The small orange balls in soil mixes can worry some gardeners, especially novice ones. These little orange balls in soil are often found mixed well throughout the potting medium, causing some gardeners who find these orange fuzzy balls in soil mixes to become apprehensive. Both beginner and seasoned gardeners are often puzzled by these potting soil beads.

small orange balls in soil

Before we jump to conclusions, let’s discuss and understand what these small orange balls are and why they are mixed together with the potting soil.

What Are the Orange Balls in Potting Soil Mixes?

These orange round balls in soil are most likely fertilizer balls in potting soil. These are commonly found in plants that have been purchased from plant nurseries, who often mix these fertilizer balls into the potting soil mix.

Some commercial soil mixes also include these small orange fertilizer balls in their potting medium. This is one of the most common methods to apply fertilizer to the soil. These little orange balls in soil tend to be a source of vexation for confused gardeners. In this article, we’ll answer many pertinent questions about these little orange balls in your soil and what you can do about them.

What Are Fertilizer Balls?

These small orange fertilizer balls are tiny, degradable, round polymer resins with liquid fertilizer inside. Some fertilizer balls use fertilizer salts instead of liquids. These little orange balls of fertilizers are called prills and can sometimes be found in other colors such as yellow, gray and blue.

What Do Fertilizer Balls Contain?

The small fertilizer balls contain ammonium nitrate, ammonium phosphates, calcium phosphate, calcium fluoride and potassium sulphate. These are the chemical names for the vital nutrients that plants need to stay healthy.

These fertilizer balls can come in different formulations with varying levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Some formulations even include critical micronutrient content, such as iron and manganese, for better plant growth.

Why Are These Fertilizer Balls Added To Potting Mixes?

These small fertilizer balls are formulated to slowly decompose over time, releasing the nutrients into the soil gradually. These slow-release fertilizer balls gently fertilize the soil and the plants with crucial nourishment over time. This decelerated decomposition allows the plants to enjoy nutrients without going into shock from excessive amounts.

– Can These Fertilizer Balls Cause Harm to Soils, Plants, Animals or Humans?

These small fertilizer balls are not classified as hazardous materials and are generally considered safe. However, it is always prudent to observe caution when handling fertilizers. Care should be taken to ensure that risk avoidance is high on the priority list when it comes to storing and using these fertilizer balls.

– Harmful Effects Upon Direct Contact and Ingestion

Swallowing large amounts of these fertilizer balls may cause serious gastrointestinal and internal aggravations for humans and animals. It is recommended to avoid any possible situations where these fertilizer balls can be eaten and swallowed by people and animals.

Place these fertilizer balls away from curious children and pets who may mistake these balls for edible treats. Infants who accidentally ingest these fertilizer balls may end up with gastrointestinal irritation, muscle weakness and cyanosis, which causes the skin to turn blue.

Uncoated fertilizer balls may cause skin or eye irritation upon direct contact. Although unlikely, breathing in the contents of the fertilizer balls may cause nose, throat and lung irritation. Despite these precautions, the slow-release fertilizer balls are quite safe to apply as long as the user employs these with utmost knowledge and care.

How Long Do Fertilizer Balls Take To Degrade?

The slow-release fertilizer balls take approximately 2 years to totally disappear. Degradation of the outer shell and the contents inside can depend on a variety of factors.

– Contents

The contents inside these fertilizer balls usually disappear first. This is because the nutrient contents inside pass through the shell to slowly release important fertilization chemicals into the soil. Depending on the temperature and soil conditions, the length of the decomposition will differ.

In general, the warmer the temperature of the climate and the soil, the faster the fertilizer balls release their nutrients to the soil. For example, at 60 F, the slow-release fertilizer balls will take 4 to 5 months before becoming completely empty except for the shell.

– Outer Shells

The outer shells take a longer time to break down. These slow-release fertilizers are normally made up of biodegradable polymers that eventually decompose into carbon dioxide, biomass and water. Minimally, 90 percent of the organic carbon shell should be converted into carbon dioxide less than two years after the end of the claimed expiry date.

This translates to having no visible outer shells in the potting soil after 2 years of the claimed expiry date.

How Often Should I Reapply My Slow-release Fertilizer Balls?

Slow-release fertilizer balls are recommended to be reapplied every 4 months. This ensures that the nutrients found inside the balls have already released most of their soil supplements. Depending on the climate, temperature and soil conditions, slow-release fertilizer balls may need to be reapplied in as little as 2 months after initial application.

What About Finding White Balls in My Soil?

Some gardeners also spot white balls mixed into their soil. Small white balls with the texture and consistency of Styrofoam are most likely to be perlite, which is a potting material often used to increase aeration and drainage for soil mixes.

Perlite is actually a volcanic glass that has expanded to 13 times its size when exposed to 1600 F. It is quite safe and commonly used for keeping soils loose and well-draining.

For off-white-colored balls that are also found in soil mixes, they are most likely vermiculite. Vermiculite is an effective material to increase soil aeration and drainage. It is made up of hydrated laminar minerals heated at extreme temperatures to produce inert states of mass.

Vermiculite aids soil aeration while successfully retaining water and nutrients, which it then releases slowly over time. Vermiculite is completely safe and does not pose harm to your soil.

– Is It Possible That These White Balls Are Eggs?

– Insect Eggs

Normally, insect eggs are slightly smaller than slow-release fertilizer balls. Most insect eggs also do not have hard outer shells similar to slow-release fertilizer balls, nor are they often round in shape. Most insect eggs often have elongated shapes.

Insect eggs are also often found clumped together in one spot. This is in stark contrast to slow-release fertilizer balls, which are often uniformly spread all throughout the soil.

– Snail and Slug Eggs

There are some snails and slugs that lay eggs that look quite similar to slow-release fertilizer balls. Generally, snail and slug eggs are paler than slow-release fertilizer balls and are often grouped together in a concentrated area. More often than not, snail and slug eggs tend to be more transparent than the slow-release fertilizer balls they resemble.

– Worm Eggs

Worm eggs can look very similar to slow-release fertilizer balls in color and size. However, most worm eggs are slightly elongated spheres. Generally, worm eggs are also found in concentrated clumps whereas slow-release fertilizers are often spread evenly throughout the soil.

– Ant Eggs

Ant eggs are usually shaped like beans and are pale in color. These eggs are also generally smaller than slow-release fertilizer balls. When disturbed, ant eggs could prod many ants to come out and investigate the cause.

– Vine Weevil Eggs

Vine weevil eggs are more bright orange and spherical. These eggs are closest in appearance to slow-release fertilizer balls, although like most egg-laying insects, they tend to be found grouped in clumps.

– Ladybug Eggs

Ladybug eggs can also be confused with slow-release fertilizer balls. While some ladybug eggs are round, they are commonly elongated and found grouped together. Ladybugs are also beneficial insects that repel and devour pests.

– Fungus Gnat Eggs

Fungus gnat eggs are minuscule, oval, smooth eggs that are usually white. These eggs are normally found hidden in the soil where the fungus gnats lay their eggs. They are often found in concentrated groups and are visually dissimilar from slow-release fertilizer balls.

– What To Do if They Are Eggs

Now that we’re able to differentiate slow-release fertilizer balls from snail, slug and insect eggs, we have to figure out what we need to do in case the balls we found are eggs. The easiest method would be to remove the plant from the potting soil completely. This ensures that any possible soil infestation will not damage your plants.

Another method is to manually remove these eggs by hand. It is recommended to use gloves to reduce risks. However, removing insect eggs by hand does not guarantee the soil from possible infestation, as it is likely there are more eggs hidden within the soil.

Some gardeners use hydrogen peroxide to control fungus gnat eggs and larvae effectively. A solution consisting of diluted 3 percent hydrogen peroxide to four parts of water applied to the soil usually alleviates this condition. For snail and slug eggs, some gardeners recommend using bleach with water to get rid of them and prevent infestation.

Orange Balls in Soil Mixtures

Conclusion

Small orange balls in soil mixtures can cause confusion for many novice gardeners, leading them to suspect that these are insect eggs. With the proper knowledge, distinguishing between the two can be extremely helpful in eliminating possible infestation risks.

  • Small orange balls in soil mixes are often slow-release fertilizer balls, which are usually found in commercial soil mixes.
  • The small balls in the soil can also come in other colors such as yellow, gray and blue.
  • Slow-release fertilizer balls provide much-needed nutrients to soil and plants.
  • Essential nutrients include nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium for overall plant health and development.
  • Slow-release fertilizer balls can take time to degrade, although the contents inside disappear first before the outer shell disintegrates.
  • The outer shell can take 2 years from the claimed expiry date to disintegrate.
  • Upon disintegration, the outer shell is eventually converted into carbon dioxide.
  • Slow-release fertilizer balls are generally safe and not classified as hazardous materials. However, care and precaution should be taken, and the fertilizer balls should be placed away from curious children and pets to avoid accidental ingestion.
  • At times, the slow-release fertilizer balls can be mistaken for eggs. While there are similarities, differentiating between the two is easy.
  • Insect eggs are generally smaller, more elongated, and are usually found grouped together in a concentrated area of the soil.
  • Insect eggs can be easily eliminated through a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water.
  • Snail and slug eggs can sometimes be misidentified as fertilizer balls. Snail and slug eggs tend to be more transparent, pale, and often grouped together. They can be eliminated through a solution of bleach and water.
  • Slow-release fertilizers are often found spread evenly throughout the soil.
  • Some potting materials, such as perlite and vermiculite, may often be mistaken for slow-release fertilizer balls.

You can now heave a sigh of relief. Now that you’ve armed yourself with the right knowledge to skillfully identify and solve questions related to those little orange balls in the soil, gardening has just gotten a little bit easier for you!

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