If you’re on the hunt for a landscape fertilizer, you’re in the right place. We’re here to clear up some confusion around organic vs. chemical fertilizers, listing some popular advantages and disadvantages to each form of nourishment.
Whether you’re conditioning your grass or your favorite flowers, the right fertilizer can help to bring these lackluster plants back to life.
Here are the pros and cons of using natural or synthetic fertilizers:
What’s Chemical Fertilizer?
Chemical fertilizer is made from refined organic or (more often) artificial matter, where nutrients have been extracted and combined with chemical fillers to create a synthetic solution.
This “inorganic,” manufactured fertilizer is often made of petroleum, broken down rocks or other nonrenewable sources. Chemical fertilizers usually contain nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur and sometimes micronutrients. The materials are refined to a pure state and stripped of certain substances to eliminate the decomposition process.
Because these materials don’t need to decompose, the nutrients are readily available to your plants upon application and sucked up quickly— often brightening your landscape in only a few days. That’s just the start of the benefits.
The Advantages of Using Chemical Fertilizer
Synthetic fertilizers are often chosen over organic solutions, as they are:
- Less expensive. Perhaps the biggest reason homeowners choose chemical vs. organic fertilizer is that they are inexpensive compared or organic applications. These refined materials can be produced in bulk and have a longer shelf life, reducing production costs— and thus, savings, onto the consumer.
- Show quicker results. Whereas organic fertilizers need time and moisture to break down, naturally, over a few weeks, chemical fertilizers are absorbed quickly by your plants. Because of this, these refined, pure minerals produce near-immediate effects— in a matter of days, not weeks.
- Easier to apply, diversely. Many chemical fertilizers come in liquid form and can be sprayed instead of laid. Unlike dry fertilizers (which set on top of soil), liquids can be applied to your treetops and directly onto high foliage for an extra boost— not just on grass.
- Easier to mix with other applications. Because many chemical solutions are liquid fertilizers, they can easily be blended with weed and insect control, or other solutions. This helps to save time protecting and nourishing your landscape.
The Disadvantages of Using Chemical Fertilizer
Chemical fertilizers are often criticized for:
- Containing limited nutrients. Inorganic fertilizers contain set, measured levels of minerals. While they usually contain the big three minerals (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium), they often lack diverse micronutrients that a plant would receive from naturally decomposing materials, instead of containing a lot of “filler.” Organic fertilizers often include additional nutrients, like calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, and calcium— just to name a few.
- Pollution. Research by the University of Vermont found that chemical contamination from synthetic fertilizers can cause nearby waterways to turn green or cloud with algae blooms, take on an unusual odor and deplete oxygen for fish and other species, suffocating them. Because of the effects of this chemical run-off, artificial fertilizers are often not considered environmentally-friendly.
- Over-fertilization or PH balance troubles. These inorganic substances are highly concentrated solutions, and if over-sprayed or over-applied can overwhelm your landscape— becoming too much of a good thing. High mineral levels can cause instant damage like root burn. Long-term chemical use can alter the PH balance of your soil and cause a toxic build-up of certain nutrients. Read more about the dangers of over-fertilization here.
- Requiring more frequent application. Chemical fertilizers are absorbed quickly by your plants and grass. While this leads to faster results, the greenery is often not sustainable. Below, you’ll discover how organic fertilizers nourish the soil structure of your soil, requiring less application to maintain your landscape’s long-term well-being.
What Makes a Fertilizer “Organic?”
For nutrition buffs, it’s important to understand that organic fertilizers don’t have the same standards as organic food. Buying organic produce, for example, means the item was grown with non-genetically modified chemicals. But in terms of organic fertilizer, the term “organic” only means the nutrients remain in natural form— as opposed to being extracted or refined like chemical fertilizers.
“Organic,” when used in association with fertilizer, means the treatment is composed of naturally decaying materials. These materials usually consist of animal waste and by-products— like manure, leaves, vegetable scraps, thatch, bone meal, wood, etc. In nature, these materials would naturally break down, so you know it’s all stuff your plants can easily digest.
These nourishing materials are why organic fertilizers are sometimes called “soil conditioners,” as they are nutrient-rich sources that naturally condition and build the microbial profile of your soil. By feeding the friendly microbes and fungi that live in your dirt, these beneficial organisms give back to the overall structure of your soil— strengthening your turf, long-term. But that’s not all.
The Advantages of Using Organic Fertilizer
By using organic vs. chemical fertilizer, you’ll enjoy the perks of:
- Creating a more self-sufficient soil structure. Chemical fertilizers will nourish your plant, but the minerals will not linger in your soil. By creating rich, nutrient-dense soil with organic materials, your lawn will have a better chance of thriving on its own— tapping into stored minerals when needed.
- Fertilizing less. Because you’re creating a mineral-rich soil structure, the live organisms who call your soil home, and your turf itself, won’t go hungry. Many granular organic fertilizers are considered “slow-release” because they break down over a few weeks, gradually feeding your soil. Chemical fertilizers need to be applied more frequently, as they are absorbed by the plant itself and not stored in the soil.
- Protecting your family and pets and the environment. Chemical-free, organic solutions are also safe to use around your loved ones and your neighborhood. Dogs who have ripped into bags and ate non-natural fertilizers often suffer from vomiting or diarrhea, tremors or even seizures. In addition, chemical fertilizers have been shown to pollute local waterways and surface water due to rain and runoff. Learn more by reading our article.
- Not worrying about over-fertilization. Because organic fertilizers naturally break down slower, it’s hard to overdo it. When overapplied, chemical fertilizers can become toxic and kill your plants. Discover the dangers of over-fertilizing here.
- Saving money by making your own compost. Using natural sources in substitute for store-bought fertilizer and can help to rejuvenate your lawn without depleting your wallet. Start your own compost with tips in our fertilization ebook.
The Disadvantages of Using Organic Fertilizer
Some homeowners choose chemical fertilizer over organic because natural mixes are:
- More expensive. While it’s true some organic fertilizers are much more expensive than synthetic ones, cost-effective organic options are hitting the market every year. Still, you’re going to pay more for natural, organic mixes. Sometimes though, you get what you pay for!
- Slower to see results. Solid organic matter can take longer to dissolve and decompose into your soil before any results are seen, requiring moisture— to help break the matter down— and some patience. To fully transition a lawn to organic can take as long as three seasons. You can see quicker green-up with chemical solutions, especially liquid chemical fertilizers.
The Right Way to Fertilize, Explained
At the end of the day, there’s no right or wrong answer to the organic vs. chemical fertilization debate. You have to choose the best solution for your budget, values and time.
Still, there are so many things to worry about when it comes to choosing the right fertilizer. Organic vs. chemical. Granular vs. liquid. How to apply it, and in what ratios. And that’s just the start!
Eliminate your fertilization woes by downloading our Ultimate Guide to Fertilization. It can answer all your lawn and plant care questions, and more. Best of all, it’s free! Here at Green Sphere, we want to empower homeowners to take care of their landscapes, on their own, whenever possible.
For those who would rather trust the experts, we’ve got your back. Explore our Fertilization Services.