Fertilizers can be helpful around the garden, whether for helping flowerbeds flourish or keeping vitality in vegetables. However, even minimal usage of chemical fertilizers can have negative effects on the environment, especially when it reaches nearby water sources.
Read on and get to know more about fertilizer effects you need to consider and why you should be careful when using fertilizers.
Fertilizer Effects You Should Know
When fertilizers introduce unusually high levels of nitrogen and other nutritious elements into the soil, those substances can find their way into lakes, rivers, well water, and other water sources, disrupting these ecosystems.
As the balance of animal and plant life changes, water health can take a serious downward turn. While public water sources are monitored, it’s advised to use a well water filtration system if you drink from a well or other private water sources.
Here’s how chemical fertilizers work, and why gardeners should aim to use them sparingly.
What Goes into Fertilizer?
Fertilizers are designed to change the balance of nutrients in the soil in which plants grow, making the environment more fertile and conducive to plant life cycles.
To create this nutrient-rich environment, fertilizers usually contain a series of macronutrients. These include nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, usually listed as the products’ NPK ratio.
Types of Fertilizers
While almost all fertilizers contain these elements, not every fertilizer is made in the same way. Fertilizers can generally be categorized into one of two labels: organic and chemical.
Organic fertilizers are made from mostly unprocessed ingredients like manure and compost. Here is our review on some of the best organic fertilizers available on the market.
However, should you want to make your own, check out our guide on the best compost tumblers to help you make your own compost.
Many gardeners prefer organic fertilizers for the way in which they naturally break down and release nutrients over time. This process helps retain soil structure and provides long-term nutrition in a form that plants can readily uptake.
This format means that organic fertilizers can be liberally applied once or a small number of times, then left to do their job. With an organic fertilizer, it’s rarely necessary to control over-fertilization.
Chemical fertilizers, on the other hand, are synthetically produced, and artificially recreate nature processes. They are usually made from petro-chemicals and other artificial ingredients. They also offer an entirely different approach to gardening.
Similar to how a processed sugary drink will take effect in the body more quickly than complex sugars in a sweet potato, chemical fertilizers are much faster-acting, and plants can begin to absorb nutrients almost upon contact with the product.
Why Can Chemical Fertilizers Be an Issue?
The fast-acting nature of chemical fertilizers is useful when tending to starved plants or those that otherwise need immediate nutrition.
It also means that gardeners need to use fertilizers carefully to avoid over application. What are some effects of chemical fertilizer?
Chemical fertilizers can quickly drain into the soil, meaning that it may be necessary to reapply fertilizer several times over the course of a few months.
This leads to lots of artificial chemicals being introduced into the ground, which can affect the acidity of the topsoil. Changing soil’s pH level can result in a negative effect on plant health.
As these synthetic sources of NPK make their way through the soil, they can eventually seep into nearby water sources, leading to contamination.
When high levels of nitrogen and other nutrients enter these environments, it can cause unnatural increases in plant populations, which then turn from normal parts of the ecosystem into weeds that threaten the entire health of the environment.
That is why it is essential to know these chemical fertilizer effects and how to avoid it.
How Does this Affect the Water Supply?
The most common example of this process is seen in the recent growth of algal blooms across North America’s lakes. While blue-green algae is a historic part of our aquatic ecosystems, recent rises in industrial farming and runoff from agricultural fertilizers have caused huge blooms that turn pristine waters into toxic bogs.
This is because, as algae, plankton, and other plants grow in response to the introduction of chemical fertilizer, they disproportionately consume oxygen and block light in the environment, leading to a reduction in other plant numbers and thereby reductions in fish and other animals.
Of course, the majority of disruption caused to aquatic ecosystems by fertilizers is the result of farming processes and not gardeners.
However, chemical fertilizers can remain in soil and water for years, and gardeners shouldn’t underestimate the small role they may play in this issue.
As these surface water sources become more polluted over time, they put a strain on elements of the water cycle downstream, as well as making the task of water treatment more difficult.
While public treatment works are normally capable of removing a majority of small dissolved organic matter from tap water, they may not always be able to completely clean it.
When algal blooms are particularly large, more organic matter may make it through the system and into our glasses. This can give tap water a musty or fishy taste, which residents in areas with lots of surface water sources may already notice in springtime.
The good news is that home filtering is an effective way to reduce any dissolved organic matter present in tap water. By using a simple carbon filter, such as those found in pitchers or faucet attachments, it’s possible to trap organic contaminants as the water flows through the device.
Fertilizer Effects Summary
Fertilizers can be essential for gardeners in helping them to raise healthy flowers and crops. But there can also be a big difference between the environmental effects of using organic versus chemical fertilizers.
While organic fertilizers naturally break down and release nutrients into the soil, chemical fertilizers can be much faster acting and are frequently lost to the surrounding soil, leading to over-fertilization.
When these chemicals enter the ground in large quantities, they can disrupt nearby aquatic environments over long periods, with the results often making it all the way to our taps.
Which is why it is essential to be careful and always consider these fertilizer effects in your environment.