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Balancing Your Fertilizer

Happy May from Desert Rose! In this month's blog, we will review fertilizing, something that is easy to do but is also easy to overdo. As we have all discovered in life, too much of a good thing usually is bad. This holds especially true when it comes to fertilizing. Some people think the more fertilizer you give to a plant, the better it will do; but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The key is finding the right balance to give your plants or grass the biggest benefit.

Ultimately, It is better to under-fertilize your plants rather than over-fertilize. Overfertilization is not only unhelpful, it can damage or kill your plants. In order to understand this, we can use a simple analogy; fertilizing is like taking your plant to a buffet. Ideally, the plant should eat until it is full, then stop eating until it is hungry again which allows the plant to grow in a healthy manner. When you over-fertilize, you are forcing that plant to eat all of the buffet even though it is full. This results in it becoming so engorged with the buffet that it becomes harmful toxic to the plant.

Besides issues related to overfeeding, too much fertilizer can cause a multitude of problems for the plant including causing the plant to rapidly grow (which seems good at first) but the root system is not able to keep up with the new growth and support the larger plant. If overfertilized to the extreme, the large amount of fertilizer in the soil can disrupt the gradient (this helps the water move from the soil into the plant). When the gradient is disrupted, it causes the water from the plant to move into the soil, which dehydrates the plant (causing fertilizer "burn"). If using synthetic fertilizer, excessive use will cause a buildup of salts in the soil resulting in a salty crust that can be seen on the top of the soil. This can also alter the pH of the soil and cause a multitude of other issues. This salty build-up is unlikely to be seen when using organic fertilizers. Organic fertilizers are overall harder to overuse but it still is possible to use to an excess. This is because most organic fertilizers have lower concentrations of macronutrients (think NPK - nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium; typically the three numbers you see on any fertilizer).

The other thing that needs to be taken into consideration is what type of fertilizer is being used; whether it is a slow or fast release fertilizer. A slow-release fertilizer can cause problems for quite some time and once the damage is observed, as much of it as possible needs to be removed if possible. Some of the signs to look for in over-fertilizing is yellowing and/or wilting of leaves, often accompanied by brown crispy leaf tips.

Now that you know what to look for, what is the right thing to do if you over-fertilize? If you work fast and do the right thing there is a chance that your plants can be saved, but sometimes with over-fertilizing (especially depending on what kind of fertilizer you used and how much was applied) the plants might be too far gone to save. Regardless, most of us are still going to make an effort to save our plants. The first thing you want to do is remove the crusty topsoil (if present). However, do not remove more than 1" of the topsoil. The next step would be to flood the area out. This is going to help flush the plant and the soil of the fertilizer. Flooding may need to be repeated several times in order to work; and depending on how much fertilizer was used, may not fix the problem.

The best thing you can do to prevent overfertilizing your plants is…follow the directions on the back of the fertilizer! This will save you a lot of headaches, as well as possibly save your plants. Have more questions about feeding your plants? Send them our way and happy planting!


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