Chemical vs Organic Lawn Fertilizer — Which Works Better?

June 12, 2014 | By | Comments (18)
Lawn fertilizer

Scott’s versus Sustane. Let the best bag win. Photo by Steve Bender.

Environmentalists are always bashing my lawn. They say the fertilizer I use to make it thick and green is killing the world like that nuke plant in Japan. So last summer, I decided to experiment. I divided my lawn in lawn in half, used chemical fertilizer on one half, organic fertilizer on the other, to see which did the better job.

But before I continue, let me take a minute to pontificate on the word “chemical.” People often use the word “chemical” to negatively describe synthetic fertilizers and pesticides made by companies like Dow and Scott’s, as opposed to “organic” products that employ substances and organisms found in nature. Truth is, though, BOTH kinds of products are chemicals. The difference is where and how the chemicals originate. Water is the chemical “dihydrogen monoxide.” It makes up 60% of your body. So “chemical” is not inherently a dirty word — unless, of course, you’re a dirty person, but that’s really none of my business.

The Test
In my totally unscientific test using only my Bermuda grass lawn, I applied to the first half two feedings of Scott’s 26-4-2 Lawn Fertilizer using its ingenious Snap spreader. (I love this device, because when you attach the bag to the spreader, the bag opens and closes at the bottom as you use it. When you’re done, you detach the closed bag to store any unused fertilizer inside it. Cool beans.) Scott’s is synthetic, “chemical” fertilizer. A bag that covers 4,000 square-feet costs about $20.

To the other half, I applied two feedings of Sustane 8-2-4 All Natural Lawn & Landscape Plant Food. Sustane derives its nutrients from compost and nitrogen rich feather meal and is certified “organic.” A bag that covers about 2,000 square-feet costs about $34. I used a rotary spreader to apply it.

Lawn fertilizer

Photo by Steve Bender.

Both halves were fertilized on the same mornings and the products watered in. Each half received the same expert care you’ve come to expect of Grumpy.

The Results
I was surprised. I’d expected that since Sustane contained about a third of the nitrogen that Scott’s did and its nitrogen was slow-release that the grass fed with Scott’s would green up quicker. Didn’t happen. In fact, a few days after a good rain, I couldn’t see any color difference between them.

One thing I did notice about Sustane was the smell. After you put it down, your lawn smells like a cattle pasture for a few days. But some people like that. Cattle people.

By the end of summer, I could see no difference in the health, color, or thickness between the two halves. Both halves looked very nice. This was terrible. How can I recommend to you, my faithful and adoring readers, what product to use if they both work well????

Take Your Pick
In the end, your choice depends on what’s important to you. If price is most important, you’ll probably choose Scott’s. If an odor-free lawn is important, you’ll probably choose Scott’s. On the other hand, if using a natural product that builds the soil by adding organic matter is important, you’ll probably choose Sustane. And if you think Scott’s is an agent of Satan, you’ll probably choose Sustane.

I don’t have a dog in this fight. I bought both products and both spreaders, so nobody can say I was bribed. But if you WANT to bribe me, please note — I require cash in twenties.




  1. kiyel Williams

    I love that you took the time to test some products for yourself and share your findings. I’m curious what other products results would have been or what will happen come winter time to the two halves. Awesome to know the organic mixture held up to chemicals though, I have kids and would just feel better knowing they aren’t getting any kinds of chemicals on them they shouldn’t. Awesome post, thanks again for sharing with us your findings.

    March 23, 2016 at 11:29 am
  2. rock salt spreader

    Great post! It’s great that you gave us a clear understanding about what “chemical” really means and how it differs from being organic. Thanks!
    rock salt spreader

    March 15, 2016 at 8:18 pm
  3. Stephanie Smith

    I’ve had difficulty maintaining my lawn, but it might be that I’m trying generic commercial fertilizer. I have been trying to be more conscious about whether or not the products I’m using are organic or not, but I know for sure I don’t want my lawn smelling like a cattle pasture. I might just try Scott’s brand that you experimented with. I’ll contact my nursery this weekend, thanks for sharing!

    June 11, 2015 at 9:14 am
  4. Pamela

    This is the simplest and best blog about lawn fertilizers. Thanks for keeping it real, real down to earth. Scott also makes a Natural Lawn Food that is organic with low slow release nitrogen. It works great!

    April 3, 2015 at 11:56 am
  5. Steve Bender


    Unfortunately, when it comes to killing perennial weeds in the lawn, there really isn’t a good organic option. Organic products are translocated to the roots, so the weeds grow back. Some people use corn gluten as a lawn weed preventer, but this has never worked well for me.

    March 29, 2015 at 8:18 am
  6. Laurie hart

    What about a comparison between the two for weed killing/elimination? Especially spurge and thistle?
    My fave remains Fertilome a bit more expensive. I live in centr TEXAS so I generally add copperas to the Fertilome with great results. Is there anything better?

    March 20, 2015 at 10:31 am
  7. Steve Bender


    I see your point. When Bermuda grass isn’t fed every year, the results aren’t good. The lawn thins out and declines, the soil erodes, and weeds move in.

    January 3, 2015 at 9:04 am
  8. chris

    interesting article and study. i just wish you had included a control group section of grass where no fertilizer was applied.

    December 28, 2014 at 12:02 pm
  9. Cindy

    I have always wondered about using fertilizers or bug deterrants on my grass. We have a lovely bunch of toads and would not want to do anything to hurt their eco system.

    June 19, 2014 at 12:42 pm
  10. Dea

    We did a similar experiment with the Scott’s ($20) and the no-name el-cheapo Wally World brand ($12). No perceivable difference in color or growth habit. So we buy the el-cheapo stuff. Since we’re retired and have to watch our pennies (and nickels and dimes), we go with the best bang for the buck.

    June 14, 2014 at 7:41 pm
  11. Steve Bender


    Glad the corn gluten is working for you. An added benefit is that it adds organic matter as it breaks down.

    June 13, 2014 at 1:42 pm
  12. Steve Bender

    Donna Marie,

    If you’re happy with your lawn, I see no reason to fertilize it either.

    June 13, 2014 at 1:40 pm
  13. Donna

    Great minds think alike,,,, I did the same experiment on my lawn, front yard vrs back yard using Scott’s vrs WOW supreme pre emergent weed control formula. WOW has corn gluten in the organic mixture for weed suppression. The makers of WOW show a graph showing it takes 3 years to really kick in and this is the third year of use. A 20lb bag will cover 1,000-2,000 sq feet. I can’t tell the difference in the greening up of the lawns but with WOW I only have to put out fertilizer twice a year, once in the spring (when the early bush type plants start to bud) and once for the fall, usually late August in this Blue Ridge mt location. I have tall fescue grass. I have 2 acres of land so twice a year vrs 3/4 applications means a lot of time saved. It works well and it doesn’t smell so I will continue to use it. I did try using horse feed which is mostly corn gluten but it didn’t work as well. Lots of weeds in that patch of lawn.

    June 12, 2014 at 7:34 pm
  14. Donna Marie Rosao

    In the 7 years we have lived at our house we’ve never fertilized our lawn. I don’t even know what kind of grass we have. We have a lot of clover and wild violets which I like. On the downside every summer our front lawn turns a lovely shade of yellow. I really don’t see a need to fertilize it just saying.

    June 12, 2014 at 6:40 pm
  15. Steve Bender

    The Scott’s fertilizer shown does not contain herbicides or pesticides. Inert ingredients are just that. Inert. Harmless.

    I will be happy to examine any evidence you have that this is true.

    Both fertilizers are good for any type of grass.

    June 12, 2014 at 2:43 pm
  16. Jeavonna

    The problems with the Scotts is not in the NPK. It’s with the other additives. The herbicides, pesticides or “inert” ingredients.

    June 12, 2014 at 12:41 pm
  17. Clairette

    It might make a difference if you had children and or pet animals running through your grass. Who knows if the fertilizers are dangerous for them?

    June 12, 2014 at 11:38 am
  18. Judy Hooks

    Would the same hold true for centipede?

    June 12, 2014 at 11:17 am

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