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Growing Cannabis: Organic Vs Synthetic / Inorganic Nutrients

Deciding on organic or synthetic can be hard for new growers as both of them have pros and cons.
14 April 2022
9 min read
Growing Cannabis: Organic Vs Synthetic / Inorganic Nutrients

Contents:
  • 1. Growing with organic nutrients
  • 2. Growing with synthetic / inorganic nutrients
  • 3. Organic vs synthetic / inorganic: pros and cons
  • 3. a. Organic pros
  • 3. b. Organic cons
  • 3. c. Synthetic pros
  • 3. d. Synthetic cons
  • 4. Cannabis and nutrients
  • 5. Is it okay to use both organic and synthetic nutes at the same time?
  • 6. In conclusion

Feeding with organic or synthetic fertilizers has been debated for a long time, and while organic nutrients can make your cannabis smell and taste better, they’re not suited for every growing setup. Synthetic nutrients are said to result in harsh tasting flowers, but are better for certain types of setups, like hydroponic setups.

1. Growing With Organic Nutrients

Organic plant nutrients are derived from natural and living sources, they focus on working with microorganisms to deliver your plant the nutrients it needs. They are made from natural substances like manure, bat guano, bone meal, fish meal, and gypsum, they can be bought but can be also made by composting or with KNF techniques.

Because microorganisms need to break down the nutrients, you need to maintain an appropriate environment so they can work efficiently, for example, if the temperature is too low they will work slower, taking more time to make the nutrients available.

 

Growing Cannabis: Organic vs synthetic

How organic and synthetic nutrients work.
 

So when using organic cannabis nutrients you are taking care of the soil and the microorganisms in it, if you fail to maintain a good environment for them, they can die. Organic nutrients are usually said to be slow-release because of the time it takes for microorganisms to break down the nutrients, this can be a disadvantage when you spot deficiencies because it will take more time to fix the deficiency, although you can brew organic teas to deliver the nutrients fast.

Natural nutrients are a good way to increase the aroma and flavor of your buds when growing organic cannabis. Have in mind they’re not suited for most hydroponic setups because there is a lack of organic matter (soil) for the microorganisms to live. Also, have in mind that these nutrients are organic matter so they can attract more pests and bugs than synthetic nutrients.

2. Growing With Synthetic / Inorganic Nutrients

Synthetic or inorganic nutrients are those that are derived from minerals (and not derived from living matter) and are manufactured in laboratories with a process that extracts them from minerals, leaving the harmful impurities behind. This type of fertilizer contains minerals that are usually modified during production to produce a more effective final product. Inorganic or synthetic nutrients can be an advantage depending on your grow setup because inorganic fertilizers have a high level of nutrient availability, unlike organic nutrients which the microorganisms need to break down first. They contain a specific amount of macro and micro nutrients, usually specified in the bottle because they specify the exact amount of nutrients they contain, it is usually easier to use them.

With synthetic nutrients, you are feeding your plant directly and the nutrients are available for the plant as soon as they reach the roots, this can help you fix deficiencies really fast but it’s also really easy to burn your plants from overfeeding. Unlike organics, synthetic nutrients can be used both in soil and hydroponic setups. There are organic hydroponic nutrients, although they are harder to find and are made specifically for soilless growing.

3. Organic Vs Synthetic / Inorganic: Pros And Cons

You must be asking yourself: Why are synthetic nutrients used? Well, despite the obvious benefits organic nutrients have, both of them have their pros and cons. Choosing either one of them will depend on what is more appropriate for your growing setup, what you can afford, and what you prefer.

 

Growing Cannabis: Soil

Synthetic nutrients feed the plant directly while organic feeds the microorganisms in the soil.

Organic Pros 

•  Less Chance Of Burning Due To Overfeeding

They are usually slow-release, this means the nutrients won’t be absorbed at once, lowering the chances to burn your plants.

•  Beneficial Microorganisms

Taking care of the microorganisms needed for organic nutrients will not only make the nutrients available but also will benefit your plants in other ways, resulting in more growth and a healthier plant.

• Improves the structure of the soil

Soil devoid of any microbial life is easily eroded by wind or rainfall, whereas soil that contains a bunch of microbial life will have a much better overall structure and feel. Thanks to this microbial abundance, and to the earthworms and other beneficial creatures that thrive in healthy soil, a living soil takes on a squishy yet firm consistency that deals with the causes of erosion by compacting and holding together. This is boosted by the microbial life which creates a living biofilm that acts as a kind of glue, sticking the soil structure to itself

•  Sustainable And Renewable

100% organic nutrients are made with natural products so the soil can be reused if taken care of appropriately, making it less harmful for the environment.

•  Less Nutrient Waste and Waste Runoff

Thanks to the improved soil structure, the medium itself have a much higher capacity to hold water. This allows for the nutrients to be washed away in a much more gradual fashion. Also results in the nutrients staying in the soil for an extended period for the microorganisms to feed on, which results in you will end up wasting fewer nutrients (and saving money). This reduced runoff is a good thing, as excess nutes will not be accessible to the plants and end up returning to the water table which can have long-lasting effects on the environment.

•  Enhances Flavor And Aroma Of Buds

Growers have found that organic nutrients don’t cause build-up, which makes flushing easier and you end up with more flavorful and stronger smelling buds.

•  Less Chance of Overfeeding and Causing Nutrient Burn 

Synthetic nutrients come with a few upsides, but one of the major issues that many beginner growers run into when using them is overfeeding which can quickly lead to nutrient burn. It is a common newbie mistake to think that adding just a little bit more than what is recommended on the bottle will lead to thriving, healthy plants that should deliver bumper crops. But, the opposite is actually true. For the most part, expert cultivators agree that you should never exceed the instruction feeding amounts and schedule, and should actually cut the required percentage of nutes to around 75% of what the bottle says.  Organic fertilizers slowly release the nutrients which all but eliminates the chance of causing nutrient burn and almost all other nutrient overloading issues that can arise when using synthetic nutrient mixes.

 

Growing Cannabis: Organic pros and cons

Organic nutrients advantages and disadvantages.

Organic Cons

•  Slow Release

Organic nutrients take more time to be absorbed by the plant because the microorganisms need to break down the nutrients.

•  Slower To Fix Deficiencies

Because of the slow release, when your plant shows deficiencies it can take more time to fix it unless you brew organic teas or amend the soil with powdered nutrients to avoid deficiencies.

•  Higher Chances Of Getting Bugs

Bugs are attracted to organic matter and organic nutrients contain organic matter so if you don’t take precautions and check your growing space for bugs every day, you can get pests easily.

•  Can Be More Expensive

Organic nutrients take longer to make, this is why they’re usually more expensive than synthetic nutrients.

•  Can be Trickier to Apply to the Growing Medium

Synthetic nutrients come in a concentrated form that just has to be mixed with the right pH water and you are ready to rock. The same cant be said of many organic fertilizers. Sure, there are easy to spread organic pellets or pills available from any garden. hardware, or hydro shop, but try mixing a tonne of cow manure to a soil mix for a large outdoor grow. It won't take long for you to be dreaming of synthetic nutes.

•  The Levels of Nutrients Can Vary Widely From Bag to Bag

Using compost, manure, or other natural fertilizers is an imprecise science. A handful of dung from one cow could fluctuate wide from another, or even the same cow that has begun eating a different diet.  Although this can cause issues, the slow-release nature of organic fertilizers tends to balance things out pretty well. It can cause some confusion if you have just switched over from synthetic nutes though.

•  Nutrient Breakdown Speed is Slowed in Colder Climates

The main deciding factor in any decomposition is the ambient temperature. This is driven by the fungal and bacterial action, all of which are sped up in warmer climates - while in colder conditions everything slows right down. Either way, cannabis plants need a temperate climate to grow which means that you shouldn't find this too much of an issue, but if the weather is cooling down and your plants are showing signs of deficiencies then it may be time to add some synthetic nutes.

Synthetic Pros 

•  More Control Over The Nutrients

Synthetic nutrients are made with an exact amount and ratio of minerals, this makes it easier to control the amount of nutrients you’re feeding your plant. This way you can easily provide more nitrogen in the vegetative stage and more phosphorus in the flowering stage.

•  Ability To Fix Deficiencies Faster

You can fix deficiencies faster because you’re feeding the roots directly.

•  Cheaper And Easier to Find

Bottled synthetic nutrients take less time to be produced, so they are found in every grow shop and because of the wide variety, they’re cheap.

•  Easier to Measure and Dose

Synthetic nutrients are almost dummy-proof. Every single type on offer - from liquid to pellet,  to top-dress granule - comes with an easy-to-follow instruction guide and the water solubility makes them bio-available in a matter of minutes. This is the reason why deficiencies are fixed in a much shorter period of time

 

Growing Cannabis: Synthetic pros and cons

Synthetics nutrients advantages and disadvantages.

Synthetic Cons 

•  Easier To Overfeed

Because you’re feeding the roots directly, it is super easy (and very common) to burn your plants due to overfeeding.

•  Nutrient Build-up

The minerals in synthetic nutrients can build up, this means your plant can have an excess of nutrients and can affect the smell and flavor of your buds if you don't flush properly.

•  Aggressive To The Environment

Synthetic nutrients are not made from renewable resources and manufacturers use a lot of energy to produce them, which is bad for the environment.

•  Can Have an Impact on the Soil Bio-Availability if Used for Long Periods

While synthetic nutes do offer almost complete nourishment to your plants, they can also have a negative impact on the fertility of the soil in the long term. They are made, in part, from sodium compounds which are known to irradicate the beneficial microbial life present in living soil. You can counter this by also adding macronutrients or beneficial fungal mixes to your growing medium, or by supplementing your feed schedule with some organic, slow-release fertilizers. 

•  Much More Regular Application is Needed with Some Types of Synthetic Fertilizers

One of the upsides of synthetic fertilizers is their almost instant bio-availability of them, but this can also cause a few headaches. When using most types of synthetic fertilizers, you have to feed your plants on a much more regular basis. This can be automated in many different ways like the classic drip-feeding seen on so many cannabis farms. If you are using synthetic ferts with living soil, keep in mind that the microbial life can be severely diminished over just a single season.

•  Can Cause Environmental and Ecological Issues

On top of being harmful to the microbial life within living soil, synthetic nutrients can also cause pollution issues in the groundwater and nearby waterways. As the soil degrades from the loss of microbial bio-availability, the soil erodes easier, which makes nutrient loss rise even faster. The nutrients in synthetic fertilizers can cause reproductive issues in many aquatic animals, and can also cause the waterway to become lifeless if the doses are high enough.

4. Cannabis and Nutrients

It really doesn’t matter if you’re using organic or inorganic fertilizers, there are around 17 essential minerals that cannabis plants need, and 3 of those are found in air and water (carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen) but the other 14 you need to provide in the soil or as a nutrient solution. 

Cannabis Plant Nutrients

Naturally Found in Air and WaterMust Add to Soil or Nutrient Solution
Primary MacronutrientsSecondary MacronutrientsMicronutrientsNon-Essential Nutrients
Carbon (C)Nitrogen (N)Calcium (C)Boron (B)Aluminum (Al)
Iron (Fe)
Copper (Cu)Selenium (Se)
Hydrogen (H)Potassium (K)Magnesium (Mg)Chlorine (Cl)Cobalt (Co)
Oxygen (O)Phosphorus (P)Sulfur (S)Manganese (Mn)Silicon (Si)
Molybdenum (Mo)

 

Apart from macro and micronutrients, there are other nutrients considered nonessential because plants won’t show nutrient deficiencies if they are not provided but will make a huge difference in plant growth if you do.

5. Is it Okay to Use Both Organic and Synthetic Nutes at the Same Time?

It most certainly is. Since both options come with a long list of pros and cons, which often directly oppose each other, many growers (especially outdoor cultivators) like to use a balance of both options. In the long run, plants do not give a damn where the nutrients come from, as long as there is a healthy balance of everything they need. You can combat a bunch of the issues that may arise from using just synthetic or organic by instead using a mix of both. Just remember that, for the most part, organic fertilizers work better for soil mixes, whereas synthetic nutrients will be better for hydro setups.

6. In Conclusion

Organic and synthetic nutrients both have pros and cons, and the final decision is yours of course. If you’re a new grower it can be hard to decide on one, we recommend trying both and deciding what suits you better. Make sure you understand what you need to use effectively and avoid wasting time and money.

 

 

This post was most recently updated on April 14, 2022.

14 April 2022