If you’re just starting to garden with fertilizer, you may be wondering “what is fertilizer burn?” To prove that even the best intentions can be tarnished by excessive applications, feeding your plants too much fertilizer can result fertilizer burn, a harmful outcome of overzealous gardeners. Manifesting in "scorched" leaves and fauna, fertilizer burn happens when an excess of the nutrients in fertilizing compounds contribute to the dehydration of the leaves of a plant. Because of the lack of moisture, the leaves will often brown and begin to wilt, and plant may eventually die. This can happen not only to potted house plants, where the environment is carefully monitored and controlled, but to outdoor plants as well, such as trees, shrubs and even entire yards filled with grass. Feeding plants with the correct fertilizer is a healthy and necessary part of any plant maintenance and care routine, but caution should always be taken. You don't want there to be too much of a good thing. If fertilization is a part of your plant care routine, take the following information about fertilizer burn into consideration.
The Chemical Process Of Fertilization
It should be noted that no part of your plant is being scorched by an out of control fertilizer fire. As previously mentioned, the "burn" occurs in the browning of the leaves. When you fertilize a plant, whether it is an indoor, potted tree or a vast lawn filled with verdant, healthy green grass, the chemicals present in the fertilizer help provide important nutrients to plant cells. Those chemicals, however, need water to effectively submit their nutrient-giving properties to the individual plant cells. When a normal and proper amount of fertilizer is used, a negligible amount of water is consumed by the chemicals. When an overabundance of fertilizer is used, though, the chemicals in the fertilizer consume a much larger amount of water, sometimes in plant-threatening levels. This is when fertilizer burn occurs.
Fertilizer burn isn't limited to man-made chemical products, either. Organic compost or even manure can be over applied to a plant or a lawn. With the more organic soil amendments, however, the burning process may take longer, and the effects might not show for a couple of weeks after application.
Avoiding Or Treating Fertilizer Burn
If you fear that you have over fertilized your lawn or plants, there are some steps you can take to reduce or eliminate the risk of fertilizer burn. If you can already see the effects of fertilizer burn in the form of browning leaves or fauna, all is not lost; you can still save your plants from dying.
The very first thing you can do if you have spread too much fertilizer is to make up for the impending dehydration by watering your plants or grass more than normal. Since the root of the problem comes from a lack of water, giving your plants extra amounts of it will often make up for the chemical loss of moisture. If you can see a granular fertilizer on the ground, it is probably best to just remove as much of it as you can to curb any further damage.
Fertilizer burn isn’t necessarily a death sentence for you garden or lawn; being aware of what it is and how it happens is the first step to ensuring that your plants never have to suffer through it.