Fertilizing the Garden

‘Dear Dr. Kris,

I would like to ask you about fertilizer available in Bali. A few days ago, we moved a few 5m-high palm trees from the area near our pond to the other part of our garden as their roots had caused the pond to leak. I wonder if they need fertiliser to settle in their new environment. Could recommend any fertilizer which can be found at roadside nurseries or gardening shops in Bali.

Thank you very much in advance.

Warmly, Sawako’


Palms or any plant for that matter will do well with nutritional supplementation to ease the transplant shock and promote new growth in its new location. Palms require manganese (Mn) and potassium (K) in a higher ratio than most other plants, a deficiency in either will cause yellowing or premature death of the fronds and a generally unhealthy plant more susceptible to pests and disease.


Fertilizers – How to use them and which ones are best?

In my opinion the best fertilizer starts with plain old organic compost, otherwise fish emulsion or seaweed kelp meal. Organic fertilizers are preferable because they feed the soil, the bacteria and other microflora that plants have evolved to depend on. Chemical fertilizers do not provide this important aspect. Organic fertilizer improves the soil over time whereas chemical ones have been shown to deplete the soil over time. Healthy soil is essentially food for the garden and as such is the key factor for procuring a beautiful greenspace!

The easiest most beneficial thing to do is to incorporate natural compost into the soil by forking it in or top dressing it over the soil surface then watering in. You can usually buy 10- 20L bags from most small nurseries in Bali. Just walk in and ask for ‘kompos’ otherwise you can order it in anything from the trailer right up to the truckload if need be – the same goes for regular garden soil of various grades. When re-doing a lawn for example it is much more cost-effective ordering by the trailer load and delivery is usually free. Nurseries around the Denpasar area will often have ‘kompos’ advertised on a small placard placed at the front entrance visible from the road, but even if it isn’t advertised even the smallest nurseries stock it, all you need to do is ask.

Another option is to use a specialized palm fertiliser which will have the correct ratios of the elements needed, specifically Potassium -K, and Magnesium -Mn. Never use lawn feed or nitrogen (N) rich fertilizer on palms. Ace hardware, Mitra 10 and the other home depot/renovation style centres stock various types of specialist chemical fertilizer product categories, from lawn fertilisers to flowers, palms and fruit and vegetable specific. If any confusion arises always consult the label, ideally for palms look for a NPK ratio of around 8-4-12 with magnesium at a minimum of 4%. If you’d like to buy chemical fertilizers in bulk at better prices then the hardware store, ask around at the roadside nurseries. There are specialist lawn and palm outlets along Jalan Hayam Wuruk/ Jalan Hang Tuah – between Renon and Sanur.

Fish emulsion is another good general purpose organic natural fertiliser suitable for palms, lawns, flowers, fruit and vegetables that can be bought at most large hardware/garden stores. Fish emulsion is a liquid fertilizer concentrate made from the by-products of the fish oil industry – generally mix about one capful per litre of water, and then apply direct to the garden with a watering can. This is the easiest and most cost-effective way to fertilize for the average garden in my opinion. Always follow the instructions on the label of any fertilizer, and never add more than advised.

A problem with chemical fertilizers is that it is easy to over fertilize, in which case the roots of the plants can be burnt resulting in a dead plant, otherwise there could be too much new leafy growth at the expense of flowering. Chemical fertilizers are absorbed by the plants yet provide no net   positive effect on the soil, they create soil salt imbalances and destroy beneficial organisms within the soil.

Once you’re hooked on the chemicals they become addictive and the downward spiral begins, modern day commercial farming is the poster child for this phenomenon – over the long-term crops experience lower nutritional content, diminishing returns and are more susceptible to failure. The chemicals also pollute the groundwater that runs from the farm or garden back into the river system, resulting in higher nitrate and phosphate residues, which can then cause excessive algal growth and choke entire river systems – something I’ve seen plenty of times over the years whether in Denpasar or out in the countryside. Sometimes it’s gotten that bad it’s turned into a mining operation, bringing in the excavators, front end loaders and dump-trucks to remove the masses of algae that has choked the ecosystem, killed the aquatic life and literally brought the river to a standstill.

Another favourite natural all round general purpose fertilizer for the garden is a homemade seaweed fertiliser. For ongoing maintenance of your soil nutrients and trace elements           collect washed up seaweed at the beach when you see it, it is an invaluable resource for the soil. You can either incorporate it directly into the soil or otherwise make a seaweed tea by infusing water with seaweed. Collect a small bag of seaweed, kelp or other marine plants that have washed up on the beach at low tide. Put it into a large container full of water, an old bin usually works well – then cover and leave to brew for a week or two in full sun. When the water has turned a dark brown colour, you have the seaweed tea. Simply pour it around the garden with a watering can. Typical ocean kelp provides 70 elements and a wide variety of plant growth hormones, it makes plants healthier and stronger, along with increased disease resistance. I have written previous articles on the joys of foraging seaweed for the garden where you can get a more in-depth insight into the science behind it.


You can find these articles at The Bali Advertiser website with the links provided below

Foraging from the Sea to the Garden!

Nutrient Soup Sea Minerals

If you’re not a beach person and can’t find seaweed kelp fertilizer at the shops you can easily buy it online and have it sent to you, search for ‘kelp meal’. If your family goes through a lot of bananas as mine does try incorporating the peels into the soil around the base of the trees to provide a slow release form of potassium an essential nutrient for healthy palms, they also contain small amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and magnesium.

I recommend natural fertilisers such compost, seaweed/kelp or fish emulsion fertilizers because they are natural, abundant in trace elements and have positive effects on the soil microflora – the building blocks of the garden. Natural fertilizers are generally safer in terms of over doing it, and in combination with regular composting should eliminate the need for chemical fertilizer in the garden over time.

If you’re a gardener in Indonesia I suggest that you add the word ‘kompos’ to your vocabulary – probably one of the easiest Indonesian words to learn and definitely the most beneficial one for your garden!


Dr. Kris

Garden Doctor

Contact: dr.kris@ymail.com

Copyright © 2020 Dr. Kris


You can read all past articles of  Garden Doctor at www.BaliAdvertiser.biz