Photo: Hands digging in soil

Natural fertilizers promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, earthworms, and fungi that build soil structure and foster healthy plants.

Photograph by Oldproof/Shutterstock

Updated by James Robertson

for National Geographic

Shopping Tips

An organic lawn or garden starts with healthy soil. Natural fertilizers promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, earthworms, and fungi that build soil structure and foster healthy plants.

The best fertilizer for your lawn and garden is homemade compost, made from food scraps, lawn clippings, and fall leaves. If you still need store-bought products, here are a few tips:

  • Compost and Soil Improvements: Commercially made compost has high levels of naturally occurring phosphorous and nitrogen that is released gradually and is absorbed more easily by plants. Other soil improvers, such as worm castings, Epsom salts and decomposed organic matter called humates, add nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Watch out for commercial fertilizers, even those labeled "organic," that contain harmful ingredients, such as animal byproducts or sewage sludge. Animal byproducts, such as bone meal or fish meal, may have come from industrial farming operations, and sewage sludge, could be contaminated with diseases or heavy metals.

  • "NOFA Approved" and "OMRI Listed": The Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) and the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), an accredited certifying agency for the USDA National Organic Program, approve products that have been composted according to USDA Organic standards. The only synthetic materials that can be added to NOFA approved compost are those allowed in organic crop production.

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