Chemical Versus Organic Fertilizers

Here’s what you should know about using chemical fertilizers versus organic fertilizers in your garden…

Chemical fertilizers differ from organic fertilizers in a number of aspects. One of the most important for gardeners, however, is how they impact the soil.

Rich, healthy soil is imperative for healthy, vibrant, and productive crops. However, many chemical fertilizers simply provide a very limited number of nutrients in high doses, and may actually kill off beneficial soil microbes that help to enrich the soil by breaking down organic matter over time. This is one important reason why organic gardeners choose to opt out of chemical fertilizers, and instead, choose organic options. Organic gardening focuses on the overall fertility and health of the soil, rather than applying fertilizers as a “quick fix” for soil woes.

However, few soils start out as the ideal home for your garden crops. Most likely, you will need to amend yours in some way – either by altering the pH balance, or adding organic matter to improve soil structure and fertility. (Check out these 10 easy soil tests to find out how good your garden soil really is.)

Here is a bit more info that you should know about using chemical versus organic fertilizers in your garden:

Many organic materials serve as both fertilizers and soil conditioners—they feed both soils and plants. This is one of the most important differences between a chemical approach and an organic approach toward soil care and fertilizing. Soluble chemical fertilizers contain mineral salts that plant roots can absorb quickly. However, these salts do not provide a food source for soil microorganisms and earthworms, and they will even repel earthworms because they acidify the soil. Over time, soils treated only with synthetic chemical fertilizers lose organic matter and the all-important living organisms that help to build a quality soil. As soil structure declines and water-holding capacity diminishes, more and more of the chemical fertilizer applied will leach through the soil. In turn, it will take ever-increasing amounts of chemicals to stimulate plant growth. When you use organic fertilizers, you avoid throwing your soil into this kind of crisis condition.

What’s more, the manufacturing process of most chemical fertilizers depends on nonrenewable resources, such as coal and natural gas. Others are made by treating rock minerals with acids to make them more soluble. Fortunately, there are more and more truly organic fertilizers coming on the market. These products are made from natural plant and animal materials or from mined rock minerals. However, the national standards that define and distinguish organic fertilizers from chemical fertilizers are complicated, so it’s hard to be sure that a commercial fertilizer product labeled “organic” truly contains only safe, natural ingredients. Look for products labeled “natural organic,” “slow release,” and “low analysis.” Be wary of products labeled organic that have an NPK (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) ratio that adds up to more than 15. Ask a reputable garden center owner to recommend fertilizer brands that meet organic standards, or go the DIY route and make your own organic fertilizer.

For more info on making and using organic fertilizers, visit


Rose S.

An avid gardener since childhood, I love sharing my passion for gardening with others! I have gardened in a number of different climates and settings, from large fenced garden plots, to tiny patio and container gardens, and I firmly believe that everyone can learn to grow at least some of their own food - no matter where you live. Growing your own food can help you take control of your own health and food supply, and there has never been a better time to get started!

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