Here’s the plant food everyone is talking about!

Apparently I don’t talk to the right people; I’d never heard of this product until newbie gardener and longtime skeptic John emailed me about Eleanor’s VF-11 plant food.

Upon visiting the website, this is what I learned about VF-11 and roses (the rose aficionado market is apparently a lucrative one for snake oil salesmen):

Point: “VF-11 Plant Food is not a ‘push’ like other fertilizers…think of it as a strength and health builder.”

Counterpoint: It certainly is not a fertilizer. It doesn’t contain enough minerals to do anything for a plant. So why not just use water? There’s something that can work miracles on drought-stressed plants!

Point: “VF-11 builds so much strength and health in your roses that plant cells ‘harden’ and ‘seal in the amino acids’.”

Counterpoint: I will kindly label this as nonsense since this is a G-rated blog. It says nothing but sounds sciency.

Point: “When you’re Foliar Feeding your roses, no need to worry if it blows back into your face. It’s gentle, gentle, gentle and safe.”

Counterpoint: Foliar feeding is an ineffective way of fertilizing plants (you can read more about in a column I wrote some time ago). In short, foliar application of specific nutrients is an excellent way of determining whether a deficiency of that nutrient exists, but it does nothing for the plant on a long-term basis.  I won’t beat that dead horse any longer. And thanks, I’d rather not have stuff blown in my face, regardless of what’s in it.

And more amazing facts elsewhere on the site:

Point: “And you do not need a lot of additives in your soil, like compost etc.”

Counterpoint: Wow. Who knew that organic matter was bad?

Point: “It’s an electrolyte balanced solution.”

Counterpoint: So’s urine. And urine has more nitrogen. (I won’t enter the debate about peeing on your plants.)

Evidence?

For evidence, the site offers two tissues analyses of pistachios that were sprayed with VF-11 (the foliar feeding method). The previous year (no VF-11) the leaves had high levels of copper and low levels of boron and magnesium. After treatment, the copper was reduced and boron and magnesium improved. Since boron and magnesium are not in the product, perhaps the copper was somehow transmuted into boron and magnesium? I can’t think of a more rational explanation if VF-11 is the causative agent. But I can think of lots of reasons this variation might happen from year to year, including the use of copper fungicides and the ability of some nutrients to restrict the uptake of others.

There’s also tissue analyses from a “sick vineyard” taken in June, then repeated in October after foliar application of VF-11. Both potassium and magnesium are singled out for note, though the ratings information is strangely missing (in other words, there’s no notation whether the levels are deficient, sufficient, or excessive). The differences between the %K and %Mg are circled for one sample, though a quick statistical analysis of all 4 samples show no significant differences between dates.  And even if there were – does anyone really expect leaf nutrient levels to be the same in June as in October? Keep in mind that the plant is both producing fruit and preparing for dormancy. Nutrients do move around!

Where did this magical recipe come from?

Again, relying on garden forums for my information (since the product website is vague on the topic), Eleanor “got the formula from a “cantankerous” elderly chemist who grew healthy plants, including tomato plants that were 30 ft. long.”

What’s actually in this miracle product?

According to the Washington State’s fertilizer product database (a really helpful resource for anyone, not just Washington residents), it is 0.15% N, 0.85% P, and 0.55% K (yes, these are all less than 1%). It also contains 3.5 ppm zinc and 3.2 ppm molybdenum. Products with such minute levels of minerals really aren’t fertilizer, but they really aren’t plant food either. Once this is diluted, you are left with…water. This is uncomfortably similar to homeopathic “cell salts,” which are highly diluted mineral products used to prevent disease in humans. Coincidentally, fans of Eleanor’s potions report that VF stands for Verticillium/Fusarium, “signifying that it creates disease resistance”. Hmm.

As Dr. Barrett points out on his QuackWatch site about homeopathic cell salts, “many are so diluted that they could not correct a mineral deficiency even if one were present.” I would venture the same would be true in plants. Again, Eleanor’s aficionados report that the “11” in the name “signifies it has eleven ingredients include iron, boron, copper, zinc, and molybdenum.” Hmm. Washington State’s analysis lab couldn’t find either iron or boron. Or whatever the other 4 minerals might be (besides the nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, molybdenum and zinc).

Finally, the most bizarre use of this product must be the one reported by another fan of Eleanor’s: “Eleanor called me this evening and she could hear my parrots in the background…she told me that she, too, has birds. She then went on to explain that a woman told her that her birds looked terrible and that she started to spray them with Eleanor’s VF-11…an amazing improvement in both their plumage and in their attitudes…so, Eleanor did a test with hundreds of birds…and confirmed that spraying your birds often with the same mixture of VF-11 and water…room temperature…would enhance their feathering and make them much happier!

“Eleanor believes that indoor pets miss out on a lot of necessary nutrition due to being indoors….she stated the importance of animals and birds of being exposed to “dew”. I always assumed that dew was just water…but, Eleanor believes it contains nutrients.”

I think I need to stop now.

Published by

Linda Chalker-Scott

Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott has a Ph.D. in Horticulture from Oregon State University and is an ISA certified arborist and an ASCA consulting arborist. She is WSU’s Extension Urban Horticulturist and an Associate Professor in the Department of Horticulture, and holds two affiliate associate professor positions at University of Washington. She conducts research in applied plant and soil sciences, publishing the results in scientific articles and university Extension fact sheets. Linda also is the award-winning author of five books: the horticultural myth-busting The Informed Gardener (2008) and The Informed Gardener Blooms Again (2010) from the University of Washington Press and Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens: Good Science – Practical Application (2009) from GFG Publishing, Inc., and How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do from Timber Press (2015). Her latest effort is an update of Art Kruckeberg’s Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest from UW Press (2019). In 2018 Linda was featured in a video series – The Science of Gardening – produced by The Great Courses. She also is one of the Garden Professors – a group of academic colleagues who educate and entertain through their blog and Facebook pages. Linda’s contribution to gardeners was recognized in 2017 by the Association for Garden Communicators as the first recipient of their Cynthia Westcott Scientific Writing Award. "The Garden Professors" Facebook page - www.facebook.com/TheGardenProfessors "The Garden Professors" Facebook group - www.facebook.com/groups/GardenProfessors Books: http://www.sustainablelandscapesandgardens.com

21 thoughts on “Here’s the plant food everyone is talking about!”

  1. Then how come it works so well? I’m a born skeptic but I been using it for 1 week on healthy plants that have had a dramatic increase in growth rate just after one application . Could it contain giberellic acid?

  2. Samuel, you’d need a set of untreated plants to really see if there was a difference between using Eleanor’s as directed and using water in the same way. There’s no GA in it – only the mineral nutrients I listed in the posting itself.

  3. . . Both treated plants have only fed water through out their lives. . One in soil is a Hoya and a Basil with only has the roots growing in water. The hoyas that I have that I didn’t feed vf11 look identical to the way they did. Both treated plants are about 7months old and but both are very, very pale color. Within 24 hours of giving these the vf11 both have began toe turn green and have gotten green everyday since. Like I said I’m a born skeptic and I know about plant nutrition and what it takes so that it why I’m
    dumbfounded because if the trace amounts of ingredients. But from
    My experience its working like magic. I really want an answer that makes sense.

  4. Samuel, it’s likely that the nitrogen (and possibly potassium and phosphorus) in the mixture would relieve foliar chlorosis. Plants in pure water receive no mineral nutrition, so even a little bit would make a difference. (I’m curious to know if the hoya is actually in soil or potting media of some sort? In any case, knowing the nutrient content of the soil and/or water before you started the experiment would be important when looking at changes in the plants.

  5. Hi again, thanks for the quick responses. The Hoya is in potting soil. Basil is in clay pellets and water. Have experemted with it? With no results ? Everyday Ive come home from work this week I’m more impressed. I got about a cup from a friend who swore by it. He told me the content , I laughed. He convicts me to take a cup and try it. So now here I am trying to understand why it’s workimg better that more standard npk ratio for him and now for me. I’m goin to do a more controlled side by side comparison.

  6. have been using vf-11 for 5 weeks now on my plants! they are in flowering stage and have no discolor at all! again I only use Vf-11 and that’s all my plants need! Also I bazaar thing is that before I started using the vf-11 my lower leaf’s were turning yellow and I had little fly like bugs flying around and eating the plant. both have magically disappeared! BIG NICE THICK BUDS.. Thanks VF-11

  7. I have to agree with the author. I was using VF-11 on my “plants” in soil and by the time they reached flowering stage I had serious nitrogen and phosphorous deficiencies to the point of purple stems, yellow leaves and stunted growth. Also I tried using it as my only nute growing hydroponically. Big mistake! Contrary to what it says in the advertising VF-11 didn’t have enough nutrients and minerals to support life let alone growth. I even sprayed it undiluted on my plants and it didn’t burn them at all. It’s like using H2o

  8. This is funny. Way up above you rant about how the concentrations are so little that once diluted it’s virtually water and you imply it does no better than just water. In the comments someone gives you real results and your reply is that even a little nutrients VF11 might provide can make a difference. So which is it? Your snarky attitude shows you don’t want VF11 to work and you try to show in theory how it doesn’t yet so many people report it does. Very humorous to watch you struggle to not back pedal and find other reasons the plants are doing well other than VF11. I’m no VF11 lover actually and no ax to grind but your tone and hypocritical answers means you got little cred’ with me.

    1. Samuel was looking at a plant in water compared to a plant in water with VF11. It’s *possible* that in such a system – absolutely no nitrogen compared to a little bit of nitrogen – you *might* see a difference. When one does plant nutrition experiments (where one nutrient is left out but everything else is normal) you can see differences with even a little bit of added nutrient.

      However – most people I know aren’t growing their plants in pure water. They’re growing them in some sort of soil or potting media, which is going to have nitrogen in it. So practically speaking, you would not see a result.

    2. ‘Sceptics’ like this author and Dr. Barrett are not sceptics at all, they are ‘intransigents.’ A sceptic does not tie himself in knots to explain away confounding observations, even though he may remain sceptical.

      1. I don’t think anyone in tying themselves in knots. Scientific experts just point out inaccurate statements and outright nonsense. Scientists (those who believe in the scientific method) can’t very well be intransigent or science would never advance.

        Substantial evidence is required for a skeptic (and a scientist) to suspend disbelief.

  9. So being in the fertilizer industry, I read the same reports as you. I wasn’t impressed with anything I read. But what I can tell you is that I was very impressed with what it does. I have a 100 year old Christmas cactus and it was turning yellow. I didn’t have time to change out the soil so I used a cap full of this product with water and I was amazed. It works!!

  10. It works great on expired potted flowers! They come back with a vengeance bigger and brighter than before. REALLY! Is it safe for fruits and veggies to be eaten? I guess they could not be called organic after treatment with VF-11 right?

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