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Gardening: What Fertilizer to Use?

The Crier Landing Page >>


By: Nanette Londeree   |   January 5, 2023

This article was originally published in January 2022.

Fertilizing is often referred to as “feeding” plants, but that’s not accurate. Plants feed themselves, producing their own food, sugars, and carbohydrates through the process of photosynthesis. When we apply fertilizer, we are really feeding the soil. Healthy soil requires more than just fertilizer; learn more about healthy soil and how to keep your soil healthy.

There are two main types of fertilizers, chemical and organic.

Chemical fertilizers

Chemical (synthetic) fertilizers are manufactured or refined from natural ingredients to make them more concentrated. They are processed into soluble forms that are immediately available to plants.


  • Contain relatively high concentrations of nutrients in a readily available form
  • Available in a wide variety of concentrations and formulations
  • Provide rapid results
  • Generally less expensive


  • Can be rapidly leached from soil during periods of heavy rain or irrigation
  •  May contain little or no trace elements
  • Require fossil fuels to produce, contributing to climate change

Organic fertilizers

Organic fertilizers are natural materials that have undergone little or no processing. They include both biological (plant and animal) and mineral materials.


  • Released to the plant slowly over a period of months or even years
  • Improves soil structure
  • Builds populations of beneficial soil organisms
  • Adds valuable trace elements to the soil
  • If it has OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) certification, it may be used in organic food production.


  • Nutrients are in low concentrations
  •  More expensive to buy on a per pound of nutrient basis than synthetic fertilizers.

Protect the Environment When You Fertilize

Any chemical you use in your garden can impact groundwater and local watersheds.  Excess nitrogen and phosphorus are associated with algal blooms (heavy growth of aquatic plants) and a depletion of oxygen that can kill fish.

So before you fertilize, test your soil to see if it’s necessary (you’ll save time and money too). A soil test can tell you a lot of important information that will help you be a successful gardener!

If your soil could use some nutrients, select an organic fertilizer or make sure your chemical fertilizer is a slow-release formula. Incorporate the fertilizer well into the soil. Don’t over-irrigate; you’ll just be washing away nutrients.

Beware of “weed and feed” fertilizers that contain herbicides to kill weeds. Herbicides are poisons and can have unintended consequences. Who wants their kids and pets to play where poison was applied? Herbicides can also harm more than the intended weeds, causing damage to nearby plants

You can reduce your use of fertilizers by reducing or eliminating your lawn. And wouldn’t it be nice to say goodbye to the lawnmower and reduce your water bill?  Register now for “Re-thinking your Lawn the Earth-friendly Way!” a free one-hour webinar on Saturday, March 5, 2022, at 10 am. Learn why lawns (including fake lawns) are not eco-friendly, the best method to easily eliminate one, the latest in walkable green plants, plus a host of other possibilities that’s sure to broaden your definition of “lawn alternative.”

Nanette Londeree planted her first garden at age five. After a career in the pharmaceutical industry, this passionate life-long gardener is a writer, Marin Master Gardener and Marin County Integrated Pest Management Commissioner. She is also on the Steering Committee for YardSmartMarin, an organization that empowers people to reduce / eliminate pesticide use through awareness and education about safer, effective alternatives; 

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Gardening: What Fertilizer to Use? Read >> 

IVF | Intense & Vulnerable Feelings Read >> 

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