Synthetic vs. Organic Fertilizer
By: Brent and Becky
To Organic or Not to Organic:
Our desire to do our part for the environment is climbing to join our desire for beautiful and healthy gardens. Some people tell us that they want to “switch” from synthetic fertilizers to organic. It is possible to make your fertilizers both environmentally friendly and effective. The exchange between organic and synthetic isn't quite as simple as swapping one for the other. Both options give your plants nutrients and can be good for your garden, but what they’re made of and how they work is a bit different. You’ll want to choose the best fertilizer for the job.
Apples-To-Oranges Comparison: Synthetic vs Organic
These two types of fertilizer are different all the way down to their ingredients, how they work, and what results you’ll get. Here’s how each of them breaks down:
What are they?
Organic Fertilizer: These fertilizers are derived from natural products. There are tons of different variations from bones to kitchen scraps, but they’re all naturally occurring. Your own compost at home is a fantastic organic fertilizer you may already be using. Organic fertilizers have all the essential nutrients your plants need. They pack in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, but in smaller quantities than synthetics. As a trade-off, organic fertilizers tend to pack in more micronutrients than synthetics.
Synthetic Fertilizer: These fertilizers are made in a factory. They have measured amounts of each nutrient, acting quickly and predictably. They might not have many micronutrients if any, but have heaping servings of the basics.
How do they work?
Synthetic Fertilizer: You’re probably familiar with these 20-20-20 concoctions already. They’re the water-soluble blue powders that you blend into your water. When you water your plants with them, the fertilizer works through the soil and past the roots that grab whatever nutrients they can. The rest flows into our soil and water table. These are an espresso shot for your plants, giving a quick hit of powerful nutrients. Some of your favorite annuals come already addicted to them and will need more than organics to make it through the season looking their best. Sometimes you can’t get away from using the synthetics to keep your high-performance plants vibrant. You can still take steps to minimize the impact of synthetic fertilizers on the environment and your wallet, though. Always mix your fertilizer to the concentration on the package, never more. If your plants are parched, water with clean water first to make the soil and roots more absorbent before adding the chemical boosters.
Organic Fertilizers: Organic fertilizers work slowly and steadily. They provide consistent nutrients that feed your garden constantly. While synthetics cram in a bunch of nutrients in one go, organics feed your plants and the soil all season. They tend to be full of helpful microbes that enrich your soil while feeding your plants. Your organic fertilizers stay where you put them, and you won’t have to worry about over-fertilizing your plants or the water table. While they do tend to be more expensive than synthetics, you’ve got much less waste.
Side By Side
Organics are your long-term fertilizers, that begin a process of enriching your soil. They might take a few months to see results when you first start, but over years of use, your entire yard and garden will be healthier and more vibrant for it. Synthetics are a drug, and many of our favorite annuals are already addicted when we buy them. These are the fertilizers best suited for high-octane performance where the aim is all about short-term fabulous. Your containers full of color might be thirsty for the quick-fix blue water for the best look all summer. Your veggie garden and perennial beds, however, are a great place to start using organic fertilizers for some long-term healthy plants.
It could be a few years before you start to phase synthetics out entirely, as you build and nurture healthy soil. There’s no need to sacrifice the beauty and health of your garden by going cold-turkey. Once the effects of your organics have totally kicked in though, you’ll be wondering why you didn’t start the switch earlier.
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