Chemical fertilizers are synthetic substances that provide the necessary nutrients for healthy plant growth and development. Chemical fertilizers combine synthetic forms of the primary macronutrients for plants such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, as well as a variety of micronutrients and additives. Synthetically developed fertilizers provide the benefit of having more nutrients per pound than organic fertilizers, thus reducing costs. Chemical fertilizers have many uses for the average gardener and homeowner, as well as for commercial use.
Plant and vegetable gardeners use chemical-based fertilizers for healthy plant growth. The nitrogen in fertilizer promotes cell division and leafy vegetation, phosphorus helps plants with photosynthesis and respiration and potassium helps plants absorb the other nutrients, according to NASA. Chemical fertilizers contain a higher concentration of macro- and micronutrients than organic fertilizers, which allows gardeners to spread less of a concentration for the same results. Depending on brand, chemical-based fertilizers provide varying levels of additives, which help grow plants faster and stronger. However, according to Pennsylvania State University, over-fertilization, a common problem with chemical-based fertilizers, can cause poor growth and even plant death. University or private labs can test soil samples to determine the recommended amount of fertilizer to apply for specific garden plants.
The nutrients synthetically added to chemical fertilizer help with lawn care by promoting quick, lush green growth. However, over-fertilization can cause tip burn and brown patch areas on grass. According to the University of Minnesota, inorganic nitrogen-producing compounds found in chemical fertilizer such as ammonium nitrate, calcium nitrate and ammonium sulfate are likely to contribute to lawn burn. The chemicals, released with the application of water, create quick results but may cause damage. Fertilizer for lawns, as well as the gardening varieties, comes in two main forms, quick release and slow release. Both varieties have their advantages and disadvantages for plant growth.
Quick-release chemical fertilizers, made from compounds that are water-soluble, allow plants to absorb nutrients immediately after application. This process produces noticeable plant growth over a short period. However, according to the University of Minnesota, quick-release fertilizers are more likely than slow-release fertilizers to cause tip or plant burn. Due to the fast absorption, quick release fertilizers are applied on a systemic basis more often than slow-release fertilizers are.
Slow-release fertilizers release nutrients over an extended period. According to the University of Arizona, slow-release fertilizers release soluble nitrogen by either a hydrolysis or microbial process. This application allows for gardens, lawns or crops to have continual nutrients without regular fertilization. Slow-release fertilizers are less likely to cause plant or lawn burn but are easily washed out by heavy rainfall.