Learn About Fertilizer Burn Of Plants

By: Jackie Carroll

Using too much fertilizer can damage or even kill your lawn and garden plants. This article answers the question, “What is fertilizer burn?” and describes the fertilizer burn symptoms as well as how to prevent and treat it.

What is Fertilizer Burn?

Simply put, fertilizer burn is a condition that results in the burning or scorching of plant foliage. Fertilizer burn is the result of over fertilizing plants or applying fertilizer to wet foliage. Fertilizer contains salts, which draw moisture out of plants. When you apply excess fertilizer to plants, the result is yellow or brown discoloration and root damage.

Fertilizer burn symptoms may appear within a day or two, or it may take a couple of weeks if you use a slow-release fertilizer. Symptoms include yellowing, browning and withering. In lawns, you may see white, yellow or brown streaks that follow the pattern in which you applied the fertilizer.

Preventing Fertilizer Burn

The good news is that fertilizer burn can be prevented. Here are some tips on preventing fertilizer burn on plants:

  • Fertilize each plant according to its needs. You won’t get better results when you use more fertilizer and you run the risk of damaging or killing your plants.
  • Slow-release fertilizer reduces the chances of fertilizer burn of plants by releasing the salts into the soil gradually rather than all at once.
  • Fertilizing your plants with compost eliminates the risk of fertilizer burn. Most plants thrive when fed with a 1- to 2-inch (2.5-5 cm.) layer of compost once or twice a year.
  • Plants are more susceptible to fertilizer burn during a drought because the fertilizer will become more concentrated in the soil. Wait until moisture conditions improve.
  • Never fertilize wet lawns or allow fertilizer to come in contact with wet leaves.
  • Water deeply and thoroughly after applying granular fertilizer to rinse the fertilizer off the plants and allow the salts to distribute themselves evenly in the soil.

How to Treat Fertilizer Injury

If you suspect you may have over fertilized your plants, treat the area as soon as possible. Treat spillage by scooping up as much of the fertilizer as possible. The only thing you can do for over fertilized soil is flush the soil with as much water as it will hold over the next few days.

Don’t allow the water to run off. Toxic runoff can contaminate nearby areas and may get into waterways where it causes substantial damage to the environment. Water slowly to allow the water to sink in rather than run off.

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Read more about Soil, Fixes & Fertilizers

How do I know if a fertilizer treatment is burning my trees?

I started using fertilizer spikes on my dwarfed citrus trees in small pots. (Details may be found in this question.) As suggested, I used half a spike for each pot and I put the spike as far from any roots as possible.

My understanding is that the risk I'm taking is that the fertilizer will burn the roots of these trees. But I don't know what to look for. Should I check the color of the leaves? What color would I expect from fertilizer burn? How long might it take to see symptoms?

Understanding Fertilizer Burn

From lawn grasses to favorite garden vegetables, plants need nutrients to live. In open, natural habitats, soil naturally provides most of those nutrients. But busy, bountiful gardens and lawns quickly deplete soil nutrients. Fertilizers replenish soil with the extra nutrients lawn and garden plants need for healthy and productive growth.

Simply put, fertilizer burn happens when plants get more fertilizer than they can process. This can happen due to excessive fertilizer or other conditions, such as plant health or weather conditions that interfere with a plant's ability to process the fertilizer it receives. When fertilizers accumulate, fertilizer salts draw water away from plant roots and tissues. What happens next is a lot like drought. Plants can't take in the water they need, so leaves begin to turn yellow or brown and eventually die.

In lawns, fertilizer burn may show up as scorched stripes where trips across the lawn overlapped too much, or it may involve the entire lawn or spots where fertilizer spilled. In garden plants, it often appears as brown, burnt-looking tissue on leaf edges and tips. This is very similar to the burn plants suffer from de-icing salts that accumulate during icy winters.

Turning with an open spreader can leave excess fertilizer on your lawn.

Pesticide Burn

Pesticide burn, or phytotoxicity, is caused by misuse or misapplication of chemicals on plants. Symptoms included leaf spots, blotches, scorch or tip burn. Symptoms are sometimes confused with disease, insect or mite damage or problems caused by environmental conditions.

Pesticide burn may also occur when pesticides are sprayed on stressed plants. Stressors, such as drought, disease, insect injury and frost damage, predispose plants to chemical damage. Even non-toxic sprays, such as insecticidal soaps and horticultural oils can result in pesticide burn when sprayed on injured or sensitive plants- especially when the weather is hot, humid, and overcast (poor drying conditions).

Phytotoxicity frequently occurs when pesticides are sprayed under adverse weather conditions. High temperatures and humidity, in general, will increase the possibility of injury from pesticides (insecticides and fungicides especially soaps, oils and sulfur compounds). Cool damp weather may increase the chance of injury by copper fungicides. Phytotoxicity may also result when incompatible chemicals are applied at the same time. Damage may also occur due to wind drift onto nontarget or sensitive plants. Spray applications should be applied during calm, dry and cool conditions. Most pesticides are best applied below 85 F.

If pesticide use is warranted, be sure to apply chemicals according to label directions. Always check label directions for cautions regarding sensitive plants and combining pesticides. The plant you wish to spray should be listed on the label of the pesticide. When insects or diseases seriously damage vegetable plants, sometimes it is best to cut off the damaged parts or re-plant and learn how to prevent the problem next time.

How Can I Reverse a Lawn Fertilizer Burn?

Fertilizer burn dehydrates grass blades, producing a brown color. It is caused by applying too much organic and chemical compound fertilizer. Most chemical additions result in damage within one to two weeks. Organic compounds, such as manure, may take several weeks or a month to cause harm. Before you dig up the entire lawn and sow new grass, try to reverse fertilizer burn. The process takes several weeks from start to finish.

Mow the lawn at the recommended grass height. Remove all grass clippings, leaves and other debris from the lawn area. Shorter grass blades allow the lawn to focus on restoration instead of sustaining longer blades.

  • Fertilizer burn dehydrates grass blades, producing a brown color.
  • Most chemical additions result in damage within one to two weeks.

Secure a water sprinkler to the end of a garden hose. Turn the sprinkler to the lowest setting. Place the sprinkler on the lawn and run it for 30 minutes. Move the sprinkler to the next section and run it for 30 more minutes. Repeat with the entire lawn area. Wait several hours for the water to absorb into the lawn soil.

Spread 10 lbs. of gypsum powder over the entire lawn area by hand. Water the lawn with a light-spray attachment to work the gypsum powder into the soil. Gypsum powder neutralizes high-salt soils.

  • Secure a water sprinkler to the end of a garden hose.
  • Water the lawn with a light-spray attachment to work the gypsum powder into the soil.

Repeat step 2 daily for one week. Examine for new growth at the base of the shoots. If no new growth is present, repeat this leaching process for an additional week.

Scatter grass seed in bare or thin spots after completing the soil leaching. Water thoroughly and allow seed to grow.

Leaching the soil with the gypsum powder restores the lawn’s ability to regenerate existing grass.

Leaching may cause nitrogen runoff to nearby vegetation.

How to Prevent Fertilizer Burns in Grass

It’s possible to prevent fertilizer from damaging your yard. Below are low maintenance, lawn-safe tactics to prevent the symptoms of fertilizer burns from appearing in your lawn.

Use Non-Burning Fertilizer

A slow-release fertilizer, such as Milorganite, has a much less chance of burning your grass than standard chemical fertilizers. While chemical fertilizers release large amounts of nitrogen into your soil immediately, slow-release fertilizers feed nutrients into the soil over time, preventing a harmful nitrogen overload.

  • Choose fertilizers labeled as “slow-release”
  • Avoid “fast-release” fertilizers.
  • Milorganite is a sustainable fertilizer that won’t burn your lawn.

Lawns treated with Milorganite will not burn. This is because Milorganite feeds soil microbes that only release nitrogen to your grass as needed. If you’ve struggled with fertilizer burns in the past, Milorganite is the best solution, either alone or with other fertilizers.

Use Fertilizer as Intended

When applying fertilizer, always review and follow product guidelines for application rates per square foot. If bag rates for fertilizer specify that it is meant to be applied to 500 square feet and the fertilizer is applied to a smaller area, this can result in fertilizer burns.

Establish a Fertilizer Application Schedule

In order to reduce the risk of fertilizer burns, follow a hybrid fertilizer program that uses non-burning fertilizers in early spring and summer, and stronger fertilizers in late spring and fall. This will not only boost lawn performance but also prevent grass death. Milorganite and Scotts Turf Builder are good choices for a hybrid fertilizer approach.

  • Follow a hybrid fertilization program that includes non-burning fertilizers.
  • Allow fertilizer to work for 4–6 weeks before performing a follow-up application.
  • Avoid using high-nitrogen fertilizers during dry conditions and peak summer heat.

Fertilizer requires time to feed grass. Although some fertilizers can show results in just a few days, they often continue working for 4-6 weeks. Allow the fertilizer to run its course before fertilizing again. Additionally, because high-nitrogen fertilizer steals water from grass, refrain from using it during extremely hot and dry conditions. The risk of fertilizer burns increases during peak temperatures and drought conditions.

Provide Adequate Water

Create a watering schedule for your lawn. Although optimal watering levels depend on the type of grass you have in your yard, some general guidelines apply to almost all turf grasses:

  • Water deeply and infrequently. Watering twice per week for a longer time is better than watering daily for short periods.
  • Water in the early morning (5–7 AM), to prevent water evaporation and grass disease.
  • Most grass thrives with 2–2.5 inches (5–6.5 cm) of water per week. This can be provided by two 30–40 minute watering sessions per week.

By watering deeply, you encourage grass to develop deep roots. This increases your lawn’s ability to survive drought and the application of high-nitrogen fertilizer. Watering the right way will reduce the chance of fertilizer burns.

Proper Care and Maintenance

You must ensure that you are watering well as per the kind of your grass and you are cutting high so that roots will be established deep down. You must water instantly after fertilization so that it will reach into the soil and not stay in the area where there is a possibility of it getting extra concentrated.

Do not try to feed your dog with those foods that will surpass their protein needs and motivate them to drink an excess of water if your dog is the culprit of the fertilizer burn. It would help if you were ensured that you are applying fertilizer as per the instructions.

It incorporates the use of an appropriate fertilizer kind. Most of the time, the liquid solutions of spreaders or the kinds of fertilizers are the reason for highly concentrated usage that leads to the damage.

Try to make use of natural fertilizer than a chemical one.

Watch the video: why plant leaves turn brown and dry on the ends

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