How to Choose a Safe, Earth-friendly Garden Fertilizer

This is a guest post by Josefine Schaefer of Fertiplus, a Dutch company manufacturing organic fertilizers.  Although I have not used their products myself, I support the idea of non-toxic fertilizers made from natural materials.  This is not a paid advertisement, and the article also includes advice on making your own organic fertilizers.  Fertiplus products are available through their website and can be ordered by email or telephone.

Facing the variety of options available in the fertilizers section, it is definitely not easy to make the right choice. There are mineral fertilizers, liquid fertilizers, and organic fertilizers. The organic type are increasing in popularity, with good reason: Fertilizers based on natural resources are a healthy alternative to chemical fertilizers, improve the soil’s structure, and do not disrupt the natural mineral and trace element content, moisture, and density.

What are Organic Fertilizers?

As the name suggests, organic fertilizers are natural products that are generated from natural resources, such as chicken manure or compost. Due to the fact that it can be a little tricky to estimate the exact nutrient ratio, organic fertilizers are sometimes also sold as “soil improvers”. This might be one of the reasons why some still shy away from organic fertilizers; however, the lower or varying dosage is not a downside: Because organic fertilizers have a lower proportion of minerals, they are easier to apply, and the risk of over-fertilizing and harming the soil is much lower.

The activation of mineralization largely depends on weather and temperature changes. This is a reason why results might not be visible immediately but will be more effective and natural in the long run: The organic fertilizer components are activated when the temperature rises, and they slowly but steadily release the nutrients over a much longer period of time.

Patience will be rewarded.

These drawbacks aside, there are a lot of good reasons why an increasing number of gardeners and farmers opt for organic instead of mineral fertilizers. Organic products are environmentally friendly and sustainable, plants grown on organic soils do not contain traces of poisonous pesticides, and the quality of the crop increases as well.

Many assume that organic alternatives are a lot more expensive and time-consuming than mineral fertilizers. But with the increasing demand for natural products, the market is constantly expanding, so gardening enthusiasts do not have to sell their last shirt in order to be able to afford organic fertilizers.

It gets even more organic…

If you are not interested in buying ready-to-use off-the-shelf products, there are also a lot of organic fertilizers that you can easily make yourself. Many of the leftovers that would otherwise go to waste contain useful nutrients that make great DIY fertilizers that will gently help your plants and soil: Banana peels or dried coffee grounds, for example, contain a lot of nutrients that are ideal for roses; aquarium water has a high mineral level and can be used for watering plants; eggshells are full of trace elements, nitrogen, and calcium, which makes them a great soil improver, as well.

See also The Earthling’s Handbook article about the lazy way to produce your own fertilizer!  Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday and Real Food Friday for more great tips!

UPDATE: Here’s an article on organic fertilizers for 2020.

13 thoughts on “How to Choose a Safe, Earth-friendly Garden Fertilizer

  1. The field of soil science has come a long way in the past 10 years… researchers like Dr. Elaine Ingham ( and Dr. Christine Jones ( have revolutionized the way we think about the role soil microbes play in fertility. In a nutshell, healthy soil full of microbes can fertilize itself, pulling nutrients from the air and the nonliving subsoil, such that there are virtually no soils on earth that need outside inputs; what they need is life to unlock the nutrition that’s already there.

    • Thanks for the links. To clarify, are you recommending an approach that involves planting something that will grow in the existing soil and make it better so that, in later years, that soil will be able to support a wider range of plants?

      • Cover cropping is one option, yes, but the slowest. A less patient option is to add compost, compost extract, or compost tea to the soil, and then allow garden plants that have lots of symbiotic relationships (this excludes the radish and beet families) to feed the microbes you’ve introduced as they improve the soil, before attempting to plant less symbiotic crops (the radish and beet families). A third method that works well with transplants (those not planted in your garden as seeds, such as tomatoes and peppers) and is especially easy at this time of year is to add bulk organic matter to the surface of the soil and allow earthworms to cultivate the microbes, and plant the live plants directly in the moistened organic matter while it’s composting.

        This third method may sound familiar from my article here on the Earthling’s Handbook: but a more detailed version with soil test results (and some insightful comments is on Permaculture News: Ragweed is a particularly good choice of mulch, first because it’s unwanted in most settings, and second because (along with the rest of the sunflower family) it has lots of symbiotic relationships with microbes, and so is particularly effective at extracting nutrition from the subsoil. But ragweed is not abundant yet at this time of year, so use whatever you have in abundance!

        • I’m not sure what happened–WordPress put the long comment into “comments awaiting moderation” but put through your later comments!

          Anyway, thanks for the further information. I have never purchased any fertilizer myself (except for the time I bought potting soil with “root booster” included, in hopes of increasing the odds of success when transplanting a huge mass of groundcover from our yard to our neighbor’s hillside which had just been exposed after a decades-old addition was removed from the house–it didn’t seem to help much) but just use compost. If I were starting in a new place with very poor soil, though, and I wasn’t able to bring my compost with me, I might buy an organic fertilizer to get things started while I got my composting set up. Of course I favor making your own fertilizer from your trash when you can, but I think purchased products can play a valuable role when you want to get started right away.

      • Ugh, I guess so. In a nutshell, yes, cover cropping is one option but takes patience. Those with less patience might add compost or compost tea to the soil and plant crops with lots of microbial symbioses (pretty much anything but the radish and beet families) to put the microbes from the compost to work improving the soil. A third option, and my favorite, is to cover the soil with bulk organic matter and allow earthworms to cultivate the microbes, and plant transplants (such as tomatoes) directly in the organic matter as it is composting.

  2. Hi Becca,
    I only will use organic fertilizers – sometimes I buy them in a bag but I also use egg shells (for watering my house plants and potted plants outside) , bananas (for my roses) and other types of natural compost for everything I grow in my flower garden or vegetable. I found a great fertilizer at a local hardware that is called “Coop Poop” and it is made from chicken manure and is somehow put into granules so you can just throw it on the ground or in your garden. It seems to be working very well;
    I have notice that the price have gone down substantially in the last few years on organic since so many people are really getting into being healthier and understanding the dangers of chemical fertilizers. Thanks for sharing on Real Food Fridays. Pinned & tweeted!

    • Good to know the price is going down! As I said in another comment, I haven’t bought fertilizer, but I did buy potting soil recently and was pleased to see a choice of several products that were just dirt and organic material, with no weird stuff added, and clearly said so on the bag!

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