Fertilizers are like the secret sauce to a thriving yard. 

But like any secret sauce, one wrong ingredient and you can spoil the entire dish.

That’s what toxic fertilizers can do to your grass. Instead of creating a lush green landscape, it can leach into the soil, infiltrate water systems, and disrupt the natural balance.

Now, all that money you just spent on having someone fertilize your lawn can (quite literally) turn to waste. 

So, whether you’re a seasoned gardener or just starting out, understanding the potential toxicity of certain fertilizers is crucial.

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What Are Fertilizers? 

Fertilizers are your garden’s vitamins. They’re packed with goodies like:

  • Nitrogen
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Zinc
  • Iron

These essential nutrients aid in plant growth, development, and overall health. 

It’s like taking a multivitamin for your yard. Except you don’t need to pop vitamins into your yard every day. 

Fertilizing once a month is more than enough!

Toxic Fertilizers: Spotting the Bad Apples

picture of toxic fertilizers

You’re browsing the fertilizer aisle, and the options seem endless. 

Some promise miracles, while others are labeled “all-natural.” 

But appearances can be deceiving. Your superpower is knowing how to read between the lines and spot the toxic fertilizers.

It’s not about avoiding fertilizers altogether but choosing the right ones that nurture your plants without causing harm. 

And the best part? You don’t need to be a chemistry whiz to make informed choices.

Here’s how to spot them:

  • Chemical Composition: Check the label ingredients and their proportions. Fertilizers with high concentrations of chemicals like ammonia, chlorine compounds, or heavy metals (cadmium, lead, etc.) can be toxic.
  • NPK Ratio: The NPK ratio on the fertilizer packaging indicates the percentage of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) it contains. Extremely high levels of any of these elements might lead to imbalances, affecting plant health and potentially causing environmental harm.
  • Fast-Release Fertilizers: Fertilizers that release nutrients rapidly can lead to excessive nutrient runoff, causing water pollution and harming aquatic life. 
  • Lack of Organic Matter: Synthetic fertilizers lacking organic matter don’t contribute to soil health and can disrupt the natural ecosystem.
  • Harsh Chemicals: Look out for fertilizers containing harsh chemicals, like urea formaldehyde or ammonium nitrate, which can be hazardous if not handled properly. 
  • Caution Labels: Some fertilizers have a slough of cautionary labels indicating toxicity, proper handling procedures, or health risks. Suffice it to say you should approach these with care.
  • Environmental Impact: Research the fertilizer’s potential to cause pollution, contribute to eutrophication, or harm surrounding ecosystems. The easiest way to do this is to Google “fertilizer name + environmental impact.”
  • Recommendations and Reviews: Seek guidance from experts or other gardeners— research reviews and recommendations or trusted, environmentally-friendly options. 
  • Organic Certification: Organic fertilizers are generally safer as they are derived from natural sources and tend to have fewer toxic elements. (That’s what we use!)

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The Toxic 5 to Avoid

person reading label of chemical fertilizer to check for toxic ingredients

Just as you’d choose wholesome ingredients for your dinner, pick fertilizers that nourish your plants and play nicely with the environment. 

It’s about gardening with a conscience and ensuring a flourishing future for both your garden and the world.

Several fertilizers are considered toxic or harmful to the environment, human health, or both. 

Steer clear of these five troublemakers:

1. Ammonium Nitrate

While commonly used in agriculture for its nitrogen content, this toxic fertilizer is actually a key component in producing explosives. 

Improper storage or handling can lead to disastrous explosions, as seen in incidents like the Beirut explosion in 2020.

2. Phosphorus-Based Fertilizers

Phosphorus runoff from fertilizers can contribute to water pollution and the eutrophication of water bodies.

Eutrophication leads to excessive algae growth, depleting oxygen levels and harming aquatic life. 

4. Anhydrous Ammonia

This one is corrosive and flammable. It is a highly concentrated form of ammonia that can be dangerous to handle due to its toxic fumes.

Accidental releases of anhydrous ammo ia can harm human health and the environment. 

4. Urea Formaldehyde Fertilizers

It’s a slow release but causes trouble fast. 

This toxic fertilizer releases nitrogen into the soil through a slow decomposition process, which can lead to nitrogen leaching into groundwater and causing pollution. 

Formaldehyde is also a known carcinogen and can have adverse health effects.

5. Chlorine-Based Fertilizers

Fertilizers containing chlorine compounds can release chlorine gas when they come in contact with moisture or acids. 

Chlorine gas is highly toxic and can cause severe respiratory problems in humans and animals. Avoid that chlorine gas party.

Practicing responsible fertilization techniques, such as using the right amount of fertilizer and avoiding over-application, can help minimize the negative impacts of fertilizers on the environment and human health.

But the best way to make environmentally and health-conscious choices when it comes to your hard? 

Use organic fertilziers.  

RELATED: Lawn Fertilization: What the Heck Is It & Why You *Probably* Need It

How are Fertilizers Toxic to Humans? 

toddler and dog running in backyard

Ah, it’s just a little fertilzier. What’s the worst that could happen?

Fertilizers can be toxic to humans through various pathways, primarily due to their chemical composition and the potential for exposure. Here are some ways in which fertilizers can be harmful to humans:

  • Inhalation: Breathing in toxic fumes or dust when applying, handling, or storing can lead to respiratory issues, coughing, and even chemical pneumonia.
  • Skin Contact: Certain fertilizers (especially those containing strong acids, alkalis, or corrosive substances) can cause burns, allergies, or skin irritation upon direct contact.
  • Ingestion: Accidentally swallowing toxic fertilizers can result in nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and more severe health problems.
  • Chemical Absorption: Some can be absorbed through the skin, potentially causing poisoning or organ damage.
  • Long-Term Exposure: You’ve seen Erin Brockovich, right? So you’ll know how chronic exposure to certain chemicals can lead to health problems, including methemoglobinemia or “blue baby syndrome.”

Some fertilizers may also contain heavy metals, such as cadmium and lead, which can accumulate in the body over time and cause serious health problems.

RELATED: Is Your Lawn Starving for Oxygen? Get a Lawn Aeration Service

How are Fertilizers Bad for the Environment? 

person spraying toxic fertilizer creating an unhealthy environment

Toxic fertilizers are known for their contribution to pollution, habitat disruption, and alteration of natural ecosystems.

This can trigger a domino effect of environmental problems:

  1. Water Woes: When fertilizers hit fields, gardens, or lawns, the extra nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorus, can seep into groundwater or flow into nearby water bodies. This nutrient overload is called eutrophication and leads to algae overgrowth, robbing water of oxygen and harming aquatic life.
  2. Soil Switch-Up: Overusing certain fertilizers can mess with soil pH and nutrient balance, harming soil quality over time. This spells trouble for plant growth and overall ecosystem health.
  3. Biodiversity Battle: Fertilizer runoff can tip the balance, favoring invasive species over native plants. This shift can throw ecosystems off-kilter, reducing biodiversity.
  4. Air Annoyance: Fertilizers with ammonia can release ammonia gas into the air, adding to pollution and creating delicate particulate matter. These emissions can mix with other pollutants and harm both humans and ecosystems.
  5. Climate Change Contributor: Fertilizer production, transportation, and application churn out greenhouse gases like nitrous oxide. These gases are like fuel for global warming and climate change.
  6. Habitat Hijack: Heavy fertilizer use in intensive agriculture leads to natural areas being converted into farmland. This habitat loss hits ecosystems, wildlife, and biodiversity hard.
  7. Water Worry: Certain fertilizers containing nitrates can infiltrate groundwater, risking contamination of drinking water sources. High nitrate levels in drinking water pose health risks, especially for vulnerable groups like infants and pregnant women.

How To Guard Your Haven

mansion in Tampa, Florida after My Organic Turf organic fertilizing treatmentSo what’s the answer here? We can’t expect you to go through the Home Depot aisle and read every label with all of these fancy words you’ve already forgotten.

Here’s how we do it:

  1. Use Organic Fertilizer: We personally created an effective blend of organic-based turf and garden fertilizer full of macro and micronutrients, trace elements, and vitamins and minerals that will help your yard’s soil eliminate weeds and fight off diseases and insects.
  2. Targeted Spraying: ONLY spray the areas that need treatment. Not only does this reduce health risks, but it makes it so your kids and pets can always play in the yard! It also minimizes water runoff.
  3. Use Terradigm: Terradigm™ is a breakthrough product that delivers fresh “probiotics” to your lawn to make it stronger, healthier, and more drought-resistant at the roots.

When all else fails? Hire the experts. 

Looking for long-term solutions? Talk to Nick and Eric from My Organic Turf!