As sustainability and environmentally friendly practices become an increasing concern for people and businesses alike, many are beginning to take a closer look at products that used to be commonplace. In the commercial landscaping industry, this couldn’t be truer than for synthetic fertilizers.
What Is Synthetic Fertilizer?
Synthetic fertilizer is plant food that provides macronutrients — the chemical compounds plants need in large amounts to thrive — which results in visually appealing plants that grow quickly but aren’t necessarily healthy.
Is Synthetic Fertilizer Bad for the Environment?
Beginning over 90 years ago, the Green Revolution allowed for greater crop yields due to the introduction of synthetic fertilizers all over the world. It’s only recently, however, that researchers and concerned citizens have begun to discover the unfortunate effects that using such chemicals on soil can have on plants and animals alike — humans included.
At Schill Grounds Management, we consider ourselves to be stewards of the environment because we work so closely with the land. We know that if used improperly, the products we use could cause great harm to the places so many people live, work, and play.
Because we care so much about the environment, we’re discussing four reasons why property managers should reduce their use of synthetic fertilizers and switch to organic.
1. Environmental Impact
Synthetic fertilizers can harm the environment because their nitrogen and phosphorus levels are often higher. Phosphorus runoff from farms and landscapes that use fertilizer has contributed to the algae bloom in Lake Erie, which has been disastrous to aquatic life in the region.
Some sources state that synthetic fertilizers kill beneficial bacteria in the soil. While this isn’t necessarily the case, the truth isn’t much better. Instead, bacteria and microbes in the soil are stimulated by the chemicals in synthetic fertilizer, which leads them to consume more organic matter than plants can put back into the soil.
This results in soil that’s ultimately stripped of key nutrients that plants need, which is troubling because fertile soil is probably our planet’s most under-appreciated natural resource.
History is riddled with tales of entire civilizations that have collapsed in the past due to soil exhaustion, and it’s time that society started looking for better ways to improve plant growth and yields.
2. Dangers to Pets and Kids
If you have a pet, you know that they like to put things in their mouths, and plants are no exception. Cats and dogs that eat grass or other plants that have been recently treated with synthetic fertilizer can experience symptoms ranging from vomiting to seizures, and chemical fertilizer can even be fatal to animals that digest it directly.
This is because synthetic fertilizers not only contain basic nutrients that plants need, like nitrogen and potassium, but they also contain a cocktail of potentially harmful ingredients like pesticides, urea, and sometimes even arsenic.
While some organic fertilizers are made from animal bone meal that can be harmful to animals if it congeals in their digestive system, the fertilizer that Schill uses is liquid and therefore much safer.
Furry friends aren’t the only ones at risk from these products. The jury is out concerning just how harmful synthetic fertilizers are to children, but studies have found that their use correlates with everything from decreased fetal weight to neurological effects to cancers.
The general rule of thumb is to not let children or pets onto freshly fertilized areas until there has been ¼” of rain or 72 hours have passed. Imagine the negative impact this could have on a commercial property that regularly has pets and people on it, such as a shopping center or condo community.
3. You Might End up Saving Money in Other Areas
In addition to harming the environment, your pets, and your little ones, synthetic fertilizers can make plants weaker over time, which makes them more susceptible to insects and diseases. This is because pests can only feed on plants that have metabolic imbalances (i.e. that aren’t healthy) since they lack the enzymes necessary to break up the proteins found in thriving plants. Furthermore, soil that’s lacking key nutrients will produce plants that are more prone to disease, just like a vitamin deficiency in humans can lead to a host of illnesses.
This usually means that property owners and managers have to increase their use of pesticides, weed suppressants, and fungicides. Users of organic fertilizers, however, often report 20-30% reductions in the use of pesticides and fungicides, which can result in massive savings for those who manage larger properties.
4. Synthetic Fertilizers Don’t Work Any Better Than Organic Fertilizers
Our reliance on chemical fertilizers over the past 60 years or so led to a massive lack of research into making organic fertilizers better. Now, however, companies like Holganix and Advanced Turf Solutions have been heavily investing in research to develop fertilizer that heals the soil while naturally producing great results.
This makes the best organic fertilizers better than their synthetic counterparts, which treat plants without treating the soil that sustains them. This means that in the long term, synthetic fertilizer isn’t doing much to nourish your landscape.
To prove that organic fertilizers are outperforming their synthetic counterparts, here’s a series of blog posts from Holganix (pictured above) featuring real-life examples of people who saw incredible increases in plant health by switching to their organic formula. The root length of the turf on one golf course grew by a factor of ten!
An Organic Landscaping Program That Works
The Schill team is always looking for new and innovative products that help make landscapes healthier while minimizing our impact on the environment. We’ve developed great relationships with companies that are doing groundbreaking research in plant nutrition.
Please contact us if you’d like to learn more about how sustainable landscaping can transform your property and company culture, or download our eBook below.
Photo Credit: Lake Erie Algae Bloom by Amusing Planet, Cat in grass;