Backyard, Be Less Stupid, The Latest — March 13, 2014 at 3:00 AM

Synthetic vs Natural Fertilizer


beautiful-backyards-1-1There’s one thing every gardener desperately wants… and that’s lush, healthy and vibrant flowers & plants. Well, that and a neighbor with a low fence who sunbathes in the nude…who routinely drops things.

The question is: which type of fertilizer will deliver the heartiest plants and the most vibrant flowers?


Cow_Oil.004Let’s start with natural fertilizer. “Natural Fertilizer” is a euphemism for “bag of sh&t.” Most commercially available “bags of sh&t” are cow sh&t. But it could also be chicken sh&t or bat sh&t and depending on the brand or specific type, it could be mixed with animal bones, animal blood, fish guts, kelp, sea weed, dirt and wood pulp. The same ingredients in a Taco Bell burrito. Except for the sea weed. Because they have standards.

Synthetic fertilizer, on the other hand, is predominantly a derivative of fossil fuel. But can also be a collection of chemical compounds extracted from rock deposits which are then synthesized under laboratory conditions to maximize their nutrient content. In science, this chemical process is known as “Red Bull-ization.”

OK, so let’s momentarily forget each fertilizer’s riveting origin story… to focus on the plants. Which do the plants prefer? Well… here’s the thing. Just like a dog salivating over bones in a butcher shop’s window…. the plants don’t care which fertilizer they get. Plus, they can’t tell the difference, anyway. Why? Because both the natural and synthetic fertilizers are really just delivery systems for the three things plants need most:

  1. Nitrogen
  2. Phosphorous
  3. Potassium

And if it’s a plant that lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, it also requires a healthy dose of liberal piety.

So —  now what? Well, lets look at the pros and cons of each.

organic-vs-chemical-fertilizer-4Synthetic Fertilizer: Pros

  • Cheap. Costs about 2/3s less than natural fertilizers.
  • Easy to spread. Typically in pellet, marble or liquid form.
  • Deliver nutrients to plants ASAP. Designed to quickly break down…resulting in near immediate positive results.
  • Manufactured to deliver the precise ratio of nutrients.

Synthetic Fertilizer: Cons

  • Grow plants, but don’t enrich surrounding soil
  • Discourage plants from building strong roots
  • Don’t support micro-biological growth in soil

cowpoopNatural Fertilizer: Pros

  • It’s natural.
  • It feeds the soil, as well as the plants.
  • Promotes soil health.
  • Encourages plant health long in the future.

Natural Fertilizer: Cons

  • Smells awful. Remember, it’s cow shit. Or chicken or bat shit.
  • Expensive. 40lb bag nearly $30 bucks.
  • Breaks down at “nature’s pace” – delaying nutrition to plants.
  • Precise nutrient ratios impossible to calculate.
  • Considerable work required to spread.

OK. So, what’s the answer? Because synthetic fertilizer actually makes plants less healthy over time — by discouraging root vitality — what’s best for your garden is:

Natural fertilizer. You see, when plants get synthetic fertilizer they’re much less likely to grow a strong and lengthy root system that will then search the soil for nutrients and water – because its nutrients are so readily accessible on the soil’s surface. Giving your plants synthetic fertilizer is the equivalent of an athlete taking steroids…. Yes, the plant will be stronger in the short run, but in a few months it’s going to start acting all crazy when its testicles shrivel up.

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