When trying to maintain a healthy garden and lawn, fertiliser is often necessary to ensure that your plants and grass receive the nutrients they require. The two main types of fertiliser are chemical and organic. Chemical fertilisers are manufactured, though some do contain elements from natural mineral deposits. Organic fertilisers are derived from entirely natural animal or plant sources. While both types can be effective, there are some significant drawbacks to using chemical fertiliser. You may want to consider some of these issues before applying it to your garden or lawn again.
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Chemical fertilisers contain only a few, concentrated nutrients, including nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus and sulphur, which are readily available to plants and grass. However, because of the formulation, these nutrients are lost to the soil very quickly as well. As a result, chemical fertiliser requires more frequent applications than an organic fertiliser, which is slow acting and remains in the soil for longer periods. You may need to apply a chemical fertiliser several times over a growing season to maintain a steady supply of nutrients to your plants and lawn.
May Burn Greenery
Because chemical fertilisers are highly concentrated, fast-acting and extremely soluble, it is easy to overfertilize your lawn or plants. When too much fertiliser is applied, you may wind up with unattractive chemical burns that form rings on your lawn, killing all of the grass and plants in the area. In most cases, you won't realise that you have applied too much fertiliser until the damage is already done.
Detrimental to Environment
Chemical fertilisers can do significant damage to the environment. Unlike organic fertilisers, they do not promote soil health. In fact, chemical fertilisers actually harm soil by leaching valuable trace elements without returning any to the soil, resulting in long-term damage. They also alter soil pH and disturb microbes that are actually beneficial to the soil and surrounding vegetation. They may also attract additional pests, which can cause plant damage. In addition, some chemical fertilisers are derived from fossil fuels and may promote the release of greenhouse gases.
Potential Health Risks
Some chemical fertilisers contain heavy metals, which makes them a potential health risk. In particular, fertilisers that contain arsenic, lead or dioxin are a threat because prolonged exposure to these metals can be extremely harmful. Children are especially vulnerable when exposed to lead and other heavy metals, so it is important that any potentially hazardous chemical fertilisers are stored out of reach of children and pets. In addition, children and animals should not be allowed to play in areas where chemical fertilisers have been applied.
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- Oregon State University Extension Service; Here's the Scoop on Chemical and Organic Fertilizers; Carol Savonen
- Clemson Cooperative Extension; Fertilizing Lawns; Bob Polomski, et al.; August 2003
- Danny Lipford; The Debate Over Organic vs. Chemical Fertilizers; Julie Day
- Minnesota Department of Health: Heavy Metals in Fertilizers