Organic Vs. Inorganic Fertilizer: What’s The Difference, and Which One Is Better?

In order to have a beautiful, thriving garden, it’s important to use the right kind of lawn care products. But picking the right fertilizer for your lawn and garden can be confusing. There are so many different types of fertilizers on the market, it’s hard to know which one is best for you.

For example, organic and inorganic fertilizer each have their own unique benefits for your lawn and garden. So, what’s the difference between organic fertilizer and inorganic fertilizer? And which type of fertilizer is better for your plants? With this article, you should have a good idea of which type is right for your needs. Keep reading to find out!

What is Fertilizer?

Fertilizers are specific products you can introduce to your soil or plant tissue so the plants can derive nutrients from them. They, in essence, encourage plant growth. The primary way this occurs is by providing the necessary minerals and nutrients that vegetables, grass, and plants use to grow.

Fertilizer helps your lawn and garden to obtain the minerals and nutrients they need to develop healthy plants. It is typically manufactured from either organic or synthetic ingredients, and there are multiple distinct types of fertilizer, which are used for a large number of applications.

The first types of fertilizer were organic ingredients such as animal manure, compost, mined minerals, and agricultural crop rotations. Synthetic fertilizers have become popular in the last several centuries, and the vast majority of fertilizers nowadays, both organic and inorganic, contain three main ingredients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

The Types of Fertilizer

Aside from the differences between organic and inorganic types of fertilizer, fertilizer can also be differentiated by its application method and structural form – it can come in either granular or liquid form – as well as the way it releases nutrients – it can be slow-release or quick-release.

Granular Fertilizers Vs. Liquid

Fertilizers can either be applied to your lawn and garden as small granules or as a liquid spray.

Granular fertilizer is available in granular or powdered form and may be sprinkled on your grass, and require broadcast spreading and manual application and mixing into the soil. You can also rake the pellets into the dirt, or do what is referred to as ‘top dressing’, which is when you sprinkle the granules on the area around the root of the plants.

Liquid fertilizers, on the other hand, can be either dry granules or liquid concentrates that usually are mixed with water and then sprayed on the roots of seedlings or the leaves of grown plants. In some cases, watering the roots has little effect; so you’re more likely to have success if you apply it to the plant leaves directly.

Slow-Release Fertilizers Vs. Quick-Release

Fertilizers can be either slow-release, quick-release, or a combination of the two. These two types of fertilizer work differently, so it is important to know which one will be better suited for your needs.

Slow-release fertilizers, which are frequently given in monthly installments, release nutrients slowly over a long period of time. On the other hand, quick-release fertilizers, typically applied once a week or every two weeks, are meant to deliver nutrients immediately, but do so in lesser amounts.

If you want something that takes time to release nutrients into the soil, spreading a granular fertilizer on your lawn is preferable since granular fertilizers are more often slow-release; liquid fertilizers tend to be quick-release.

Differences Between Organic and Inorganic Fertilizer

Whether you choose to buy fertilizer in granular form or in a liquid spray, or as a quick-release or slow-release formula, you can also choose to buy any of these types of fertilizer as either organic or inorganic.

So, what exactly is the difference between the two? Is organic or inorganic fertilizer better? They differ in a few key areas, like their chemical composition and how they are applied, as well as their monetary and environmental costs.


Fertilizers, no matter what sort, give your plants the macronutrients they require that may be lacking in your soil. Organic and inorganic fertilizers differ in that they provide these components in different ways.

Organic fertilizers contain only materials that are a byproduct or end result of naturally occurring processes in either plants or animals. Some examples of organic fertilizers are compost, many different animal manures, blood meal, kelp meal, bone meal, alfalfa, and cottonseed.

Inorganic fertilizers are often referred to as synthetic or commercial fertilizers since they are created through a manufacturing process, although many of them do originate from naturally occurring mineral deposits and other organic sources such as natural gas or petroleum. Examples of inorganic fertilizers include ammonium sulfate or ammonium phosphate, as well as the majority of fertilizers sold in a home and garden center.

The levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which are the three most common nutrients are usually lower in organic fertilizers than inorganic ones. However, natural fertilizers contribute vital organic matter to the soil, which helps with water movement within the ground, and collaborates with living microorganisms in the dirt to better feed the plants.

Nutrients – NPK Ratio

Different fertilizers have differing amount of the three main macronutrients, nitrigen, phosphorus, and potassium. This is called an NPK ratio, and is usually labelled on every box or bag of fertilizer you will shop for.

It’s generally a good idea to do a soil test including pH levels before applying fertilizer in order to determine your garden soil’s natural fertility. It can tell you the components that your soil needs, so you can buy a fertilizer that has those.

Fertilizer list the NPK components in a ratio format, such as 10-10-10 or 4-3-4. The numbers are always listed in the order N – P – K. So, a 10-5-8 ratio means that fertilizer is made of 10% nitrogen, 5% phosphorus, and 8% potassium content.


Nitrogen is a beneficial to plants and turf grasses because it promotes leaf and petal growth, and it helps them develop their dark green color.


Phosphorus, also labelled phosphate on some fertilizers, is an essential element in the growth of roots, flowers, seeds, and fruit. It’s aids in plant development at every stage.


Potassium helps plants to develop and grow their stems and roots. It also facilitates moisture circulation in turf grass and aids in flowering and fruiting in plants and vegetables. It is written as Potash on some labels.


When it comes to using and applying organic and inorganic fertilizers in your yard, each one has its benefits and drawbacks. For one thing, without laboratory testing, it’s impossible to know what nutrients and precise components are available in an organic fertilizer like manure or compost. Because of this, you don’t know if the dose you are applying is adequate for your plants or not.

Luckily, organic fertilizers don’t contain the same risks as synthetic fertilizers of harming your plants with a massive concentration of chemicals, because they are weaker and less concentration in general. However, they do require soil-dwelling microorganisms to break down the fertilizer, and this limits their year-round usefulness and extends the amount of time it takes for your plants to fruit.

Applying inorganic fertilizers is more straightforward since the quantity of each element and the application rate are predetermined. They are a quick shot of nutrients for your plants, and are completely man-made and calculated to the ounce. The nutrient proportions are clearly stated on the bag, and there’s always an inorganic fertilizer to precisely fit your plant’s requirements.

However, because chemical fertilizers are concentrated and highly soluble, it’s sometimes easy to accidentally apply too much of them. Whereas with organic fertilizer it can be hard to supply enough nutrients, with inorganic fertilizer you can easily over-feed. In addition, despite the fact that they are a near-perfect food source for your plants, they offer nothing to the soil, limiting their long-term effectiveness. This means after a while of only using synthetic fertilizer, your soil can become inhospitable to plants without it.

After application, synthetic fertilizers decompose much more quickly than organic ones. Choose synthetic, fast-acting compounds if you have a section of your yard where water can pool following rainstorms and you don’t want your lawn grass to get slippery.


When it comes to storage, inorganic fertilizers are easier because they are in smaller packaging due to their high concentrations, and they often come in convenient bags, boxes, or spray bottles. Organic fertilizers, on the other hand are bulkier and messier to use than inorganic ones. You often need a larger amount of them, making it harder to store in small areas, and they don’t tend to come in perfectly convenient containers and can easily spill or be cumbersome to transport.

Organic foods are also more likely to spoil than dry manufactured products. Finally, they often smell and attract vermin and animals, requiring organics to be kept in a safe location.


The upfront cost of purchasing organic fertilizer is often much greater than for inorganic fertilizers, but over time the additional expenditure may be outweighed by the benefits gained. Organic fertilizers help to maintain soil health long after the plants have consumed all of the nutrients they require. As a result, over an extended period of time, inorganic fertilizer costs less but also adds less essential material to your garden soil.


The environmental effects of organic fertilizers vs. inorganic fertilizers are quite different. Organic fertilizers are an environmentally responsible investment both in your soil and your plants’ futures. They are produced from the by-products or end products of naturally occurring processes, which means they’re sourced directly from nature itself.

Organic fertilizers may take longer to work, and it is hard to know exactly the ratio of nutrients that are in them, but they supply a nutritious food source for your plants and protect your piece of the local environment.

Inorganic fertilizers are precise injections of nutrients at the right time, with no cost or mess. They can quickly upset the natural balance of an ecosystem, causing a buildup of toxic chemicals and long-term usage changes the soil’s pH, creating a pest problem, and they emit greenhouse gases through their synthesis and production.

Benefits of Organic Fertilizer

Which of the two types of fertilizer is better? First, let’s go through all of the benefits of organic fertilizer over inorganic fertilizer.

For example, organic fertilizers do not produce a crust on the soil as inorganic fertilizers occasionally can. They increase the movement of water within the soil and, over time, provide structure to the soil.

While they have lower amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, organics nourish beneficial microorganisms, making the dirt easier to dig. Also, they often have a wide variety of other nutrients that plants need to thrive, such as vital organic matter and microbes, and up to 17 essential vitamins and minerals.

Plus organic products are in general safer to use and more environmentally-conscious than inorganic brands. In addition to the nutrients they contain, they also include chemical buffers, which assist plants in absorbing those nutrients. These buffers slow down the process of nutrient absorption, preventing damage to the plant’s roots and excessive nutrient uptake.

Because of this, it’s much more difficult – though not necessarily impossible – to over-feed and burn your plants with organic fertilizer vs inorganic.

Naturally-Occurring Organic Fertilizers

Here is a list of the different types of organic fertilizers that you might find at a local farm or garden center, aside from commercial fertilizer brands.


Animal manure is one of the oldest and most commonly-used organic fertilizers in the world. There are a number of animals who’s manure has been used for fertilizer, including chickens, cattle, rabbits, and horses. it is typically high in nutrients, and particularly nitrogen, so you should be careful when using it as it could cause nitrogen burn in your crops and plants.


Compost is a mix of grass clippings, leaves, food waste, and other organic matter that would otherwise go to a landfill. It’s simple to create compost at home with materials that you’d typically trash.

Compost may be used either before or after planting your plants and vegetation, either as a mulch or fertilizer combined into the soil, and it can also serve as a helpful soil refresher between grass growing seasons.


Guano is the droppings of either bats or seabirds. It is an excellent source of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as other nutrients like calcium, iron, and manganese, and is fast-acting.

Blood Meal

Blood meal is made from ground up dried blood that is taken from livestock waste. It is high in nitrogen, though relatively low in other macronutrients.

Bone Meal

Bone meal is made from cow bones that have been ground to a fine powder, and it’s high in phosphorus as well as nitrogen.

Shell Meal

Shell meal is made from crushed up seafood byproducts and is a good source of nitrogen, potassium, and calcium. It also has an ingredient called chitin, which helps prevent parasitic worms from living in your soil.


Alfalfa is made from drying and pulverizing alfalfa plant leaves. It has a good amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, and contains relatively high amounts of calcium and magnesium. Alfalfa mean can also help aerate soils that are compacted and improve their drainage.

Rock Phosphate

Rock Phosphate is essentially ground up rocks, and is high in phosphorus and calcium. It is not overly soluble in water, so it must be finely ground before you can use it, but it lasts a long time in your soil.

Fish Emulsion

Fish emulsion is made from fish that have been decomposed and then emulsified into a liquid. It is high in nitrogen, and is effective and fast-acting when sprayed on plant leaves. It also smells really bad, however, so only use it in areas that are well ventilated.

Benefits of Inorganic Fertilizer

There are also benefits to buying and using inorganic fertilizers. Synthetic fertilizer is an inexpensive way to give your plants the nutrients they need to grow. Unlike organic fertilizers, inorganic fertilizers are more precise, so you can be sure that your plants are getting exactly what they need.

They are also easy to use, so you don’t have to worry about complex application methods. You can use these types of fertilizers on a wide variety of plants, making them a versatile option for gardeners.

They take up less storage space in your shed or garage, and often smell neutral so that they don’t attract pests or wild neighborhood animals to come and steal them. Whether you’re looking for a cost-effective way to fertilize your plants or you’re simply looking for an easy-to-use option, inorganic fertilizer is a great choice.

Summing Up

So, what’s the bottom line? Is organic fertilizer better than inorganic? The answer is not a simple yes or no. Both have their own benefits and drawbacks that should be considered when making a decision about which type of fertilizer to use.

In general, organic fertilizers are more beneficial for the environment and can provide some nutrients that inorganic fertilizers don’t. However, inorganic fertilizers are typically less expensive and can provide all of the essential nutrients plants need to grow.

When deciding which type of fertilizer to use, it’s important to consider your specific needs and situation. Hopefully this article has helped give you a better understanding of the differences between organic and inorganic fertilizers and will make it easier for you to choose the best type of fertilizer for your garden!

Do you use organic or inorganic fertilizer in your garden? Let us know in the comments below!

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Written by Linda Chan
Linda Chan is a passionate gardener and writer with a background in horticulture and landscape design. She has over 10 years of experience working in the lawn care industry and has a deep understanding of the science and art of keeping a lawn healthy and beautiful.