Cultivating plants requires time and energy. Naturally every new grower aims for the best results. However you may find out that there’s more to cultivation than just watering the plants!
Good results require the timely addition of quality nutrients and minerals used in the right proportion. Most importantly, not all nutrients and minerals can be mixed together in high concentrations. Often, the manufacturer divides nutrients and minerals between several different bottles (such as special fertilizer for the growing and flowering stages, or A & B nutrients). It is important to read the labels carefully before purchasing fertilizers.
Different manufacturers put similar ingredients into a bottle and give them all similar names, but this does not mean that all products are of equal quality. Mixing products from different manufacturers is not advisable, as it may result in an overdose or shortage of nutrients. If all the products you use are of the same brand, you can assume that the levels of nutrients and minerals are balanced and that your plants are getting everything they need in the correct proportion.
Feeding your plants based on the timeline
During the vegetative (growth) phase, when the plant grows mainly leaves, it requires specific nutrients and minerals. Nitrogen (N) is one of the most important ingredients required during this phase and the amount of Nitrogen present in growth fertilizer is tailored to meet these needs. This is why you should regularly feed your plants fertilizer until they start to develop flowers.
Some growth fertilizers are designed to provide the plants with a supply from which they can take what they need. Because this works like giving the plant an overdose, you should stop using this type of fertilizer earlier in the growing cycle unless you switch to using a flowering fertilizer that contains less Nitrogen. So the brand you are using will dictate the exact timing of when you should switch from using a growth feed to a flowering feed.
Feeding your plants based on prescription
Preparing food for your plants couldn’t be easier! Fertilizers designed for the flowering phase are rich in a particular variety of nutrients, mainly phosphates (P). The combination of nutrients is based on what the plant needs at this stage in its life cycle. If the plant needs more, you should increase the electric conductivity (EC).
The plant will only benefit from minerals which help fruit and flower formation in the week that the plant sets fruit or flowers. So only give the plants an extra dose of PK nutrients for one week. After this period, the plants absorb much less fertilizer (less phosphates). If you feed the plants extra minerals in an attempt to stimulate flowering for a longer period of time, these will not be absorbed by the plant, but will accumulate in the growing medium, only increasing the EC.
Phosphate is the most expensive ingredient in a fertilizer. Some manufacturers keep the price of a fertilizer relatively low by adding little or no phosphate to the standard fertilizer. But as your plants genuinely need phosphate you must add extra minerals to stimulate flowering quickly. So you should actually purchase that relatively expensive bottle of minerals to stimulate flowering, in order to give your plants the correct amount of nutrients and minerals they need. If you wouldn’t, you will face higher costs later on in the growing process, having chosen a particular brand of products at the start.
Before you buy a particular brand of PK fertilizer, check the instructions to see how long this should be given to the plants. The shorter this time period, the better the fertilizer! Be careful! Bargains can end up being very expensive! Never mix feeding schemes from different brands of fertilizer!
Feeding your plants based on ingredients
As well as fertilizer, each manufacturer has extra additives, such as enzymes, stimulants and boosters, in their product range. These are not nutrients but help the plant to access and/or continue to absorb the nutrients already available.
Note: Usually these additives are added to your tank of fertilizer as required, and the amount added will depend on the composition of the fertilizer used.
Feeding your plants based on the substrate or system
The fertilizer used in water-based growth systems must contain precisely what the plant needs, as these systems do not bind nutrients. But this is not the case for organic substrates. When growing in a Pre-fertilized peat based mix you don’t need to add certain elements (e.g. Calcium) as these mixes already contain it. Of course precautions should be taken when growing in a bulk grade peat mix. At the start of a growing cycle, Coco substrate absorbs large quantities of Calcium. So you must adapt the fertilizer to the corresponding fertilizer strategy!
Pre-treated Coco waste is widely avail- able. Using pre-treated Coco can reduce the effect of unwanted absorption and loss of calcium and so increase your chances of a successful crop. Specialized Coco fertilizer can be so well-balanced that you give your plants the right combinations and ratios of nutrients and minerals every week. The fertilizer is therefore precisely designed for the substrate.
In closed water-based systems, where we recycle the water, the ratio of minerals and nutrients changes as soon as the plants absorb something, making this the most difficult type of feed to mix. But there are perfectly balanced fertilizers on the market for this special growing method which are quite user-friendly!
One tiny addition can upset the equilibrium immediately, causing a change in the pH, which will affect the uptake of nutrients and minerals. The nutrient ratio will be off-balance. There is a different solution for every medium!
Choosing different brands = choosing uncertainty
Growers who mix products from different manufacturers are taking a variety of risks. There is a good chance that the wrong quantity of the wrong mineral or nutrient will be given at the wrong moment. If these problems are familiar to you and you often have to flush incorrect nutrients out with water, then please look again at your products!
Use of an incorrect fertilizer (inappropriate quantity of nutrients and minerals) will always result in too much of a particular element. This accumulation of nutrients will cause the EC in the substrate to rise. The plants will display certain symptoms, from curled leaves in the early stages of growth, to burnt leaves at a later stage. Similar symptoms can also indicate too much Sodium, Chloride or a faulty climate control system. Another consequence may be that an element is suppressed (antagonism), before you can detect a clear overdose causing a shortage elsewhere in the spectrum.
Generally, dis- colored leaves in a plant indicate a lack of a specific nutrient. Depending on which mineral or nutrient this is, the leaves will acquire a hue that experts can often recognize. But making changes to your growing process will always have a limiting influence on your yield. When you use different brands of fertilizer in the same growing medium, your plants will often be weak, the fruits soft, and the leaves may also be discolored. Later on in the growing cycle (part) of the crop may become hard, and ultimately the leaves will burn.
Each manufacturer has structured its range of brand products so that the plant, according to their fertilizing strategy, will show optimal growth and flowering. The fertilizer for the growth phase is aligned to the fertilizer for the flowering phase.
A company’s nutrients should be well balanced so that the plants receive the correct equilibrium of minerals and nutrients in each week and at the right phase in their cycle. They have to complete each other and be well-balanced. This can only be reached by years of experience, research, development and improvement.