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Can You Grow Plants Without Fertilizers?

Can You Grow Plants Without Fertilizers?

Farming without chemical fertilizers is possible. You can also avoid using pesticides, herbicides, and even irrigation if you’re aiming for what is often referred to as “green farming.” 

All of these are achievable, but the real question is whether you are prepared for the potential consequences. Given the current soil quality and the typical temperature and precipitation levels, if you decide to rely solely on natural conditions without using fertilizers or pesticides, I cannot guarantee that you won’t end up with poor yields, but you could likely end up farming with considerable difficulty and disappointment.

Fundamentals of Plant Growth

Fundamentals of Plant Growth
  • What Plants Need to Grow

Plants require sunlight, water, carbon dioxide, and a range of nutrients to thrive. While nutrients are traditionally supplied by fertilizers, they can also be found naturally in healthy soil.

  • The Role of Fertilizers in Plant Growth

Fertilizers are used to ensure plants receive enough nutrients, particularly nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. However, their continuous use can lead to soil degradation and environmental harm.

Fertilizer is available in various forms like compost, animal manure, synthetic fertilizer, and human waste, and is essential for plant (including grass) growth. When crops are harvested, important nutrients are removed from the soil, because they follow the crop and end up at the dinner table. If the soil is not replenished with nutrients through fertilizing, crop yields will deteriorate over time. 

Among the nutrients, nitrogen, phosphate, and potash are crucial macronutrients, while meso-nutrients and micronutrients (e.g., magnesium, manganese, boron) are also vital for plant growth.  Historically, fertilizer was a scarce resource, limiting food production growth. The development of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers through the Haber-Bosch process in 1910 alleviated the nitrogen constraint, but phosphate, primarily sourced from mining, remains finite on Earth.

Careful analyzing and fertilizing of crops enables a chain that provides humans with nutritional food:

  • The nutrients feed the soil 
  • The soil feeds the plants 
  • Plants feed animals and people 

The three most common mineral fertilizers are those based on nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

The International Fertilizer Association (IFA) estimates that 85% of the soils globally are deficient in nitrogen(1). Seventy-three percent of the soils are deficient in phosphorus, whereas 55% lack potassium.

Alternatives to Fertilizers

Alternatives to Fertilizers
  • Organic Fertilizers

Organic fertilizers, derived from animal matter, human excreta, or vegetable matter, provide nutrients without the adverse effects of synthetic fertilizers.

  • Natural Growth Promoters

Natural growth promoters such as biofertilizers and beneficial microbes enhance plant growth by improving nutrient uptake and soil health.

What is the difference between mineral fertilizers and organic fertilizers?

What is the difference between mineral fertilizers and organic fertilizers?

Plants require 17 essential nutrients to thrive, and the kind of fertilizer needed varies depending on the specific crop and soil nutrient deficiencies. Different crops extract different levels of nutrients from the soil. Many farmers prefer NPK compound fertilizers as they offer multiple nutrients at once.

Organic fertilizers, like animal waste and compost, have been used for centuries and are rich in nutrients and organic matter, enhancing soil quality. However, the demand for mineral fertilizers has increased since the 20th century to meet the growing food needs of the global population. Mineral fertilizers have more concentrated nutrients compared to organic ones, requiring less quantity and fewer transport vehicles.

By 2050, the global population is expected to reach 9.8 billion. Increasing crop yields is essential to meet food demands, necessitating well-planned fertilization strategies.

When to Fertilize?

When to Fertilize?

For new growth, apply fertilizer when you observe indicators of fresh growth like leaves, buds, or roots. This shows that the plant is actively growing and can effectively utilize the nutrients.

When planting transplants, fertilize during the planting process to provide them with a strong start and promote root development.

When Not to Fertilize

In dry conditions, refrain from fertilizing plants when they are very dry or experiencing drought stress. Dry roots can be harmed by fertilizers. Ensure the soil is moist by watering thoroughly before applying any fertilizer.

During dormancy, avoid fertilizing dormant plants. Adding fertilizer during their resting phase can trigger growth at the wrong time, especially as colder weather approaches, causing harm.

After flooding, wait until the excess water has drained away from the plants before fertilizing. Fertilizing too soon can lead to nutrient wastage as they may simply wash away before being absorbed by the plants.

What benefits do fertilizers provide?

What benefits do fertilizers provide?

Fertilizers, particularly mineral fertilizers known for their precise nutrient content, play a vital role in meticulous agricultural planning. They come in various forms containing primary, secondary, and micronutrients, making them more accessible for farmers. Often presented in a solid granular form, mineral fertilizers are convenient for both transportation and application. Plants cultivated in nutrient-deficient and unfertilized soil tend to exhibit slower growth and smaller size compared to those in nutrient-rich environments.

Why are nutrients significant for human health?

Why are nutrients significant for human health?

Nutrients obtained from fertilized soil are transferred to our bodies through the consumption of crops like wheat, apples, and potatoes, or animals that have fed on these crops. For instance, milk, a rich source of calcium, aids in preventing the onset of weak bones. Nonetheless, the calcium content in milk may decrease if cows graze in fields lacking this essential nutrient.

Ensuring that food is cultivated in well-balanced, nutrient-rich soil is crucial for preventing malnutrition and associated health issues globally. One notable illustration is Finland, where the government has mandated the inclusion of selenium in all multi-nutrient fertilizers since 1984. This initiative has significantly decreased the incidence of heart disease in the population.


We must have a correct understanding of the role of fertilizers. It is not accurate to claim that crops, vegetables, and fruits become unsafe for consumption after being treated with chemical fertilizers; this assertion is completely without evidence. Fertilizers are vital inorganic nutrients required for agricultural production. They are known for their clear, uncomplicated composition and rich nutrient content. Their impact is immediate and robust, effectively boosting the nutritional value provided to crops, vegetables, and fruits throughout various growth stages. 

Therefore, it is crucial to adopt a balanced perspective on the use of chemical fertilizers and not react with excessive fear.

We provide a diverse range of biological products such as amino acids, humic acid, seaweed fertilizers, plant growth regulators, and fruit-preserving agents. Contact us if you are interested.

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