Organic vs. Chemical Fertilizers

Organic vs. Chemical Fertilizers

Fertilizing your lawn is crucial in maintaining soil health and stepping up curb appeal. You can hire a lawn care company to do the hard work or try a DIY approach. Either way, you’ll have to consider timing, soil levels, and nutrient needs

You also need to think about what kind of fertilizer you want to nourish your yard. All-natural and artificial products have risen to the top of the market, creating much discussion about which option is ultimately the best.

In this article, we’ll detail the pros and cons of chemical and organic fertilizers and give you the scoop on both to help you make the right decision for your lawn.

We’ll also discuss:

  • Common nutrients found in fertilizers
  • What makes a fertilizer organic or synthetic
  • The benefits of each kind of fertilizer

Organic vs. Chemical Fertilizers

Before we jump into the debate of organic versus chemical fertilizers, you must understand what fertilizers are and why they’re essential.

Fertilizer is a substance that provides your lawn’s soil with nutrients to boost and sustain growth. According to the 2022 Encyclopedia Britannica, fertilizers “enhance the natural fertility of soil” and “replace chemical elements taken from the soil by previous crops.” 

Fertilizer is important for your lawn because it restores depleted nutrient supplies and boosts propagation in less-than-ideal growing conditions. But, with so many fertilizer products on the market, which one is the best option?

Here is a comparison table to help you understand some pros and cons of organic and chemical fertilizers.

Factors Organic Fertilizer Chemical Fertilizer
Advantages
  • Doesn’t form toxic buildup on the soil
  • Improves water movement and soil structure
  • Feeds beneficial soil microbes
  • Safer to use in areas with children and pets
  • Highly concentrated
  • Lower cost
  • Fast-acting
  • Nutrient ratios are guaranteed
Disadvantages
  • Contains low concentrations of plant nutrients
  • Takes longer to absorb
  • Typically more expensive
  • Can pollute groundwater
  • Made from synthetically processed materials
  • Can cause toxic buildup
Common Nutrients
  • Nitrogen 
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium 
  • Nitrogen
  • Phosphorus 
  • Potassium 

What is in Fertilizer?

Synthetic and natural fertilizers both contain nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. These three essential nutrients are widely referred to as “NPK” and are vital to plant growth and survival. 

Plants require other nutrients in smaller amounts, so most fertilizers also contain calcium, magnesium, sulfur, and various trace elements.

In the following sections, we’ll go over how organic fertilizers and their synthetic counterparts provide plants with NPK in different ways. While you’re reading, consider which product would better serve your lifestyle, family, and lawn care needs.

What is Chemical Fertilizer?

Chemical or “synthetic” fertilizers are manufactured substances processed to contain certain nutrients. Although many chemical fertilizers are derived from naturally occurring minerals, the compounds are artificially joined to meet a specific nutrient ratio. These synthetic, inorganic compounds include ammonium nitrate, ammonium phosphate, and ammonium sulfate.

The product must contain one or more of the primary plant nutrients to qualify as a fertilizer. Chemical fertilizers are typically water-soluble, so you’ll need to water the lawn to activate and release nutrients into the soil.

Benefits of Using Chemical Fertilizers

Synthetic fertilizer is already in a form that plants can absorb, which leads to faster results. The manufactured nature of chemical fertilizers means that nutrient ratios are evenly measured. You’ll potentially faceless guesswork when deciphering how much fertilizer to apply to your grass.

Chemical fertilizers are often manufactured to contain other important elements in addition to nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Important micronutrients like copper, iron, manganese, and zinc might be missing from depleted soil, leading to nutrient-deficient crops. 

Luckily, fertilizers can be synthetically produced to contain important micronutrients needed for soil fertility and human nutrition. This benefit is considerable for home gardeners hoping to grow nutritious, healthy crops for their families to enjoy. 

No matter what chemical fertilizer you select, the nutrients will be more concentrated than in an all-natural option. You’ll get more bang for your buck by using less product per square foot of grass.

Disadvantages of Chemical Fertilizers

As discussed, chemical fertilizers are highly concentrated and fast-acting. These are beneficial if you want quick results and have determined your lawn’s specific fertilizer needs. However, applying too much synthetic fertilizer will do more harm than good.

Over-fertilization increases your lawn’s acidity level and disrupts soil pH balance. This chemical disruption can cause fertilizer burn, leaving your lawn looking patchy, dry, and worse than it did with no fertilizer.

If fertilizer can “burn” your lawn, how else can it harm the environment? 

Chemical fertilizers’ effect on the environment is a heavily debated topic.

On the one hand, fertilizers help us produce enough food to support the ever-growing human population.

On the other hand, chemical fertilizers pollute the environment when used in excess. If you apply too much fertilizer, the excess can run off into surrounding bodies of water, lowering oxygen levels and harming the organisms that live there.

According to the American Carbon Registry, chemical nitrogen fertilizers also “represent one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions from global agricultural production.”

So, fertilizers used on a large commercial scale have a negative environmental impact, but can they harm the habitats around your home? 

If you use too much fertilizer on your lawn, the excess chemicals can leach into groundwater and well water. Organic materials can also contaminate water sources. So, either way, you must determine the best time to fertilize your lawn and how much product to use.

Chemical fertilizers are toxic to pets, which is a major disadvantage for outdoor pet owners. If your buddy is prone to eating things or licking its paws, organic products are probably your safest option.

What is Organic Fertilizer?

Organic fertilizer is made directly from plant or animal matter and contains less processed forms of necessary nutrients. You may know that composted food and animal waste are used as fertilizers, but the list of eco-friendly ingredients goes on. 

Here are some of the  organic matters used in fertilizers:

Animal Byproducts Plant Byproducts
  • Bat guano (feces)
  • Blood meal
  • Bone meal
  • Feathers
  • Fish emulsion
  • Fish meal and powder
  • Alfalfa 
  • Corn gluten
  • Cottonseed meal
  • Soybeans 
  • Kelp
  • Seaweed 

Each animal or plant substance contains one of the three vital plant nutrients. These products are combined to form a mixture comparable to the nutrient content of chemical fertilizers. 

If avoiding chemicals altogether is your main priority, do your research on organic fertilizers containing plant matter. Some products, such as cottonseed meal, may contain pesticide residue from the farm.

Benefits of Using Organic Fertilizers

The most obvious benefit of organic fertilizer is that it’s all-natural and probably a safer, more environmentally friendly option. This is a major plus if you have children and pets exploring your yard.

Organic fertilizers can also help you build stronger soil. The nutrients in such fertilizers remain in their natural forms and therefore must undergo decay to work. Bacteria and microbes in the soil process the fertilizer, breaking it down so plants can use it. 

Because of this nutrient breakdown process, organic fertilizers help add structure to the soil, making it softer and more responsive to watering. During the decay process, microorganisms decompose mineral compounds that could leave a toxic buildup on the soil – a problem that sometimes occurs with inorganic fertilizers.

All-natural fertilizers are slow-releasing, which means it takes plants longer to absorb the fertilizer’s nutrients. For the busy homeowner who wants quick results, this may be frustrating.

However, slow-release fertilizers are better for your lawn. With nutrients feeding into the soil over a longer timespan, the grass gets a steadier supply and isn’t forced to absorb everything all at once. In this way, organic fertilizers can help even out patchy growths and prevent fertilizer burn.

Disadvantages of Using Organic Fertilizers

Organic fertilizers are typically animal or plant products, so the soil must do the work of breaking these substances down into usable nutrients. 

Organic fertilizers also contain lower nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium levels, so you must apply a more significant amount of the product to reap similar results. Because organic fertilizer’s pound-per-pound nutrient concentration is lower, you must buy more of the product – thus, leading to all-natural options costing more.

These fertilizers are more expensive by default because of the processes that create an all-natural product. Factor in the need for more product per square foot of lawn, and you’re paying more than you would for chemical fertilizer.

If going green is your top priority, organic fertilizer is an excellent place to start. However, remember that organic fertilizers can harm the environment if misused. Organic products pump the same nutrients into the soil as chemical fertilizers – just in a different form. These nutrients can harm nearby ecosystems through leaching and runoff when applied in excess.

For both fertilizer options, we suggest measuring your lawn to ensure proper fertilizer application per square foot. 

You can also leave it to the pros. Hire a lawn care company to apply fertilizer and take the guesswork out of the equation.

How to Choose Which Fertilizer Is Best for You

Once you’ve decided on a synthetic fertilizer for its fast-acting nature or organic fertilizer for its all-natural appeal, it’s time to consider a few other factors.

Choosing the best fertilizer for your family, region, and schedule is crucial, so we’ll look at these factors and more in this section. 

Climate

Organic fertilizer is a good option if you live in a hot, dry climate. Many chemical fertilizers need water to dissolve and release nutrients. Without steady watering, the chemicals will just sit in your yard and not produce the desired results. Organic fertilizers also improve soil structure and moisture retention, which is helpful in dry lawns. 

If chemical fertilizers are your product of choice, you can select liquid fertilizer for your dry yard. These options aren’t water-soluble and will seep into the soil without rain or sprinklers.

Fertilization Schedule

Whether you choose organic or synthetic fertilizer, you must first establish a fertilization calendar for your lawn. Your grass will change with every season, so it has different needs at different times of the year. Knowing how and when to fertilize your lawn makes a difference in the results you’ll see.

Pets and Children

If you have children or pets frequenting your yard, you must ensure they won’t come in contact with harmful chemicals. 

Chemical fertilizers can stick to your pet’s feet or skin and cause irritation. If your pet licks its feet after walking outside, it could accidentally consume harmful toxins. 

Even if you use organic fertilizers, you still must be wary of poisoning. For example, ingredients like bone meal or blood powder might seem tasty to dogs but can cause intestinal blockages if consumed in high volumes.

No matter which fertilizer you choose – inorganic or natural – follow the instructions for post-application waiting periods. Your fertilizer container should specify how long you should keep your kids or pets off the grass before it’s safe to play again.

Final Thoughts

We hope this article helps you understand the pros and cons of organic vs. chemical fertilizers. With the right choice for your lifestyle, family, and lawn care needs, you can brighten your block with green, healthy grass and well-balanced soil.

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