The organic movement has really taken hold over the past two decades. Greater awareness has led to more and more people choosing organic products over the alternatives. They are motivated by their concerns for the environment, for their own health, for the health of the workers involved, and when it comes to food, animal welfare is also a factor. The landscaping industry has also felt the effects of the organic movement as the past two decades have brought an increase in restrictions on chemical usage and certain types of equipment, especially in more populated areas. Fortunately, there is an option to take your organic lifestyle choices outside of the house and into your yard as well. While we’ve learned that organic generally means safer, healthier, and more environmentally friendly, the “Why” behind organic lawn care is not necessarily common knowledge. Listed below is a comparison of conventional/synthetic and organic fertilizers to help clarify how these two options differ from one another.
- Made from chemically processed products, including man-made inorganic compounds derived from petroleum industry by-products
- Water soluble – easily gets into the groundwater
- Works quickly (even the “slow release” types), frequent applications needed to maintain benefits
- Directly feeds the plant and leaves the soil quickly
- Inconsistent nitrogen availability – readily available right after application, but decreases over time
- Made from plant, animal, and mineral nutrients
- Water insoluble – does not get washed away into groundwater
- True slow release over time
- Sustained benefits over time
- Feeds the soil, enriches the soil, and is broken down by microbes
- Provides sustained, organic nitrogen source over time
Applying synthetic fertilizer is essentially a “quick fix” to help your lawn grow and look green for a relatively short period of time (4-5 weeks). It causes water contamination, loss of nutrients, and deterioration of the soil. Because it is water soluble, it is estimated that 30-50% of the product applied to the lawn is either leached to groundwater, potentially polluting water resources, or volatizes to the air. The remaining 50-70% of the product essentially bypasses any real interaction with the soil and is absorbed directly by the plant/grass.
Organic fertilizers, on the other hand, are added to the soil to improve biological activity and facilitate the slow, consistent release of nutrients that give you a healthier, greener lawn. These fertilizers are not in a form that is immediately absorbed by plants. They must be broken down by soil bacteria and fungi into forms that plants can then absorb. They are a sustainable addition to your lawn that adds organic matter, feeds the soil biomass, improves soil structure, and helps retain moisture and nutrients. Because they are not water soluble like their synthetic counterparts, organic fertilizers are not easily washed away during a heavy rainfall or by irrigation.
The difference can be likened to skipping breakfast and relying on coffee to get you through your day vs. eliminating caffeine from your diet and relying on nutrient-dense foods to provide you with sustained energy throughout the day. One might work for a short period of time, but because you’re depriving your body of essential nutrients, it is not sustainable or healthy in the long run. The other might take a little longer to adapt to when first implemented, but over time your body will be healthier overall and will function more efficiently.