8 fertilizer-related mistakes: what would possibly happen and how to avoid them?

Are you a newbie in applying fertilizers? Here are fertilizer-related mistakes you should avoid:

1. Not knowing the plant’s essential nutrients

Plants require 17-18 essential nutrients to complete its life cycle. The important thing is that you know the elements needed in large (carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and potassium), moderate (calcium, magnesium, and sulfur) and small (boron, chlorine, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, and zinc) amount. Some of these elements are present in nature while others are not or in unavailable form. You can do further research (highly recommended) on your own.

The barrel below simply shows that yield is limited by the lack of a specific nutrient. Despite abundance of fertilizer you put, if you miss just one essential nutrient, then your plant will suffer.

photo source: http://citrusindustry.net/2017/05/09/update-ufifas-grower-citrus-nutrition-trials/

WHAT WOULD POSSIBLY HAPPEN TO MY CROP? Limited plant growth. Stunted growth, yellowing leaves, premature ripening and death of plant are some you may observe. You are also wasting fertilizer which can harm the plant and the environment.

HOW TO AVOID? Familiarize the needed nutrients of your plants. Do soil testing (if you can) to know the elements that are already present in your soil. If you can’t do soil testing, look into the symptoms of nutrient deficiency of your crop in the web and then compare – e careful in doing this, insects and diseases can also affect plant growth

2. Forms and types

Fertilizers can be organic (e.g. chicken manure, bat guano, fish meal) or inorganic (chemical fertilizers), the former contain little nutrient and needed to be decomposed first while the latter have specific and large amount of nutrient and can be absorbed easily by the plant. Chemical fertilizer usually comes in granular, powder or liquid form.

Plants will not eat/absorb everything you put…the element/nutrient should first be in its available form (ion). Please support my little shop and get your fertilizer in liquid form here (https://shopee.ph/SNAP-Hydroponics-Set-i.86521262.5717286140)! Nutrients in this solution set is in ion form and can be readily absorbed by the plant.


WHAT WOULD POSSIBLY HAPPEN? Plants cannot absorb the nutrient and the lack of it will affect its overall performance.

HOW TO AVOID? Choose the appropriate form and type of fertilizer your crop needs. For plants with fragile roots (e.g. tissue cultured), use slow release fertilizer. If you are going to use manure, apply them ahead of time prior to your planting to allow the nutrient to become absorbable to your plants.

3. Not covering your urea 

Urea fertilizers (46-0-0) can be used to increase nitrogen in the soil. Nitrogen is part of the chlorophyll molecule which gives the plant their green color. We know that chlorophyll plays a vital role in photosynthesis, therefore, the greener the plant, the better. However, urea granules are highly volatile which means that if you left them uncovered, the nitrogen can be lost easily to the atmosphere.


WHAT WOULD POSSIBLY HAPPEN? Nitrogen is a macro molecule. If your soil contains very low nitrogen and you decide to apply urea and did not cover them with, then little to no nitrogen will be absorbed by your plant leading to pale green to yellow color of the leaves/plant.

HOW TO AVOID? High soil temperature and pH increases volatility of urea. If you have alkaline soil (high pH) make it neutral first (I haven’t encountered this kind of soil yet so better I just search the net and according to the Eldon Everhart of Iowa State University, you can apply sphagnum peat, elemental sulfur, aluminum sulfate, iron sulfate, acidifying nitrogen, and organic mulches to reduce soil pH). Apply your urea early morning (before 7am) so that the soil temperature is relatively lower. And of course, after application cover urea with soil.

4. Putting directly to the plant/seed

There are fertilizers that came from dragons and can literally burn your seed/plant when put into direct contact – can we command it with ‘FERTICARYS’ (I was kidding when I said they came from dragons. Because winter is coming. lol). Urea and all-ammonium phosphate and those containing with nitrogen and potassium will cause burning in seeds, seedlings and plants if you placed the fertilizer too near to your plant. Fertilizers contain salts and the burn is brought by osmosis principle but I will not go too technical with. It’s already good to know that fertilizers can burn plants.

photo source: https://www.shutterstock.com/image-photo/chemical-burn-caused-by-excessive-use-356500457

WHAT WOULD POSSIBLY HAPPEN? Like the picture above, burnt leaves as if you lit them with fire or the sun went spot burning. Seeds will not proceed germination. Death of seedlings.

HOW TO AVOID? Be careful not to let the fertilizer have direct contact with your seed, seedling or plant. If you are going to apply fertilizer before planting the seeds, make sure to cover the fertilizer with soil before putting the seed. Place your fertilizer directly on the soil not on the roots. If you accidentally applied them on the leaves, wash them with water immediately.

5. Location relative to the plant

In a garden set-up, fertilizer is applied through 4 different ways. First, broadcast before planting wherein fertilizer is spread evenly and mixed with soil to a depth of 3-4 inches before making rows – this is the least damaging and best way for those gardening at home.

Second, row/band application. You need to be careful when doing this because you are applying fertilizer in a strip to the side of the row before planting – this will prevent the roots in contacting the fertilizer band.

Third, nutrient solution (nutrient in water) – this is only used on transplants like tomato, lettuce and eggplant. In this method, you will need to soak the hole with the solution before transplanting.

Fourth, application to growing plants and this can be done by putting fertilizer granules (avoid the leaves during application and make sure to hill it up after) or sprinkling nutrient solution along the sides of the rows.

The bottomline here is to put your fertilizer near the roots but not too near that you are killing them.


WHAT WOULD POSSIBLY HAPPEN? Fertilizers that are too far from the roots will just leach and little to no nutrients will be absorbed by the plant. On the other hand, placing the fertilizer directly on the seed/root (as mentioned before) will kill your plant.

HOW TO AVOID? Apply the fertilizer on the soil near the root or seed. The best location will be along the sides of the rows. If there are no rows, apply the fertilizer in circle around the plant (distance of the fertilizer from the plant depends on the radius of the rooting zone of your crop).

6. Applying too much or too little

Just like when someone broke your heart and reasoned out that you’re too much or not enough for them. Ouch. Ok. Back to fertilizer. LOL. Plants can suffer lack (deficiency) or excessive (toxicity) nutrient depending on the status of your soil, choice of crop and amount of fertilizer you apply.


WHAT WOULD POSSIBLY HAPPEN? For deficiency of mobile (N, P, K, Mg) and immobile (Ca, Fe, Mn, Zn, Cu, B) elements, you will see symptoms (e.g. yellowing) at the base and the top of the plant, respectively. With toxicity, you may observe some of these: wilting, leaf drying and root tip burn.

HOW TO AVOID? Conduct soil analysis if you can. Know the nutrient requirement of your crop.

7. Timing of application

Right love at the right time. Perfect timing. And just like your fertilizer application, timing is everything. As you’ve learned the basic of your crop, you should know already that there are different growth stages. You cannot plant a seed today, apply fertilizer and expect a bountiful harvest tomorrow. Different crops have different life cycles and therefore the time when you need to apply fertilizer will depend on the crop you planted.


WHAT WOULD POSSIBLY HAPPEN? Lower crop performance than expected since nutrient was not absorbed during the critical stage of the plant. Wasted fertilizer.

HOW TO AVOID? Know the growth stages of your crop and when to apply the appropriate fertilizer

8. Use of partially decomposed organic matter

Organic fertilizers are derived directly from plant or animal sources. Examples of these are manures, compost or bone meal. This kind of fertilizer requires proper and complete decomposition (a gradual complex process of breaking down raw materials to finished compost) before you can incorporate this to the soil where you’re gonna plant your crop.


WHAT WOULD POSSIBLY HAPPEN? During the process of decomposition  bacteria, fungi, moles, protozoa, actinomycetes and other saprophytic organisms feed upon decaying organic materials. These microorganisms in your partially decomposed organic fertilizer may harm your crop. Also, the microbes warm the soil through respiration. High soil temperature can damage your root system.

HOW TO AVOID? Make sure that your organic fertilizer is fully decomposed before applying them to your field/garden.


The next time you ask yourself why your plants did not grow despite applying fertilizer, think first on how, when, where, what and how much did you apply.

And if you insist that you did nothing wrong…well…go to your garden again and monitor your area for other factors affecting the growth of your babies/plants.


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