How to Find Truly Organic Fertilizers, Bags of Soil, and Amendments

USDA organic seal
The USDA organic seal on carrot seeds package.

When shopping for food I always look for the USDA organic seal, like the one on this package of carrot seeds. Food, and products like seeds used to grow food, will contain the green organic label, but the fertilizer used to grow them will not.

Apparently garden fertilizer and bags of soil require different symbols to identify which are truly organic. The word “organic” alone means nothing when it comes to buying products you need to grow your own food.

It seems odd to me that we can easily pick up USDA certified seeds to plant, but it is not nearly as simple to find certified organic soil and fertilizer used to grow them.

Why The Word “Organic” is Not Enough

As I was writing a previous post about building up the dirt in my raised bed, I went looking at my bags of fertilizer. Sometimes I link to products I have bought in case readers are looking for the same type of thing. The one I checked was my bag of Milorganite.

DO NOT BUY MILORGANITE, especially if you are an organic gardener! And personally I will never go near the stuff again.  Once you look closely at the bag you may feel the same way.

Although this bag (my photos) contains the wording “organic nitrogen” (at the top on the front) and “eco friendly” (little yellow sign), when you look at the bottom of the back there is a “warning” sign (that exclamation point). Most of the labeling on the back of the bag is a bit scary.   Such warnings are:  Do not breath it in, wash immediately after touching, and do not apply before a heavy rain or near water drains. Yikes… I didn’t want this stuff anywhere near my vegetable garden, or in my yard for that matter!

So why did I buy this stuff in the first place?  For one thing the word “organic” at the top fooled me.   Apparently only the nitrogen is organic.  I really have no idea what that means, but the product is only 5% nitrogen.  The packaging is enticing with all their good wording choices and big photos.  Someone knows how to market.

But, once I looked closer at the bag, I thought something was wrong. Organic is good and natural, so why a warning? Because companies can use good-looking wording like “organic” and “natural” and “eco friendly” which all may mean nothing.

This got me wondering (and worrying) about the other organic-labeled products I have been using in my yard.  Are they really organic?

Inspecting Labels on My Purchased “Organic” Products

Here’s what I found when I looked at the products I use in my garden. From the soil we choose, to the fertilizers and amendments, everything must be truly organic if we want our vegetables and fruits to be organic.

This post about Identifying Organic Fertilizers at the Organic Its Worth It site was an eye-opener for me.

organic fertilizer
Which organic fertilizer is really organic?

So I inspected my bags further, looking for the symbols telling me that my products were truly considered okay for organic gardening.

Dr. Earth and Miracle-Gro Pass the Organic Labeling Test

Fortunately the soil and fertilizer I have been using are real organic products.

YES!  The Dr. Earth fertilizer contains three seals. One is OMRI Listed, and the other two are CDFA and MycoApply. Those two are so tiny I could barely read them, but they mean good stuff. Unfortunately not enough people understand these terms. OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) is the big one to look for. OMRI is a place where products must be certified useable in organic gardening. Once a product is approved, they can use the OMRI seal. This is what we have to look for when choosing fertilizers, soil, and amendments for the yard and garden.


The Dr. Earth website explains what the CDFA and MycoApply labels mean on their products.   The company is working to create good fertilizers which help the earth.  I was impressed with the earth-friendly info at their site.  No phony advertising here.

YES!  Recently I bought eight bags of Nature’s Care (by Miracle Gro) garden soil ($7.97 a bag at Home Depot) and was pleased to see the OMRI label at the bottom of the bags. I also use their bone meal which has the same label.

Also the Miracle-Gro Organic Choice Blood Meal (shown in my photo, but used up before I checked the packaging) is listed as organic at the OMRI site.  Use the site to search for products you have or plan to buy.

The OMRI site explains (read the “what is organic?” section) that the word “organic” is not regulated for fertilizer and non-food items. This allows companies to use the word when it is not necessarily true.  As I mentioned above, why?  Does this make sense to anyone?

Although I will now read labels and look first for that OMRI seal, as the writer the Organic It’s Worth It site mentioned, other wording can take the place of that seal.  I suppose not every truly organic company contains the seal of approval – I don’t know.  Be sure to look for certain wording on the labels of products. If the company claims that the product “meets the requirements for organic production” the product should be fine.

For this reason, I suggest shopping local for such products.  Label reading is easier than buying online.  At Amazon, when I searched for OMRI certified fertilizer I only found a few with the label.  Even though I may link to products on the Amazon site, I would rather check locally for these types of products. Often local shops will sell for less. Also, you can more easily read labels and purchase exactly what you see.

If you choose to buy online, here are some OMRI listed organic fertilizers found at Amazon:

Nature’s Care Organic BONE Meal – Bone meal supplies phosphorus for strong roots.

Nature’s Care Organic BLOOD Meal – Blood meal supplies nitrogen for green foliage.

The Dr. Earth store at Amazon

Burpee Citrus Fruit Fertilizer

Must Plant More Fast Growing Tropical Hibiscus Plants

The photo below is of my orange hibiscus and rose bush after planting in my yard. This past April, 2017, I dug up a little patch of grass in the back yard to create a space for a colorful flower garden.

The pretty double-flower orange hibiscus is a typical plant to grow in Florida. I prefer the double type flower, and I thought the color was lovely.  You can see that it was a small plant.

hibiscus and rose bush
New Garden, Hibiscus and Rose Bush – April 2017

Roses are such a bother, but this one was pretty and I decided to try it. The rose bush looks awful now, but the hibiscus has grown like crazy.  This just goes to show that if you plant what likes to grow in the local climate it will flourish.

Here it is 7 months later.

orange hibiscus plant and rose bush
Hibiscus and Rose Bush in November 2017

The hibiscus plant was watered regularly after it was planted, as was the rose. There were some mites on the buds, so I picked off the buds and threw them away. I’ve noticed that sometimes there are still mites on the plant, but it is not affecting the growth. I never water it now and it is flourishing in the sunny spot by the house.

Screen Shot 2017-11-15 at 9.49.17 AM

Hibiscus are tropical plants and I fully expected it to survive quite well. I didn’t realize it would grow so fast.  It constantly buds and blooms and the leaves are nice and green.

All I do is occasionally pick off the bug infested buds and give it fish fertilizer and sprinkle some bone meal around the base for good root strength.

I have plans to plant more like this in the front yard. The wind blows from the front and it’s also more shady, so I don’t know if that will be a good location.

Something I’ve always enjoyed is watching my plants grow and change.  I once took photos of the Pinky Winky hydrangea in my New Hampshire yard for an entire blooming season to show the changes in the flowers from summer through fall.

What I’ve Learned From Growing a Lime Tree

lime tree growing in a pot
My Persian Lime Tree – August 2017

Gardening and growing things here in Florida is an ongoing learning process for me. Last November I bought a Persian lime tree and a Meyer lemon tree to put in my yard. I knew nothing about growing either type of tree but I hoped to pick fresh fruit one day.

That day has arrived! So here’s what I have learned from growing a lime tree. And it’s good news for anyone considering growing a lime tree in a pot. (The lemon tree isn’t doing so well, but I’ll get to that later.)

Flowers to Fruit Timeline

Buds and flowers begin showing up in December and continue to flower and set fruit into February.

lime tree flowers
Buds and flowers on the Lime tree in February

There are buds, flowers and little limes on the tree at the same time. I even have one lone big lime still hanging on from the previous Fall.
little limes
Setting fruit – little limes on the tree in February

By October the limes should be ready to eat. They will last for a couple of months, and I pick them as needed so they are nice and fresh – and delicious!

Once the fruit is gone, the buds begin again. So the tree is always doing something.

sliced lime
My first lime!

A few days ago I picked my first lime! I sliced it and put it into my glass of water… and boy was it good! I love limes… what awesome flavor. I had really been hoping for lemons, but I think I like limes more. It reminded me of the Mojitos I’ve had – but without the booze. The lime I picked was small, but juicy. I won’t go nuts picking all the fruit, but I will definitely be using the larger limes.

I had wondered when to pick my limes and I simply waited for them to be the size of the ones I see at the grocery store.  The time from flowering to picking was about 6 months.  It is so worth the wait!

Benefits of Growing Limes in a Pot

I kept the lime tree in it’s pot and set it on the corner of the patio in my backyard. I have read that these smaller citrus trees can be grown in pots. In fact they can be purchased through Amazon. This is something I never knew, and the buyers leave very good reviews. They won’t ship to some areas – like the places that can grow and sell their own trees, it seems. Florida is one.

One of the big advantages of growing in pots is the ability to move the plant / tree. Over winter it did get very cold one or two nights and I brought the tree inside. The Persian Lime tree is hardy to zone 10 and I am in zone 9b – a little too far north. When the temps get at, or below, freezing it needs to be covered or moved inside.

Besides the fact that a lime tree can do well and bear fruit while still in it’s original pot, I’ve learned that being in a pot means the fruit-laden branches won’t hit the ground.

This is the trouble I am having with the lemon tree. Once the heavy fruit began to grow, the branches drooped considerably. As you can see in my photo, many limes are growing in a cluster at the end of this branch which weighs it down.

If this tree was in the ground, this branch would be rubbing along the dirt – and in danger of being hit by the mower or weed-eater.

limes on the branch
Cluster of Limes

The Lemon Tree is Not Very Pretty

Shortly after I planted the lemon tree in the ground, I realized that my dream of having a row of citrus trees along the front of the house was unrealistic. The north wind blows from that direction and it can get very windy some days. I’m not saying it’s cold, I am in Florida, but the constant wind on the Lemon tree has been detrimental to it’s growth.  Between that and being hit by my son’s weed-eating job, the poor lemon tree is having a hard time.  I also think something may be eating the branches.  I may not have any edible lemons.

*Update, I recently dug up the lemon tree and it’s now growing in a pot out back near the lime.

How to Care for Citrus Trees

Both trees receive citrus fertilizer every few months, except in winter. Fertilizing stops in November and begins again in March. This is according to the pamphlet I got at the plant nursery.

Here in Florida, if it doesn’t rain, everything needs to be watered daily in summer. I usually water the Lime tree twice a day. Being in a pot, out in the sun, means it will dry out faster. This changes in winter, when it needs less water. The leaves began to turn yellow and fall off because I watered it too much. Watering every few days in winter (Florida) is fine.

I did have to set the potted tree inside a larger plastic pot and weigh it down with leftover bricks from building our patio. I had to do this because once the fruit began to grow the tree was top heavy and would blow over whenever the soil dried out.

In a Nutshell

I bought my Persian Lime tree in November 2016 from a local nursery for $12.99. It immediately began to grow longer stems and more leaves.   Maybe it was the direct sunlight compared to the nursery conditions, but the tree doubled in size!

A few months later it began to flower profusely and set many limes. Lots of those fell off, leaving the larger ones to continue to grow. Don’t worry if lots of the small limes fall from the tree. The tree seems to know just how many limes it can handle! Many will stay and continue to grow.

I picked one lime, and there are 28 limes left on the branches (I just went out and counted them). I see a few very tiny limes growing also, but they may fall off. Not a bad first harvest!

fresh limes in water
Refreshing…. Fresh lime water.

How to Care For a Desert Rose Plant

desert rose pink flowers
Desert Rose in Garden

When I was given this flowering plant as a gift I was told it was a Plumeria. After seeing this same plant at the local Home Depot store, I discovered it was a Desert Rose. But before I knew what it was, I had taken it out of the original pot and put it into a sunny location in the backyard.

Sun is exactly what this flowering plant craves. But the word “desert” caused me to believe less water was better. The truth is that this plant did well with and without water.

Today I am watering it frequently, and it is thriving! So much for the “desert” title.

At the time I planted it, we were have a long dry spell here in Florida. The Desert Rose did well. I avoided watering it when I watered the hibiscus next to it, and the plant even sent out new buds, which you can see blooming at the bottom of the stalk.

Florida is a tropical place, but some areas are more tropical than others.  I am in the central part of the state and it can get very cold (below freezing) here overnight in winter.  I was afraid the Rose would die, so I ended up digging it up and putting it into a (bright orange) pot.

pink desert rose in orange pot
Dug up and potted

The Secret to Growing a Desert Rose in Florida

Sunlight is most important, with plenty of heat. The plant can deal with lack of water (I’ve tried that), but it also loves a daily spray with the hose.

These plants develop a very thick “stem” or caudex (see them in the photo below).  This is the part that holds in the water to keep the plant thriving in drought conditions.  But apparently it does not need to grow in a desert to thrive.

Keep it in a pot so it can come inside when temperatures drop – some sites say below 60 degrees and others say 40. Just bring it inside when it gets cold to be safe.

Pictures of My Desert Rose and How It Has Grown

As I mentioned above, this plant was a gift to me shortly after I moved into my house in 2016. I’ve had the plant for nearly 2 years now.

After a period of dormancy during the winter, suddenly lots of buds began to show up.  New little leaves began to grow from the base of the stem. This was about the time when aphids were appearing on all my plants outside. A daily check, and I would spray the buggers off with the hose. I let the lady bugs take care of most of the aphids in my garden, but the Rose is not near the vegetables.

desert rose
Blooming Desert Rose, after winter
desert rose plant in pot
Give it sunshine!  It is slow growing.

In the photo below, lots of greenery is showing on the plant, which has stopped blooming for now.  It will take this time to put effort into growing stems and leaves before it begins to flower again.
Right now I am not sure when that will be.  This plant flowers more than once a year, so I expect to see buds forming soon.

green leaves on desert rose
August 2018, glossy green leaves on my desert rose.  I spray it with the hose every day.

More Information About The Desert Rose

The Desert Rose is similar in appearance to the plumeria / frangipani tree and Oleander.  The unique aspect is the thick stems. The Oleander does grow in Florida, but I have not seen Plumeria trees. Maybe they will grow in the southern part of the state.  For more information about growing the desert rose elsewhere, read my friend’s article: Desert Rose Adenium Plant for Gardening and Bonsai.

Like the Oleander plant, the Rose contains poisonous sap.   It may not be a good choice as a houseplant for families with young kids for this reason.

The South Florida Plant Guide site has more info.