An organic primer

Organics can benefit our environment and gain traction on a sustainable future, and synthetics have their place. Both offer benefits to different scenarios, but Left Side Lawn Care’s philosophy is “the more organic base, the better.” Using organics minimize the strain of the economy; both locally and globally. Before we get into the details of how to green up your lawn organically, we wanted to give a few points on the organic philosophy and define a few terms.

The term “organic” is used in many different ways. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has an organic certification program for food. In this article, we will use the term “organic” in the sense of holistic and formed without synthetic inputs.

The words “synthetic” and “chemical” are a little more straightforward. When we say synthetic or chemical, we mean man-made or formed by industrial processes. Before we dive into details on how to manage your lawn with an organic or synthetic Nitrogen source, take a moment to learn more about the differences between these two approaches to lawn care.

An organic approach…

  • Is a holistic approach
  • Centers around soil health: “Feed the Soil”
  • Is a long-term solution
  • Considers the impact on humans, local communities, and ecosystems
  • Stresses the local economy rather than the global economy
  • Focuses on the small-scale rather than the large-scale
  • Aims for sustainability
  • Lets nature do the work
  • Inputs are from the Earth
  • Increases biodiversity

A synthetic approach…

  • Focuses on yields and efficiency
  • Is a short-term solution
  • Stresses the global economy rather than the local economy
  • Focuses on large-scale production
  • Relies on man-made processes
  • May have a heavier dependence on fossil fuels and industrial inputs
  • Decreases biodiversity

Organic fertilizer vs. chemical fertilizers

Organic and chemical fertilizers are composed of the same macronutrients – nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) but are derived from different sources.

Organic Fertilizer  Synthetic Fertilizers
Made from grass, leaves, plant waste, vegetables, fruits, other food waste, animal excrement, seaweed, blood, bone meal, kelp, fish, paper products and cardboard, or shredded wood products Phosphorus and potassium are mined from minerals in the Earth. The nitrogen component in fertilizers is created via the Haber-Bosch process. In this process, one atom of nitrogen gas (N₂) is fixed to three atoms of hydrogen (3H₂) to form ammonia (NH₃). The ammonia is converted to a usable form (nitrate and nitrite) by the microbes in the soil.
Nutrients are released into the soil over time as the microorganisms break down the fertilizer or compost material.  Released into the soil with regular watering.

The Haber-Bosch process

The Haber-Bosch process is named after two German scientists — Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch — who developed a method to produce ammonia from nitrogen gas and scale the product commercially. Both scientists received the Nobel prize for their contributions. The Haber-Bosch process is credited with helping to feed the world in the 20th century and usher in the age of modern agriculture.

Critics of synthetic fertilizers point out that the ammonia (NH₃) in fertilizers can be toxic to fish and detrimental to water systems when residues run off into nearby waterways. In addition, the Haber-Bosch process relies on a large amount of energy and fossil fuels and emits large amounts of carbon dioxide, which critics say may be unsustainable long term. When utilizing a synthetic, it’s important to pick out one that has stability to it. Methylated urea (slow release) and controlled release Nitrogens are preferred since they don’t volatize so quickly and take time to break down; decreasing run-off to storm drains.

Pros and cons of using organic lawn fertilizer


✓ Protects water systems
✓ Homemade compost diverts waste from the landfill
✓ Homemade compost doesn’t cost anything
✓ Enriches soil
✓ No risk of burning the plants
✓ Compost improves soil structure
✓ Compost adds organic matter and nutrients
✓ Compost is naturally “slow-release,” thereby providing nutrients over a long period


✗ Slower greening of the lawn
✗ Store-bought organic varieties may be more expensive than synthetic fertilizers
✗ Generally have much lower N-P-K values


We tend to focus on what we eat and put into our bodies, don’t we? Why aren’t we doing the same when it comes to our environment? Left Side Lawn Care has taken a soil driven approach to lawn applications, and we feel it’s vital to the sustainability of future generations, to leave an everlasting imprint on our WHY. If you decide you want someone to walk with you on your lawn care journey, feel free to submit an inquiry at to see how we can help!

photo credit/research curated by Lawn Love

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