Fertilizer cakes

I really like the way we can pinpoint fertilizing applications (and Where on the root ball we’re fertilizing) with cakes. That’s a whole discussion by itself. A number of people have asked what sort of cake to make, and that’s what I’ll offer today.

Probably the easiest method, for those who want to buy one bag and not five, is to buy premixed dry organic fertilizer, such as Whitney Farms or Dr. Earth. I know Whitney Farms sells a 40 lb. bag of 5-5-5 All-Purpose for about $30-35. If you consider that it will make twice as many cakes as are in a $100 can of imported Japanese fertilizer cakes…well, it does not seem so expensive, does it? And I think the ¬†nutritional value is about the same. Feather, fish, blood, and cottonseed meal as well as some seaweed are a few of the ingredients.

In rough strokes, you mix this fertilizer with water and some flour (a cup or two of flour per gallon, approximately.) The flour helps it hold together. You want a fairly soft dough, perhaps slightly softer than you think. If you try to make balls of it right away, they will fall apart easily. I recommend covering the wetted mixture with plastic for a week or two. The bacterial gels that form with the wait hold the mixture together, as well as increasing the strength of the fertilizer a bit. Whitney Farms fertilizer does not smell as bad as you might think, but certainly keep well away from pets and non-pet animals who might think it smells absolutely wonderful.

Use a small 1″ melon baller with an internal ratchet arm to make half-spheres. You can let these dry, or place them directly on the soil surface (like I do when I’m too busy.)



  1. Michael,
    I never tried the melon baller with the ratchet arm, they sell those? I would think they would tear the half spheres up, but they don’t ? That would save me from doing it the way I have for the last couple years, having a cup of water standing by, and dipping it every couple “dips” (kind of like a Baskin Robbins ice cream dipper). As I make several batches a year, now I’m gonna have to go find one of these ratchet ballers!!! Thanks for the tip.


    • crataegus says:


      Yes, you can find a melon baller with a ratchet arm in any store that sells a wide range of kitchen utensils. The better ones have rubber handles and sell for $10-15. I’d recommend the smaller baller, the 1″ size. Larger and you’d have trouble placing them on smaller trees.


  2. Andrew Kasper says:


    I loved the book. I have a question about making the cakes. When the dough is soft, do I need to spread it out flat in a pan and then cover it to let it dry? Or, do I just ball it up in a big ball and then wrap it up? Just a little confused.



    • crataegus says:


      Yes, you can do either: Spread the mix out on a pan, score to make squares, let dry, break up and store them. or, you can use your hands or a melon baller to make small balls. the balls tend to roll if made by hand; a melon baller makes a half sphere which stays on better, especially sloping surfaces. I like to let it age a bit before shaping the balls, but that is just preference.


  3. Jeremiah Lee says:


    I just mixed up a batch of fertilizer and let it sit in a zip lock bag for a couple weeks. The fertilizer grew a white-gray colored mold on some of it. I gave it all a mix before making balls and just mixed the mold into the rest of the fertilizer. Was this a good idea or should I have scraped the mold off?

    Also, I was wondering if you would please talk about general application when using these balls on native juniper unrefined tree, one that I just repotted.

    Generally I start with a few balls in early spring and keep adding 2 every 2 weeks, then I’ll feed with a chemical like miracle grow or use Fish Emulsion once a month until fall. Is that anywhere close to what you would do? -using your 2p pumice 1p akadama?

  4. Joe Leit says:

    How much 5-5-5 fertilizer should be mixed per gallon of water?

    • crataegus says:

      I usually take the dry fertilizer and mix with enough water to make a paste— too little water and it will crumble easily, too much and it will not keep a shape while drying. So adding water slowly is best.

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