The Difference Between Fertilizers and Soil Conditioners

If you’ve ever cared for a garden or lawn, you’ll know that, once your plant sprouts from its seed, it relies on the surrounding soil for all its nutrient needs. Unfortunately, due to soil depletion, there are increasingly fewer nutrients in the soil now than there were a few decades ago. A study has found that there are reliable declines in the amount of calcium, protein, iron, phosphorus, vitamin B2, and vitamin C in the soil over the past 50 years. Both macronutrients and micronutrients have become present only in limited quantities.

This is where soil conditioners and fertilizers come in. These two – both easily found in landscape supply stores – allow you to improve the level of nutrients in plant soil. However, they influence plant growth in different ways.

Soil Conditioners

Also known as soil amendments, soil conditioners improve the texture of the soil rather than boost the nutrients in it. When used correctly, soil conditioners change the soil so that growing becomes simpler. The roots will be able to penetrate the surrounding soil more readily, for example, making it easier for them to grow deeper and stronger. Soil conditioners can also improve water filtration.

There are many types of soil amendments, including the following:

  • Elemental sulfur – When you want to grow plants that need a low soil pH or if your soil’s pH has become too alkaline, elemental sulfur is recommended. It lowers soil pH over time. Typically, it is mixed into garden soil or watered in.
  • Gypsum – Gypsum can help when the soil pH is right but there are other factors that are off. With gypsum, water penetration is better, compacted clay is loosened, and root penetration is promoted.
  • Lime – Overly acidic levels can interfere with your soil’s ability to absorb needed nutrients; lime can restore balance to the soil’s pH.
  • Organic matter – Rotted leaves, finished compost, and other natural materials can improve how soil particles fit together and how air and water can flow through them.


Using a rake in the gardenFertilizers are food for plants. They supply nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous, increase crop yields, and improve plant quality. Unlike soil conditioners, they do not alter soil’s texture quality. Fertilizer can be organic and inorganic. Organic fertilizer includes livestock manure and plant matter, while inorganic fertilizer contains one or more nutrients made by chemical means. Both organic and inorganic fertilizer can enhance plant growth, health, and production.

Working Together

Soil conditioners and fertilizers work together to make your plants as healthy as they can be. For example, putting fertilizer on top of a poorly managed garden with compacted earth will not magically make plants thrive. In fact, the nutrients will simply run off since your soil cannot absorb moisture if it’s compacted. In order for your soil to get the nutrients from fertilizer, it needs soil conditioners. Once the soil is amended, your plants will make better use of fertilizers.

Understanding the difference between these two types of soil-enriching products is the first step to achieving to the thriving garden that you’ve always dreamed of. Ensure that you use these products properly and responsibly.

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