A compelling case for organic fertilizer

 Think of organic fertilizer as a complete meal for your lawn. It’s not just about giving your grass a quick fix of synthetic nutrients like it’s popping vitamins or chugging protein shakes all day. Just like we need a variety of nutrients to maintain our health, your plants need more than just a basic mineral diet to thrive. The soil acts as a metaphorical digestive system for your plants, and it needs more than just synthetic fertilizers to keep things in tip-top shape. If you want a lush, vibrant lawn that’s the envy of the neighborhood, it’s time to reduce the quick-fix synthetic fertilizers and give your grass a fortified, organic diet that will keep it healthy and thriving for the long haul.
organic fertilizer

Organic matter

 Think of organic matter as the lifeblood of your soil. It’s what makes your soil fluffy and light, so water can soak in easily without pooling or running off. And that’s not all – organic matter is also a “magnet” for helpful microbes that keep your soil healthy and resistant to undesirable fluctuations. As organic matter is broken down, it incidentally produces “aggregates” that provide a pathway for air, water, and roots to navigate freely, which is essential for a healthy lawn.

But wait, there’s more! Organic matter contains compounds like amino acids and sugars.  When these compounds are released into the soil water they can free up insoluble minerals so your lawn can absorb them.

And it doesn’t stop there – organic matter also provides a feast for fungi and other microorganisms in your soil. These little guys love nothing more than breaking down organic matter into its component parts, which in turn creates even more nutrients for your lawn to enjoy. So if you want a healthy, vibrant lawn, make sure you’re supplying your soil with the organic matter it needs to thrive!


Drawbacks of synthetic fertilizer

Synthetic fertilizer may seem like a quick and easy fix for your plants, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Sure, synthetic fertilizers release nutrients that are immediately available to your plants, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Readily available nutrients are water-soluble, which means they can quickly wash away after heavy rainfall.

But that’s not the worst of it. Synthetic fertilizers can change the delicate balance of your soil ecosystem. For example, the readily available phosphorus in synthetic fertilizers can discourage the growth of mycorrhizal fungi – tiny organisms that form a symbiotic partnership with your plants. These fungi have smaller “roots” that can access water and nutrients plant roots can’t.  Myccorizae helps your lawn thrive in ways that synthetic fertilizers simply can’t match.

Synthetic fertilizers can more easily alter the balance of nutrients in your soil, leading to deficiencies and excesses that can affect your lawn. For example, the overuse of nitrogen-rich synthetic fertilizers can lead to an imbalance in the absorption of other important nutrients like copper and zinc. Excessive nitrogen fertilization can reduce the relative uptake of other nutrients from the soil, leading to luscious growth but lower nutrient density within the plant.

Using purely synthetic fertilizers can also lead to nutrient “lockup” notably calcium and phosphate, creating a complex that is unusable by your lawn.  Excess phosphorus will readily bind with other minerals in the soil, such as calcium, to form an insoluble compound. This can lead to a shortage of available calcium in the soil, which is a vital nutrient for leaf growth and development. In contrast, organic fertilizers provide a slow and steady release of phosphorus relying on the microbes, which is less likely to create imbalances in your soil.  The microbes in your soil are responsible for ensuring your lawn has access to the nutrients needed for healthy growth.


Organic fertilizers give more bang for your buck


Nitrogen is one of the three primary macronutrients required by plants and is directly responsible for the improved vigor and colour of your grass.  However, synthetic fertilizers are less efficient and often lead to the loss of nitrogen through denitrification and volatilization, where it evaporates as a gas.  This means that your hard-earned dollars are essentially evaporating into thin air, and your plants are not receiving the intended benefits of the fertilizer. In contrast, organic fertilizers release nitrogen more slowly and are less prone to these losses, resulting in better value for your money.  Despite the intrinsic losses of nitrogen, synthetic fertilizers are still cheaper overall.


Phosphorus is another essential macronutrient required by plants, and synthetic fertilizers often contain readily available forms of phosphorus, such as superphosphate. The overuse of synthetic phosphorus can undermine the soil’s natural phosphorus scavengers plants evolved to partner with.  In contrast, organic fertilizers often contain organic forms of phosphorus, which rely on soil microbial communities to release them to plants.  This promotes the relationship between plants and their microbial partners.


Potassium is the third primary macronutrient, and synthetic fertilizers often contain highly soluble forms of potassium and is easily overconsumed. Your lawn will take up more potassium than is necessary, ultimately leading to imbalances and potential competition with other essential nutrients such as calcium and magnesium.


The soil food web

The soil food web is an intricate system that involves the interactions between plants, microbes, and other soil organisms. When it comes to choosing a fertilizer, it’s important to remember that the microbes in the soil will always eat first, regardless of the type of fertilizer applied. This is where the benefits of organic matter come in – it serves as the carbon source needed for microbial populations.  Fertilizing without carbon will force the microbes to consume the carbon-containing organic matter stored in your soil.

But that’s not all. As fungi digest carbon-rich materials, they create many beneficial byproducts, one of which is water! This is an excellent example of how the soil food web works to benefit your lawn and other plants.

Carbon and nitrogen in your soil

The ratio of carbon to nitrogen should be considered when maintaining a healthy soil food web. Synthetic fertilizers with unnaturally high levels of nitrogen can deplete the carbon stores, changing the balance of microbial communities. This is particularly evident during periods of high temperatures when the rate of carbon respiration exceeds the rate of carbon sequestration.  Soils with low carbon have lower fertility, porosity, and moisture retention than soils rich in carbon.

Organic fertilizers diversify your soil

Finally, variety is key when it comes to maintaining a healthy soil food web. The more diverse the soil, the more diverse the microbial populations, and the less likely diseases or insect infestations will become out of control. So, it’s important to consider not only the nutrient content of fertilizers but also their impact on the overall health of the soil food web.


How organic fertilizer can discourage soil pathogens

Saprophytes are microorganisms that feed on dead and decaying organic matter. As organic matter is broken down by saprophytes,  byproducts, such as organic acids and enzymes, release plant-available nutrients into the soil.

One of the key benefits of saprophytic activity is that it helps to discourage the growth of pathogenic microbes in the soil. Pathogens are microorganisms that cause disease in lawns. When saprophytes consume organic matter, they reduce the number of available mineral nutrients and living space for pathogens to grow. Additionally, it’s thought that the waste byproducts of saprophytic activity can create an environment that is hostile to pathogens, making it more difficult for them to thrive.

Despite the significant role that saprophytes play in maintaining soil health, their benefits are often understudied and underappreciated. By promoting the growth of saprophytic microorganisms through the use of organic fertilizers and other soil amendments, you can help to create a healthy and vibrant soil ecosystem that is less susceptible to lawn disease and more conducive to healthy grass.


Fertilizer and climate change

Synthetic fertilizers are known to contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, a major driver of climate change. The production and application of synthetic fertilizers require large amounts of energy, primarily from fossil fuels, which release carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) into the atmosphere. Additionally, synthetic fertilizers are known to contribute to the release of other potent greenhouse gases, such as nitrous oxide (N2O).

Furthermore, the overuse and misunderstanding of synthetic fertilizers can lead to soil carbon depletion, which can further exacerbate greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere. As soil health declines, it becomes less able to store carbon and more prone to erosion, which can release stored carbon into the atmosphere.

In contrast, organic fertilizers can help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions in the field by improving soil health and carbon storage. Most importantly, organic fertilizers can help reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers and their associated greenhouse gas emissions.

Therefore, it is important to carefully consider the use of synthetic fertilizers and explore alternative methods healthy lawn of fertilization that can help mitigate the negative impact of greenhouse gas emissions on our planet.


Water quality

Synthetic fertilizers have been linked to negative impacts on water quality, particularly in bodies of water near agricultural or residential areas. When synthetic fertilizers are applied to land, they can easily be washed away by rain or irrigation water and find their way into nearby streams, rivers, and lakes.

Once in the water, synthetic fertilizers can contribute to the growth of algae and other aquatic plants. When these plants die and decompose, they use up oxygen in the water, creating “dead zones” where fish and other aquatic life cannot survive. This process is known as eutrophication and can have serious ecological and economic consequences.

For example, Kingston, Ontario is a lakeside town that is at greater risk of eutrophication due to its proximity to Lake Ontario. The excessive use of synthetic fertilizers by homeowners and farmers in the region can contribute to the growth of harmful algal blooms in the lake. These blooms not only harm aquatic life but can also have negative impacts on local tourism and recreation industries that rely on the lake for activities like swimming, boating, and fishing.

Moreover, when nitrogen from synthetic fertilizers is leeched into groundwater, it can also contribute to the formation of harmful nitrogen compounds like nitrite, which can contaminate drinking water and pose a health risk to humans and animals.



Synthetic fertilizers can provide quick and immediate nutrients for plants in need, but they also have negative environmental impacts such as contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, and water pollution. Organic fertilizers, on the other hand, provide long-term benefits to soil health, increase microbial diversity, and reduce the risk of water pollution, but come at a higher cost. While synthetic fertilizers may still have their place in lawn care, it is important to be cautious and reduce our reliance on them, especially for lakeside towns like Kingston, Ontario, where the risk of eutrophication is higher. By using fully organic and organic-based products, we can promote a healthier soil ecosystem, improve water quality, and contribute to a more sustainable future.

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