We all know that organic waste is good for plants. Nothing beats organic compost when it comes to improving soil quality and plant health. But that had me thinking. Are fingernails good for plants?
Fingernails are good for plants because they contain keratin which is a naturally occurring protein. They also contain small amounts of calcium and phosphorus beneficial to the plants. But they will take a very long time to decompose in the soil compared to other organic material.
I wanted to see how small forms of human waste would affect plants. I found out some surprising information during my research.
Are Nail Clippings Good for Plants?
Fingernails can benefit your plants. However, it’s not going to have a huge impact on them like other fertilizers will.
Because it’s a naturally occurring protein, nail clippings will break down in the soil. Microorganisms can consume the nails and turn them into usable nutrients.
Nails in Compost
The best way to utilize nail clippings is in a compost pile.
In your compost pile, the nails will go through the decomposition process like other organic materials. Tiny microorganisms, bacteria, and other lifeforms will feed on the nails. When those lifeforms produce waste, your nails become carbon dioxide and ammonia.
As long as your nails are free of nail polish when you toss them in, they should break down all the same.
Nails as Fertilizer
In theory, nails could benefit the soil directly. They contain a slew of beneficial minerals and nutrients.
All that said, nail clippings only have trace amounts of those nutrients. They’re not going to do much to amend your soil in any way.
Large amounts of nails could improve soil tilth. Mixing the nails up with soil can improve overall aeration and drainage. But, nails won’t make any noticeable differences to soil quality. They’re better off in the compost bin!
How Much Time Do Nail Clippings Take to Decompose in Soil?
They’re already starting to decompose before you even clip them!
That’s a good thing because nails can take a very long time to decompose fully.
Most don’t realize it, but human nails can remain intact for decades. Nails are often the last to go when a human body decomposes. They’re part of the last stage of decomposition, called the dry stage.
If protected from the elements, nails have the potential to stay intact for thousands of years! Interestingly enough, DNA stays on the nails for several years after clipping.
When put in soil, nails will decompose faster. But, it still takes time.
In total, it usually takes about 40 years. That said, the process could happen faster in the right conditions. Even if the nails survive the appetite of microorganisms, it’ll likely break apart into smaller pieces. You may not even be able to identify it after a few months! In a conducive environment, about 35 to 40 percent of the nitrogen in nails converts to nitrates in only 120 days.
It all depends on the decomposition environment.
Is Human Hair Good for Plants?
Human hair is another waste product that many of us just toss in the garbage bin. Instead of throwing your hair out, you can use it to benefit your plants!
Like fingernail clippings, hair consists of the tough protein keratin. Hair strands will feed microorganisms and decompose in the soil just the same.
While fingernail clippings offer very minute benefits, hair might have a bigger impact on your plants. Not only does hair take up more space, but it also has more beneficial minerals.
Hair in Compost
Both sulfur and nitrogen are important for plants. Nitrogen encourages growth. When hair strands break down in your compost pile, you can create a nitrogen-rich mix your plants will love.
Using compost with hair can amend a wide range of soil issues and create a better growing environment for plants.
Hair as Fertilizer
If you want to skip to compost, you can add human hair to the soil directly. It has a much bigger effect than nail clippings.
In the long-run, the hair will work to improve soil quality. In addition to sulfur and nitrogen, human hair is a great source of magnesium. Magnesium plays an important part in photosynthesis, so that added boost from hair will do your plant good.
Human hair can also change the physical properties of the soil. Mixing it into the soil before adding your plant will offer a few benefits. It acts as a slow-release fertilizer to provide those essential nutrients over time.
How Much Time Does Hair Take to Decompose in Soil?
While fingernail clippings sometimes take decades to fully decompose, that’s not the case with hair.
Human hair takes, on average, about two years to break down.
This is still much longer than soft tissues and other organic materials. Human hair is capable of lasting a long time. The reason for this is because it resists Proteolysis. This is the process in which enzymes turn proteins into amino acids.
Hard keratins, such as those found in hair and nails, naturally resist the process to stay intact.
However, exposure to moist soil will speed things up a bit. You can also promote decomposition by increasing humidity and temperature.
If you add hair to your compost pile, spread it out thinly. Avoid tossing the hair in as clumps. Then, cover it with a tarp to build up heat.