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Organic, Hybrid, Traditional: What the Heck's the Difference?

“Organic” this, “Hybrid” that. What does it mean to our plants, our health and our environment?

With so many labels, how do we know what’s best for our landscapes, fruits, veggies – and ourselves? Here’s what three general terms mean as they relate to the lawn and landscape industry, plus the pros and cons of each:

What Does “Organic” Mean?

“Organic,” when used to describe plant-related products or techniques, simply means they involve no synthetic products. Organic pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers are typically derived from plants, insects or another natural ingredient.

Pros: Plants, insects, and fungi have been working together for a long, long time and they’re doing a pretty good job at it. Instead of introducing synthetic chemicals a plant may read as foreign, organic products use natural chemicals the plants already know and understand.

Cons: Organic products typically need to be reapplied more frequently than traditional ones. Where a traditional product may take only one or two applications to be effective, an organic version may take two or three applications instead.

What Does “Traditional” Mean?

Traditional products won’t really say “traditional” on the package. These are products that contain synthetic chemicals and/or non-natural techniques to maintain plant fertility and eliminate damaging pathogens and insects.

Pros: These products and implements are developed to be more of a one-size-fits-all. It’s been tested and tweaked over and over for maximum efficiency and effectiveness.

Cons: Great understanding and care should be used in their use. Because they are not natural, they can affect the environment’s fragile balance. If used improperly, more than just a few plants are affected. Not to mention controversial health and safety issues related to these kinds of chemicals.

What Does “Hybrid” Mean?

Hybrid products seek to bring together the best of both the Organic and Traditional worlds.

Pros: Ideally, you get the best of both: an increase in plant vitality, while using as few unnatural chemicals as possible without losing the product’s effectiveness.

Cons: Depending on the product or technique, it may still require more applications or procedures than its traditional counterpart.

What’s important to note is that organic, hybrid and traditional products can all be used improperly. If you’re unsure, consult a professional to make sure you don’t cause harm to plants, animals, yourself or other humans.

Read up and be informed about all the products you use so we can all enjoy our lawns and landscapes in the most healthy ways possible.

- Craig Grabow is the manager and staff horticulturist/arborist at Central Lawn Care. He is the treasurer of the Kentucky Arborist Association and president of the Fort Mitchell Tree Board. He graduated from the University of Kentucky with a degree in plant and soil science.