Like all other living things, plants need the proper nutrients to be healthy. Fertilizing is a way to deliver the necessary nutrients to plants. Unfortunately, just as fertilizers can improve your garden, they also can cause problems. You probably have been told the advantages of fertilizing your garden, but you should also know what the disadvantages may be.
Fertilizers are either synthetic and organic. Synthetic, also known as inorganic or chemical fertilizers, contain chemicals and minerals. Organic fertilizers contain vegetation, such as leaf and grass clippings, or animal by-products, such as manure or bone meal. Each type has its own distinct disadvantages.
Runoff of synthetic fertilizer can enter the waterways, causing water to be polluted and to lose oxygen. Over time, chemical fertilizers can degrade the quality of the soil by building up toxins or leaching away natural nutrients, making the soil unfit for growing plants. Using too much fertilizer can damage plants by chemically burning roots and leaves. If you grow edible crops, synthetic fertilizers may contain unnecessary, and sometimes harmful, chemicals that will end up in your food.
Organic fertilizers are more difficult to use than synthetic fertilizers. Because the nutrients in organic fertilizers can vary, it is more difficult to determine how much should be used. Organic fertilizers take longer to break down in the soil and are much less potent, so if they are not applied in the right amounts at the right time, your plants may not get the nutrients they need. They are more expensive and must be applied in larger quantities than synthetic fertilizers.
Both types of fertilizers have disadvantages, but in most cases, fertilizing plants is necessary to maintain a healthy garden. Plants often require more nutrients than their soil is able to provide naturally. If cost and convenience is a bigger concern, you might prefer synthetic fertilizers. If you are more worried about environmental issues and health, you might want to use organic fertilizers.
You can garden without the use of fertilizers, or you can reduce the amount you use significantly. You can do that by using healthy, well-balanced soil, and using organic mulches that will continually break down and enrich the soil with nutrients. Choose plants that are native to your region. This may limit your choices, but native plants will need little help because they are already conditioned to your soil and climate. Another option for vegetable gardening is to rotate annual crop placements. Planting a different crop in each location for a three- or four-year cycle can help replenish the soil of whatever the previous year's crop depleted.