Are your daffodils looking a little droopy? Do your irises need an infusion of nutrients to perk them up? They might benefit from a homemade botanical tea spray.
Botanical tea is an effective natural fertilizer for the garden and a great way to keep pests out of your plants. Making a botanical tea from compost or plant material from around your yard can multiply the nutrients and beneficial bacteria within the tea, which is sure to get your blooms looking better than ever.
Read on for more information about how you can get the benefits of botanical tea for your own garden.
What is botanical tea?
Though it sounds complicated, the science behind botanical tea is actually simple to understand. In fact, plant infusions have been used for thousands of years as both natural painkillers and pesticides. Fermented botanical teas (especially compost based ones) are full of antibiotics and beneficial microbes that compete with common plant pathogens like powdery mildew and leaf blight. In short, botanical teas are essential smelly medicine for your plants.
Much like the process of making tea, botanical tea involves the extraction of flavonoids, essential oils, vitamins and minerals from plant material. As the liquid is brewed, the solids are extracted out and the resulting tea is stored until ready to be used as a plant treatment. Though there is a wide variety of plants that can be used to brew botanical tea, the best ones tend to be the kinds of plants that are dynamic accumulators.
What are dynamic accumulators?
As the name implies, dynamic accumulators are the kinds of plants that gather nutrients from the soil or surrounding area and store them in their leaves. This makes them useful for either pulling specific nutrients out of the soil or injecting some in. For example, clover has a symbiotic relationship with a bacteria that helps it pull nitrogen out of the air and convert it into a soil-borne form that is easy for plant roots to access. When dynamic accumulator plants are cut down and used as fertilizer, they make the nutrients they concentrated accessible to plants that might be deficient in them. For this reason, dynamic accumulator plants are especially valued for use in botanical teas.
How do you make botanical tea?
No matter what kind of material you are using, most botanical tea is made in about the same way. The necessary material (either freshly chopped plant pieces or finished composts) is placed in a porous bag that resembles a tea bag and steeped in water for at least 24 hours until the beneficial nutrients have been infused into the water. In many cases, the process is sped up by using an aerator to add oxygen into the solution. After the brewing process is complete, this liquid is strained and used immediately or occasionally stored until needed.
- Passive Tea: As the simplest kind of botanical tea you can make, passive tea is made by suspending a tea bag in a bucket of water for several weeks to let it fully soak. A 5-to-1 ratio of water to compost works best. The mixture slowly changes color as the nutrients leach out over time, and so long as nothing else is added to the mix it should be ready to use within a month.
- Aerated Tea: Unlike passive tea, aerated tea is brewed using pumps that add oxygen to the compost water. Many gardeners simply rely on aquarium pumps for this process. The oxygen added to the process dramatically speeds it up, meaning that the tea is usually ready within 24 hours. For maximum benefit, aerated tea should be applied to plants within six hours of being brewed.
Types of Ingredients
- Herbal Tea: Plant-based extracts are a common way to brew botanical tea. One popular method is to stuff a barrel over three quarters full with coarsely chopped plant material and then fill it the rest of the way with tepid water. Allow the mixture to ferment for 3 to 10 days and then strain and dilute it with water at a 10 to 1 ratio. This tea makes a great foliage spray, soil drench and consistent supply of plant soluble nutrients. Many popular plant-based essential oils like basil, cumin, mint, and eucalyptus have tremendous abilities to fight off fungal pathogens and keep plants healthy. Do your research about the specific pest problems you are dealing with to learn what essential oils make sense for your situation.
- Liquid Manures: The material that comes out of farm animals might as well be called black gold for the boon it is to farmers. When making your manure tea, be sure to only collect the manure from herbivore animals (your dog and cat’s feces carry too many diseases). Seep aged manure in a passive compost tea for several days before straining it and spraying it on your plants.
- Garlic Tea: Most botanical sprays work best when they are made from a mix of different plant materials, but garlic is so potent that it has plenty of potentials to work all on its own. Simply seep a tea from coarsely chopped parts of the garlic plant and use it to suppress fungal diseases like powdery mildew and black spot.
- Enzyme Tea: As an essential component of daily life for humans, plants, and microbes, enzymes help accelerate organic material decay and stimulate soil microbes to grow and multiply. An easy DIY method for making an enzyme tea is to sprout barley seeds and blend them in water. You can then use this blend mixed with water to rehydrate your plants. Not only will this give your soil a boost of fulvic and humic acids, but it’s also an easy way to boost enzymatic activity in the soil.
How does botanical tea help control pests?
Fans of botanical tea believe there are plenty of benefits to adding it to your soil. Not only is compost tea a great overall way to boost the health of your plants it’s also an easy way to equip them to resist pests and diseases. Though some of the claims about the benefits of botanical tea are fairly far-fetched, the truth is that this homemade form of liquid fertilizer is well worth adding to your plants. The best way to understand botanical tea is to think of it as a leached solution of compost. Your plants get similar benefits to what they get from compost, but with a boost of probiotics and the ease of absorbing it directly through their leaves.
General Application Rates
Once your tea is brewed, it’s usually most potent within the first 24 hours and should be used right away for the best benefits. Most plants enjoy a weekly botanical spray, but a few times a month can work if you get busy. To use on your plants, simply dilute your tea with water and add it to a spray bottle or garden sprayer, and mist the leaves and soil around each plant that you think needs a pick me up.
Additional Tips For Success
Making your own compost tea can be a tricky technique to master, but the results are well worth it. For extra tips on how to be successful, read through the suggestions below.
- Make sure all your botanical tea equipment is clean of chemicals and free from the residues of previously used pesticides. These residues are harmful for the microbes growing in the tea and might even hurt your plants.
- When brewing your tea, use only water that has been de-chlorinated in order to keep the valuable microbial life safe. A simple strategy is to store the water you use in open containers for several hours before adding it to the tea. This allows the chlorine to naturally dissipate before it coats your plants.
- Some fermentation is okay, but if your tea sits too long and really begins to decompose, you should dilute it at least twice as much in order to decrease the risk of damaging your plants.
- Always test each new spray on a single plant leaf before spraying the entire plant to ensure that the spray isn’t harmful to it.
- Only apply as much compost tea to your plants as they can absorb. Any excess will simply stay in the soil and leach into the water system during the next big rain- turning your homemade fertilizer into an environmental pollutant.