What is Nutrient Lockout?
Nutrient lockout is when the soil, or soil medium, is overloaded with nutrients or has a pH that is too extreme. Nutrient lockout restricts the pant from feeding.
What are the Signs of Nutrient Lockout?
When a plant is not being cared for properly there are warning signs. Things get tricky when plants demonstrate the same warning signs for multiple issues. Droopy branches and leaves, yellowing leaves, or drying out are common issues. These symptoms are signs of not only nutrient lockout, but under-watering, over-watering, wind burn, and general nutrient deficiencies. So how to tell what is happening within the plant is to first check that these others factors are not the problem.
Are You Under-Watering Your Plants?
If the soil drys out too much the plant will droop and its leaves will yellow and dry out. This can happen if the plant is not receiving enough water. To test this place, a finger into the soil and see how it feels.
If the soil is sandy, harsh, and bone dry, then watering needs to be applied more often. Water immediately and allow the soil to dry out over a few days before checking, and watering again. Which brings us to the next potential pitfall, overwatering.
Are You Over-Watering Your Plants?
When overwatering, the plant will have yellow leaves that potentially will dry and die. Generally the plant should be in moist, well-drained soil. It should also have adequate air flow through the body of the plant.
Early growers view the dead leaves as under-watering, then water the plant more. This can compound the issue making it worse. Plants love moist to dry soil. Not soaked and mucky, and not bone dry.
To assure that pants are getting adequate water, simply water, wait until the soil is dry, and then water again. To test how dry the soil is, simply place your finger into it. If it feels damp, there is no need to water again until it is dry to the touch.
Once you have an idea of how quickly your soil dries out, you can water on a consistent schedule and have peace of mind that over watering is not the problem.
Watering schedules and feed charts can also be of help here as they give a written record of when and what the plant is taking in.
[PRO TIP] Over-watering can also occur if plants are not in pots with drainage holes. This lets the water sit in the bottom and can lead to root rot and over watering symptoms as well. To prevent this, simply place your plants in a pot with drain holes or drill some into the bottom of your current pots if they have none.
If you are having to pre-drill your own drainage holes, mimic the patterns of pots with holes. One medium hole in the middle or a half dozen small holes in a circle should do the trick.
Do Your Plants Have Wind Burn?
When air is blown at the plant directly for extended periods of time the plant can become wind burned. Its leaves will curl and it will droop because of this. The wind is effectively dehydrating the plant.
To remedy wind burn, do not water the plant. Simply adjust the source of air, be it a fan or air conditioner to an oscillating mode or above or below the plants. This will allow air flow to continue but not be so harsh on the plants. If your plants are growing outdoors, you may need to be more creative to prevent airflow.
Are Your Plants Experiencing Nutrient Deficiencies?
When the plant is lacking a vital nutrient, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, or potassium, it will exhibit yellowing or spotty leaves, a droop in the branches, and possibly dry out.
This is where a soil test kit can come in handy. By taking a soil sample and testing it you can see what the mineral content in the soil is like. If a nutrient doesn’t show up, or barely shows up, on the test then fertilizer can be applied. Fertilizer can be used as a liquid or via pre-mixed soil. This can be a quick and effective remedy to the problem.
Are Your Plants Suffering from Nutrient Lockout?
So you have gone down the check list of potential problems and nothing seems to be getting any better. This is where nutrient lockout can be the issue.
To be sure, simply test the soil again. Both with a mineral test and a pH test will be required.
If a nutrient, or multiple nutrients, show up in high concentrations then nutrient lockout is occuring.
If the pH is above 7 or below 5.5 then pH may be the issue that is causing the lockout.
How to Remedy a Minral Based Nutrient Lockout
To remedy a mineral based lockout, flush the soil. This means watering the soil for an extended period of time to severely dilute the concentration of minerals or pH. Be sure to use pH neutral water when flooding your soil. This will allow for a clean reset and let the plants to come back into a safe and stable state.
To prevent nutrient lockout from happening again, test the soil levels regularly. Use organic minerals as opposed to chemical solvents, and flush or compost the soil at the end of the growing season. This will let the next plants start in a clean and stable medium leading to vigorous and healthy growth.
For pH adjustment purchase a pH adjustment kit or “up and down” kit. Apply to the soil as the directions indicate and you’ll be on the way back to neutral healthy soil.
Your soil or solution should be checked weekly or bi-weekly to insure a healthy medium for optimum growth. This will allow you to ward off nutrient deficiencies and lockout. It will also lead to a more connected relationship with your plants. This gives you the ability to take action in the event that something does need adjusting.
Organic fertilizers are a great way to give your plants the minerals they need in a format they can absorb in a natural way. The levels in organic fertilizers are lower than their chemical counter parts. This makes for easier ingestion for the plants and more importantly less salt in the soil. As chemical fertilizers are notorious for having higher salt levels which lead to nutrient lockout.
Flushing or Composting
At the end of a growing season, or before adjusting nutrients, a good flush with neutral pH water can make the next transition smooth and easy.
Pre-flowering is a good time to flush the soil. Before switching to a more phosphorus rich feed, give the soil a neutral level to start from. This prevents nitrogen or phosphorus build up.
At the end of the growing season, the potting soil will be drained of nutrients. It would be a great time to flush and re-feed the soil before the next crop is planted. Some growers compost potting soil and start completely from scratch for the next season. This wards off any potential disease or pests that have hidden in soil.
With these additions to your grower tool belt, you are equipped to prevent nutrient lockout and grow a crop full of healthy and happy plants!