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What Is Inorganic Fertilizer?

By Deneatra Harmon
Updated May 16, 2024
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The name "inorganic fertilizer" may seem to suggest that the fertilizer is not natural. This type of fertilizer actually also contains natural compounds. The difference is that the formula is put together in a refinery, rather than composed by nature as it occurs with organic fertilizers. For example, manure is a type of organic fertilizer.

Inorganic fertilizer also contains beneficial chemical and mineral deposits and supplies the nutrients necessary to grow plants. This type of fertilizer can be bought at most gardening supply stores.

Inorganic fertilizer, which is often reasonably priced, consists of mineral-based nutrients manufactured for immediate application on crops. Unlike the organic variety, inorganic fertilizer does not need to decompose over time to supply nutrients to plants. Most inorganic fertilizers contain balanced amounts of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous to feed plants and to foster growth. These substances often derive from chemical processes such as urea, ammonium sulfate, and calcium nitrate. Mined deposits of potash, phosphate rock, and lime can also be processed as inorganic fertilizer.

Some gardeners find inorganic fertilizer handy for salvaging malnourished plants because the phosphorous, potassium, and nitrogen mix can provide instant treatment. Overall, the nutrients of inorganic fertilizer help nourish a plant's roots, stems, shoots, leaves, and blooms. Depending on the crop, these fertilizers must be applied at least twice within a given growing season for effective plant growth. Gardeners generally use their hands or a gardening applicator to evenly distribute chemical fertilizer over soil according to package instructions. Fertilization with broadcast spreaders or other tools ensures that plants get equal amounts of nutrients from the inorganic fertilizer.

Inorganic fertilizers provide some advantages such as affordability, convenience, and effectiveness in nourishing plants. Disadvantages also apply when using chemical-based fertilizers. For instance, a process known as leeching occurs from over-watering. Too much water causes the fertilizer to wash away, thereby depriving the plants of some of their vital nutrients.

Another problem may arise when a gardener uses too much inorganic fertilizer. Besides the nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium nutrients, fertilizer also contains other chemicals and salts. The salts and compounds that mix with nutrients often build up in soil rather than absorb into a plant's roots. The buildup eventually becomes toxic and poses a threat to human health if it contaminates groundwater supply.

Adding too much of the inorganic fertilizer also burns or kills the plants and their roots. It is important to add the exact amount to the soil and refrain from applying the fertilizer to any part of plants. Overall, experts note that inorganic fertilizer offers just as many benefits as organic fertilizer. It is generally safe to use as long as a gardener follows directions.

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Discussion Comments

By kylee07drg — On Jun 14, 2012

Liquid inorganic fertilizers work great on rose bushes. I use one on mine every two weeks, or less frequently as long as it's looking good.

I had been having problems with my rose bushes losing leaves and not putting out blooms. I bought a powdered inorganic fertilizer that is made of bright blue crystals that you mix with water. I sprinkled them into a watering can and filled it with a gallon of water.

Then, I poured it over the leaves and blooms. I watered over the drip line, and I used half a gallon of the stuff per bush. The plant perked up within a day or two.

Sometimes, if we aren't getting a lot of rain or if it is scorching hot outside, the roses will need the fertilizer every two weeks. If we are having plenty of rain and temperatures that aren't quite so brutal, then one dose can sustain them for months.

By OeKc05 — On Jun 13, 2012

@StarJo – Thanks for the tip! My azalea bushes have been performing rather poorly over the past year. Maybe all they need is some inorganic fertilizer.

Other than the azaleas, I grow mostly bulb flowers. I have hyacinths, tulips, and daffodils, and I fertilize them with bone meal.

I sprinkle it on the ground during the fall, and I water the area well to let it soak in and reach the bulbs below. I try to water the ground until most of the bone meal has disappeared, because it does attract animals that will dig up the area and potentially damage the bulbs.

By StarJo — On Jun 12, 2012

I use inorganic and organic fertilizers in my yard. I reserve the inorganic ones for the plants that won't respond to the organic type.

My azalea bushes require inorganic fertilizer. I suppose my soil must be lacking in something that they need, because they start to turn yellowish and refuse to produce blooms if I don't give them this kind of fertilizer.

In other areas of my yard, I use manure and compost. Some plants respond perfectly well to this organic matter, and I think it's best to use organic whenever possible.

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