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Are natural organic fertilizers safer than chemical fertilizers? Are they better for your lawn, family and the environment?
Ideally soils will support plant life - but this is not usually the case. We fertilize because soils lack the elements to support plant growth. Natural organic fertilizer, manufactured organic and chemical fertilizers all serve the same purpose - to provide nutrients needed by plants to sustain healthy growth.
There is a lot of debate and
confusion over the best type of lawn fertilizer. The type you use makes
no difference to your grass. All types have advantages and
disadvantages and when properly used are safe for lawns, the environment
and involve few risks to humans or other animals. To be used by grass,
all nutrients in fertilizers - no matter the source - must be broken down into the same chemical form (listed in the table below).
Fertilizer becomes a pollutant when it is misapplied or overapplied - it does not matter if the product is natural organic or synthetic. Take care to use fertilizers according to their labels and instructions. Proper rate and timing is important as well as basing lawn nutrient requirements on a reliable soil test. Protect our water sources! Avoid getting fertilizer on sidewalks, driveways and roads where it can wash into storm drains and then into streams, lakes and rivers.
There are 16 essential elements needed by plants to grow (see the table below). Carbon, hydrogen and oxygen are available to plants from air and water. The other 13 elements are supplied to the plants from the soil. Fertilizers supplement the soil with these needed nutrients.
13 mineral elements found in soils are grouped according to amounts
found within plants - macronutrients, secondary nutrients and
micronutrients. Nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) - the
macronutrients - are the three main nutrients in fertilizer and needed
by plants the most. The secondary and micronutrients are essential but
in very small amounts.
|Element||Symbol||Form Available to Plants|
|Source: Air and Water|
|Oxygen||O||O2 and H20|
|Source: Soil - Macronutrients|
|Nitrogen||N||Nitrate & Ammonium||NO3-, NH4+|
|Source: Soil - Secondary Nutrients|
|Source: Soil - Micronutrients|
There are hundreds of companies that claim their products will improve your soil and make your lawn more vigorous and healthier than their competitor's brand. So how do you choose the best lawn fertilizer?
Nutrient release rate and cost of actual nutrients per pound are important factors to consider.
Chemical fertilizers with fast nutrient release rates provide nutrients in forms that are highly soluble and available to your lawn. These products must be used carefully. They will stimulate quick growth, must be applied at low rates and frequently, will burn your grass when over applied and are likely to leach nutrients into groundwater.
Natural organic fertilizers release nutrients slowly. As the soil microorganisms decompose the organic matter, the nutrients are converted into the chemical forms that are available to plants. Higher application rates may be applied, they have a low burn potential and will last longer.
Chemical fertilizers are also available in slow-release formulations that release nutrients by water penetration, weathering or microbial action.
Since the purpose of fertilizing is to provide essential nutrients to assist plant growth, it makes sense to consider the cost of the actual nutrients in the product you are purchasing.
Fertilizer Analysis - the concentration of nutrients by percent - is printed prominently on the the product label. The analysis is always printed in a three number sequence indicating the amounts of N - P - K. An example is 23-3-6, indicates 23% Nitrogen, Phosphorus equivalent to 3% P2O5, and and Potassium equivalent to 6% K2O.
Ultimately it is up to you to decide what is best for your lawn based on the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Advantages of Natural Organic Fertilizers
Disadvantages of Natural Organic Fertilizers
Advantages of Manufactured Organic and Chemical Fertilizers
Disadvantages of Manufactured Organic and Chemical fertilizers
Calculate the cost of nitrogen per pound. This is helpful when comparing fertilizer products by actual cost of nitrogen contained in the product.