pesticides to improve the quality of the crops. This leaves trace amounts of chemical pesticide in the seeds which would find its way into your soil. It’s for that reason that some states don’t consider cottonseed meal fertilizer as an organic option to grow crops.