Everyone knows nettles as a fearsome weed to be avoided and dug up at first sight. But did you know that nettles can be incredibly useful in the garden – here’s why…
Nettles are a fantastic source of nitrogen, iron, potassium, copper, zinc, magnesium, and calcium, making them an excellent fertiliser for most garden plants.
Nettle tea can be used as a general-purpose fertiliser for various garden plants, offering a rich nutrient profile due to its natural plant-derived composition. To use the fertiliser, dilute it with water at a ratio of approximately 1:10 (nettle tea to water) and apply it to the soil or as a foliar spray on your plants.
Nettles make a high-nitrogen feed, so they are superb at promoting leafy green growth. In fact there aren’t many organic fertilisers that can compete with nettles regarding nitrogen levels.
How to Make Nettle Fertiliser
To make a nettle fertiliser, follow these simple steps:
- Gather the nettles: Select a group of nettles and cut the leaves and stems using gloves and shears to avoid being stung. Collect enough nettles to fill a large container such as a bucket or a barrel.
- Prepare the container: Chop the nettle leaves and stems and place them in the container. The container size will depend on the amount of nettle tea you want to create, but ensure there is enough room to pour water over the nettles without overflowing.
- Add water: Fill the container with water, covering the nettles completely. Avoid using chlorinated water, as it may inhibit the fermentation process; rainwater is an excellent alternative.
- Cover and ferment: Place a breathable cover, such as gauze or a cloth, over the container to keep debris and insects out. Set the container in a shaded area and allow the nettles to ferment for at least three weeks, stirring occasionally to encourage decomposition.
- Strain and dilute: Once the fermentation is complete, strain the liquid through a sieve or cheesecloth, discarding the solid matter. Dilute the nettle tea with water at a ratio of one part nettle tea to ten parts water. This will create a suitable concentration for use as a fertiliser.
- Application: Apply the diluted nettle fertiliser to the soil around your plants, either by pouring it directly or using a watering can. Nettle fertilisers work best when applied during the growing season, providing an efficient and natural boost to your plants’ nutrient intake.
- Leather uppers prevent nettles from stinging you
- Long sleeves stop your arms from being stung
Great For Compost
For the same reasons that nettles make a great fertiliser, they are also excellent for adding to your compost pile.
They are high in nitrogen, so work much the same as grass in getting your compost going and adding heat to your pile.
Because they are also packed with other nutrients, they add lots to your compost, meaning you have well-balanced compost.
Again, for all the same reasons above, nettles make fantastic mulch.
They will improve your soil, and add tonnes of nitrogen and other nutrients while suppressing weeds.
This makes them a really great mulch, with a large asterisk*.
That asterisk is this, ensure you don’t pick nettles with seeds on, I’m sure you can see why that could be a huge headache!
Work As A Great Companion Plant
Aphids love nettles; they will seek them out over almost all other plants. So, say you have a nettle patch in the corner of your garden, then grow something that struggles with aphids, like lupins, next to it.
Adding onto this, because aphids love nettles, so do ladybirds. This is because they know they will find their favourite snack there.
So by having nettles, you can keep aphids away from plants you want to grow and attract everyone’s favourite aphid hunter.
Lots of butterflies also love nettles, so by having a patch, you can help to keep some caterpillars off your crops.
You will also support the butterfly population without sacrificing any of your plants, a real win-win for me.
What I often do in the garden is to pick caterpillars off any plant I don’t want them on, and pop them onto nettles.
I am not against butterflies and love seeing them in the garden, but I don’t want caterpillars feasting on my prized cabbages! So I can enjoy butterflies in the garden without worrying about what they are up to!
Many people will also eat nettles due to their high nutrient levels. Apparently they are a bit of a superfood.
This isn’t something I have tried, but there are tonnes of recipes out there.
I will say, only use nettles you grow in your own garden, don’t forage for them unless you know the area.
This is simply because people love to spray nettles with