Most of us know how it feels to stand in the produce aisle and debate whether to get organic or inorganic lettuce. Now, welcome to the other side. Since you’re choosing your own fertilizer type, you get to decide whether an organic or chemical fertilizer is right for you.
Thankfully, there’s a lot of research out there to consider. We’ll cover what fertilizing your garden means and why it’s important, the differences between organic and chemical fertilizers, and which fertilizer wins out in nutrient composition, short-term growth, long-term plant and soil health, easy maintenance, and environmental sustainability. We’ll end with the easiest method to fertilize the right way, every single time.
Why Is it Important to Fertilize Your Garden?
Fertilizer provides the nutrients plants need to form flowers and healthy foliage, produce more fruit, grow a robust root system, fight off disease, and withstand pests. Seems like a long list, right? When correctly executed, fertilizer helps drive all processes that occur within plant cells. This is especially important when plants hit challenging environmental conditions, such as droughts or cold weather. But even the annual growth season can be taxing on plant life, especially without fertilizer.
Here’s the fine print. Fertilizing isn’t as easy as it might sound, because there’s considerable potential for error. When embarking on the process of fertilizing your garden, you’ll need to nail these three points.
Choosing the Right Fertilizer
First, it’s important to have the right type of fertilizer, meaning that it contains the nutrients that your specific plants need. For example, lawn grass usually needs an extra boost of nitrogen, which aids in color and chlorophyll production, whereas flowering and fruiting plants usually need more phosphorous in order to achieve a healthy bloom. There’s no catch-all fertilizer, as it all depends on plant type.
Applying the Right Amount of Fertilizer
The second consideration is the correct amount of fertilizer. Too little fertilizer and you run the risk of not supporting your plants during a challenging growing season. But too much and you could overfertilize your plants, which can lead to sudden but unsustainable plant growth. Overfertilizing can also create a high salt concentration in your soil, which hurts beneficial microorganisms essential to plant health.
Scheduling the Right Time to Fertilize
The final consideration is determining the right time to apply fertilizer. The best rule of thumb? Fertilize during your garden’s active growth period, such as when your plants come out of dormancy in the spring. It’s during this time that your plants change and bloom the most, from forming leaves, to flowering, to extending branches, to elongating roots.
What’s the Difference Between Organic and Chemical Fertilizers?
Choosing the right fertilizer for you and your plants starts with choosing between organic and chemical fertilizer types.
Organic fertilizers are derived directly from plant or animal sources, such as manure, bone meal, compost, fish emulsion, mulch, and molasses. These compounds are extracted from these natural sources because they contain the essential nutrients from plant growth, including highly-essential NPK (an acronym for nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium).
Chemical fertilizers are made from synthetic materials through a manufacturing process, whether in whole or in part. Chemical fertilizers include ammonium sulfate or ammonium phosphate and are designed to provide specific nutrients to plants. However, this fertilizer type often comes with some serious baggage, including ingredients that act as a filler and could potentially harm your plants. It’s good to be wary of this fertilizer type.
Organic vs. Chemical Fertilizers: Which Is Better for Your Garden?
Now that you know the general difference between organic and chemical fertilizers, you’re ready to choose the fertilizer type that’s right for you. This breakdown should help.
Best in Nutrient Composition: Organic Fertilizer
Organic fertilizers often include additional nutrients, like calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, and calcium, all of which are highly beneficial to your plants.
Chemical fertilizer generally contains limited nutrients. While chemical fertilizer usually contains NPK and sulfur, it’s often also composed of empty “fillers,” and lacks diverse micronutrients that a plant would receive from naturally decomposing materials.
Fastest Short-Term Grower: Chemical Fertilizer (With a Catch)
If you’re looking for fast short-term growth, even at the expense of the long-term health of your plants and soil, you might consider chemical fertilizer. It’s true that this fertilizer type provides a quicker boost to plant growth because it’s manufactured to deliver nutrients in a form readily available to plants. But this can lead to over fertilization, which is sudden plant growth without the resources this growth needs to survive, such as strong roots. It can also alter the soil by creating a super-high salt concentration, which hurts beneficial microorganisms that feed plant roots.
If you do have plants that require fast growth quickly but want to avoid the risk of over fertilization, it’s better to try organic fertilizers such as blood meal, burned eggshells, fish emulsion, and urea. These are the fastest-acting organic fertilizers and last only a couple of weeks.
Giving Plants a Leg-Up for the Long Haul: Organic Fertilizer
Because chemical fertilizer is often hyper concentrated and very soluble, it’s easy to apply too much and damage your plants. Organic fertilizers close that room for error because they release nutrients slowly over time. Since they provide a steady supply of nutrients to plants, the benefits of organic fertilizers can be observed beyond the growing season.
This is especially important in areas that experience strong seasons. Because organic fertilizers administer nutrients to plants over time, these plants are more likely to store up those nutrients for the winter, and can then better withstand the vegetation version of hibernation: winter dormancy.
When choosing a more long-term organic fertilizer, keep in mind that while manure is a great choice, it should be well-composted. Fresh, non-composted manure can damage your plants because some manure contains harmful amounts of salts, and can be a source of weed seeds.
Healthier Soil Structure, Healthier Plants: Organic Fertilizer
Because chemical fertilizers run the risk of over-fertilization, they’re actually not safe to use in your soil, because they can easily erode your soil structure, and sometimes even form a crust on its surface. Not only can they cause soil to burn the roots of your plants, but it can also alter the pH of your soil and cause toxic build-up.
Organic fertilizers, on the other hand, improve soil structure over time. They also improve water movement into the soil and feed beneficial microbes that live in the soil. All of these factors lead to healthier, happier plants, and more nutrient-rich soil for new growth to come.
The Low-Maintenance Master: Organic Fertilizer
Since chemical fertilizers are absorbed quickly by plants and grass, they actually require a more frequent application. If you use this type of fertilizer, expect to treat your plants several times during the growing season.
Because organic fertilizers nourish your plants over time, they require a much more occasional application. Plus, this also means that you end up needing less product, which makes organic fertilizer a time and money saver.
The Environmental Winner: Organic Fertilizer
Chemical fertilizers are known to contribute to pollution. One particular study conducted by the University of Vermont found that chemical runoff from chemical fertilizers may cause algae blooms in natural waterways, depleting oxygen and sunlight for fish and other species.
Organic fertilizers are considered much more environmentally friendly, as they are made entirely from materials found directly in nature.
Organic Fertilizer Wins. Here’s How to Win Every Time.
It’s clear that organic fertilizer is the right choice for anyone who wants a beautiful, healthy lawn, as well as a balanced environment. So what’s the best way to utilize this beneficial, natural, and nutrient-rich fertilizer?
By letting smart technology apply it to your lawn for you. You’re guaranteed to fertilize the right way, every single time, with advanced lawn care treatments like the OtO device, which automatically applies organic fertilizer and other natural products to enhance soil and plant health. By building a healthy balance of your soil over time, it will become less reliant on additional nutrient supplements and more resistant to disease.
Plus, the OtO device chooses the best time to fertilize based on weather conditions and applies the non-toxic solution in small quantities. This allows for proper absorption by the plants and minimizes runoff into the environment. The result? A healthy garden and lawn, nutrient-rich soil, and no harm to the environment.