Inorganic Fertilizer in the Organic Garden

“You don’t feed the plant, you feed the soil”

Horticultural fertilizers are the most familiar fertilizers to the home gardener and are commonly found at your local garden center or hardware store. There seems to be much misinformation regarding these fertilizers especially as they relate to organic gardening.

All plants need 16 basic elements for growth. Three elements, – carbon, oxygen and hydrogen – are obtained from the air we breathe through a process we call photosynthesis which creates 95% of the plant’s structure from these 3 elements. The other 13 nutrients are water soluble and are accessed by the plant’s root system.

Fertilizers are designed to be used infrequently in order to provide a well balanced soil for a healthy growing environment, but fertilizers have been demonized recently due to overuse and misguided publicity.

Fertilizers come in many blends and types. There are timed release or controlled release varieties designed to be used only as needed and water soluble types which need to be applied more often as they leech away quite rapidly. Most of these commercial fertilizers are mainly composed of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) in predetermined percentages with fillers and some small amounts of trace elements added.

Most of these products do not replace the trace elements such as Calcium, Magnesium, Sulfur, Boron, Chlorine, Copper, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, and Zinc which have been depleted by the crops grown on the land. In addition, the heavy metals often found in manufactured phosphate fertilizers tend to amass in the soils after years of heavy use or run off and accumulate in water sources.

It is always advisable to do a soil test in order to find out exactly what your soil is lacking or needs. A soil test will also provide vital information concerning the PH level of your growing medium.

All gardens need fertilizer in one form or another because the soil gets worn out, sometimes in the space of one or two years and need to get refueled. Judicious use of horticultural fertilizers will provide the nutrients needed for healthy plants and a flourishing garden. Organic fertilizers have the disadvantage of slow nutrient release rates so a quick shot of fertilizer will bring timely results. Organics may also not provide the specific nutrients that your plants require and the content can vary from batch to batch. Mineral nutrients, which are readily available can always be added to your soil as needed.

Obviously the best practices of organic gardening should always be practiced. Planting a winter cover crop and composting are two of the smartest solutions in the quest for the perfect garden and may possibly alleviate any need for fertilizer.

Dick Murray is a retired urbanite who has kept his passion for gardening alive with the creation of informational and how to web sites such as – – More and more families are beginning to grow their own fruits and vegetables due to their increased concern regarding the quality, price and safety of our food supplies.

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