Organic vs. Synthetic Fertilizers

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Quick Tips

  • Organics feed and enrich the soil
  • Synthetics are fast-acting
  • Synthetics can burn and cause damage

Fertilizers come from many sources. Synthetic fertilizers are manufactured from minerals, gasses from the air and waste materials. Organic fertilizers obtain their nutrients from natural organic sources such as microbes, organic wastes and other similar materials.

What are Synthetic Fertilizers?

Synthetic fertilizers are best known for being fast-acting and for coming in a variety of forms (liquid, pellets, granules, spikes, etc.).  Synthetic fertilizers are water-soluble and can be taken up by the plant almost immediately.  While this provides quick greening, the color will not last and consumers must reapply regularly to keep the results from fading. 

The quick results of synthetics can come with other disadvantages as well. Applying too much synthetic fertilizer can "burn" foliage and damage your plants. Synthetic fertilizers give plants a quick boost but do little to improve soil texture, stimulate soil life, or improve your soil's long term fertility. Because synthetic fertilizers are highly water soluble, they can also leach out into our waterways.

What are Organic Fertilizers?

Organic fertilizers are different in that they provide benefits to plants and soil.  Organic based fertilizers, like Milorganite, stimulate beneficial soil microorganisms and improve the structure of the soil. Soil microbes play an important role in converting organic fertilizers into soluble nutrients that can be absorbed by plants. Organic fertilizers will provide all the secondary and micro-nutrients your plants need.

Organic fertilizers typically have a lower NPK analysis than synthetics but feed plants for a much longer period of time.  Because of this, the impact of organic fertilization is usually more subtle.  It takes a little longer to get results, but the reward is a green that lasts.

Horticulture expert, Melinda Myers, reviews the differences between organic and synthetic fertilizers and how to select the right fertilizer for your lawn and garden.