It’s the busy season for The Home Depot’s outdoor garden department, and no one knows that better than Matt Elsey. He’s the Product Merchant in charge of fertilizer and seed. We’ve asked Matt to give Eco Actions some insight into the best options for organic gardeners.

EA: How big is organic gardening at The Home Depot? And can you explain what organic gardening looks like for most of our shoppers?

ME: The past few years have really changed the relationship that people have with their homes. Gardening is just one example where things have taken off as people have started to spend more time at home. If you think back to the beginning of COVID, there was a time when people were concerned about food shortages. Many people started gardening out of necessity and haven’t stopped. In fact, the biggest weeks we’ve ever had in our packed seed category were in the spring of 2020 when most of the U.S. went on lockdown. So many resourceful people turned to their yards and started growing their own food. It’s really impressive.

The growth in organics is linked to the fact that more people have started edible gardens. Typically, people are not as concerned about using synthetic fertilizers in their flowerbeds or ornamental gardens. Our customers are growing their own tomatoes, lettuce, okra, beans and other produce. And when you plan to feed your family from your garden, you want organics.

It’s pretty simple, but it’s meant a tremendous growth in the demand for organic fertilizers and seeds. And some of that has carried over to ornamental gardening. We’re growing our plant food category significantly faster than we have the synthetics over the last couple of years. And we continue to increase our product offering to ensure that we have the right products for vegetables and other edible plants.

EA: Has this trend in edible gardening continued now that the world has emerged from COVID?

ME: Absolutely, and that’s been great to see. People who started growing their own food during the pandemic have continued gardening. That engagement carries over into ornamental gardening and yardening, too. The fact that people are spending more time outside working in their yards and gardens is one of the few positive impacts of COVID.

EA: Did you say “yardening?” What exactly is yardening, and how is that different from gardening?

ME: Yardeners are those shoppers who are engaged in their yard. There are a lot of people who are passionate about grass and yard space. A lot of our seed and fertilizer business is supported by the people who love grass. During COVID, that business grew along with the increase in edible and ornamental gardening. For example, during COVID, we welcomed about 21 million new gardeners into the market. We also welcomed about 8 million new yardeners.

EA: When it comes to organic fertilizers, what exactly does that mean? What makes organic fertilizer effective, and how do you know what to trust?

ME: Traditional fertilizers are synthetic and contain chemical nutrients, whereas organic fertilizers get their nutrients from animal or plant by-products, a.k.a. waste. Most organic material is animal waste. Much of it is chicken waste. But there are also turkey and fish products, too. One of our most popular soil enhancers is Earthworm Castings, which literally comes from earthworms. It’s nontoxic, contains no chemicals or additives, and is rich in nutrients and minerals. Earthworm Castings is a favorite among Home Depot gardeners.

All of our organic products are certified by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI). OMRI is an independent, nonprofit organization that reviews products such as fertilizers, plants and pest control products. Our shoppers are sophisticated when it comes to certifications in this department. They know and look for the OMRI certification, so we make sure to have a diverse assortment of OMRI products.

In the past few years, we’ve seen a lot of innovation in organic performance. Companies like Scotts Miracle-Gro have introduced products like Performance Organics which are highly effective as well as organic.

EA: Are there any new products that you can tell us about, or that you are excited about?

ME: There’s a great new product on the shelf this spring called True Organic. It’s a really interesting company based on the West Coast. They supply a lot of organic plant food for industrial produce farms, including leafy greens and lettuces. Because of this, True Organic is subject to rigorous testing to ensure they are food-safe at commercial levels. They make organic bone meal and blood meal fertilizers which are available in stores and online. And it’s a really well-designed product that looks great on the shelf!