Chemical fertilizers vs Organic fertilizers – What should you use?

The more organic your garden is the better it is in the long run. In short term it does not matter whether you use chemical fertilizers or organic fertilizers.

Organic fertilizer

For the plant mineral matters, it is not concerned with whether the minerals came from a chemical fertilizer or an organic fertilizer. With chemical fertilizers you can be sure of the mineral you are enhancing in your soil, that’s helpful.

The thumb rule to follow would be to prepare the soil with as much organic compost as possible. Once the soil is make fertile through the use of compost you can add chemical fertilizers in limited quality to enhance the mineral ratio in the soil.

Working with fertilizers is a trial and error thing at times. If you see a certain plant growing deficiently it would benefit from the use of chemical fertilizers which provide instant potassium and phosphorous.

Of course fertilizers take at least a couple of weeks to show result so don’t expect you plant to start blooming the very next day.

The differences between chemical and organic fertilizers are listed below:

  • Organic fertilizers tend to improve the soil texture and quality while chemical fertilizers do not contribute to long term soil fertility.
  • Organic fertilizers feed helpful soil organisms which chemical fertilizers give no such benefits
  • Organic fertilizers tend to release the nutrients slowly and hence don’t damage the plants in any way. The drawback would be that there is not dramatic growth seen in the plants, it is a slow process. Chemical fertilizers are fast, but can be harmful in the process.
  • Organic fertilizers, if bought from outside, tend to be more expensive than chemical fertilizers.
  • Organic fertilizers tend to contain beneficial secondary nutrients and minerals which may not be present in chemical fertilizers.

Effects of Chemical Fertilizers on Garden Plants

It is important to induce doses of fertilizers at the right time to provide your plants with the necessary minerals. The three important times when you need to fertilize are

  • Before planting a seed or a sapling the soil should be fertilized
  • During the initial growth phase of the seed or sapling the soil should be fertilized
  • During the flower bearing phase

The three primary elements present in any fertilizer are

Nitrogen(N): This mineral helps enhance plant growth and is the most important nutrient. Ample amount of nitrogen in the soil leads to strong stems and leaf growth.

Potassium(K): Help plants resist common disease and is required for vitality.

Phosphorous(P): Helps in flower production, fruit production and stronger growth of roots.

A balanced fertilizer contain these three mineral in equal amounts. The fertilizer you buy would have a label marking the exact quantity of these minerals present using the N-P-K format.

A label marked with 5-10-10 specifies that there volume ratio of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium is 5, 10, 10 respectively.

The needs of plants different but not significantly. It is true that the lawn grass requires high amounts of nitrogen, so you will benefit by fertilizing your lawn soil with fertilizers which contain high amount of nitrogen.

For your flowering plants a balanced fertilizer should be enough. You can check once with the sales man on the fertilizing requirements for the plant you are buying.

Adding micro nutrients via fertilizers

The micro nutrients such as calcium, magnesium and sulfur are available in a good soil.

You don’t need to add to it via fertilizers. If your soil test result points to a lack of certain mineral, you can go in a fertilizer which enhances that particular micro nutrition.

For example a calcium deficient soil would require fertilizer which can enhance the calcium content of the soil.

Tips on using chemical and natural fertilizers together

It is a good practice to use a mix of natural as well as chemical fertilizers in order to get the best results. Natural or organic fertilizers are black gold for the soil, they tend to provide long term benefits by enriching the soil fertility and minerals.

With chemical fertilizers it is important to follow the instructions on the label to the letter. Excessive use can be highly damaging to the soil and the plants.

A few tips on the use of fertilizers is as below

  • It is usually a good practice to avoid the use of excessive fertilizers. The more organic your garden is the better. A good soil with a mix of compost should be more than sufficient for most plants.
  • Dig in a layer of compost into your soil. Mix it well and leave it for a few weeks before putting your plants in. An organically rich soil is highly fertile and its porous allowing for a lot of oxygen.
  • Instead of fertilizing a lousy soil continuously you are better off mixing it with compost to make it fertile. It is never a good idea to instead the salts in your soil, which happen when keep adding fertilizers. Stay organic as much as possible.
  • You can buy compost in sacks from the nursery or you can make the compost yourself from kitchen left over, grass, bark, straws, dried leaves, egg shells and paper.
  • Avoid using any non-vegetarian product in your compost such as animal fat. Avoid using animal excretions from dogs, cats and the like. However herbivorous animal excretions should be fine, make sure they are dehydrated before adding it to the compost.
  • Build up your soil fertility at least once a year. It takes time but its worth the effort. Dig up as much compost as you can, add it to the roots of growing plants, sprinkle some on the soil surface also.

Organic fertilizers and compost should be used in good quantities which preparing the soil initially. Once the plants are in place it difficult to induce organic fertilizers because they need to be dug into the soil.

Some common tips on using chemical fertilizers

Chemical fertilizers are release their nutrients fast, this can lead to plant damage if used in excess quantities. Plants have been known to go into shock when fed too much fertilizer in one shot.

Remember these pointers while using chemical fertilizers

  • Read the label on a chemical fertilizer to understand how much to use on a per square foot basis.
  • Some fertilizers are dry and required to be sprayed on wet soil.
  • Some fertilizers are required to be diluted with water and poured on the soil.
  • More is not good. Stick to the label instructions. You can burn out the plants by applying more chemical fertilizers.
  • You would be better of fertilizing less but doing it twice instead of fertilizing more in one shot.

Making your own organic fertilizer through compost

Compost is not just a fertilizer though that is its primary function.

The main advantage of compost is that it is organically rich. Several soil organisms thrive on these nutrients. There organisms in turn aid plant growth by releasing necessary nutrients. It makes your soil more living.

There is nothing wrong with digging in a lot of compost. More is less as far as compost is concerned.

Dig in as much as in you want into the soil. If you have clay soil, compost is a savior. Compost has a tendency to lighten the clay soil and make it more porous. Sandy soil can also benefit from compost in that it adds the necessary elements.

There are few guidelines to using compost as mentioned below:

  • Avoid using soggy compost
  • Excessive dry compost is not preferred
  • Compost should be fully decay, it should be dark in color and crumbly
  • The best ratio on a bad soil would be half compost and half soil
  • Dig a hole deeper than required by the root ball, put some compost into the hole before placing the plant.
  • Mix some compost with the top layer soil of the plant.
  • In case of potted plants, make sure you add a couple of handfuls of compost to the top layer soil.

Preparing a compost can take a few months so get started early. It is a good idea to use a large bin to prepare the compost. Stir the compost once every two weeks to hasten the decomposition process. The compost should be dark brown in color and should have a earthy smell, which indicates that it is ready to use.

Favored material to use for making a compost are as below:

  • Chopped up leaves, barks and stem of healthy plants
  • Weeds which don’t have flowers or seeds
  • Grass cuttings
  • Peelings from vegetables, lettuce and other greens

Keep away from using plants which are decayed or diseased for compost. Avoid weeds which have gone to seed. Also plants which have been treated with herbicides should be avoided. Rotten meat should be avoided at all costs, the are not only harmful but attracts rodents like rats.