IDENTIFYING NUTRIENT BURN
Nutrient burn in cannabis is a type of stress caused by overfeeding your plants or mixing nutrients too strongly. Novice growers are often under the misconception that more is better. This is very untrue. Often, burning can be caused by simple human error. Luckily, the condition can be fixed before it demolishes your crop. That said, it can damage a crop at any stage of its development.
Unlike animals (humans included), plants don’t put on weight when you overfeed them. Plants are a whole different order of organism. They require a balanced and ongoing series of chemical reactions to survive and thrive. Trying to fatten them up with extra feeding is the fast track to disaster.
Nutrient burn can be caused by:
- Mixing nutrients stronger than recommended during any phase of growth
- Overwatering; plants need a dry period to function properly and access oxygen
- Using bloom boosters too often or in too high a concentration
- Using growth stimulants too regularly, causing dwarfism and burning due to excessive nutrient uptake
Nitrogen is the predominant compound found in cannabis nutrients, especially during the vegetative phase. Nitrogen toxicity will be quickly followed by more severe symptoms.
Early indications of nutrient build-up prior to burning can be:
- Very deep green leaves
- Bright, Day-Glow green, almost fluorescent tips
- Leaf tips bent at 90°
- Stalks and branches will become deep red, magenta, or purple
- Sugar leaf and calyx tips will turn yellow, then dieback. Unlike the appropriate dieback of leaves during flowering, overfed bud leaves will remain engorged while they yellow, then dieback quickly and crisply
Further indications of nutrient burn are yellow, burnt tips on leaves. This will be widespread as over-fertilization affects the whole plant. Small, burnt tips are common and nothing to worry about. When the yellowing intensifies and advances, however, it is time to take action. Once leaves start to curl and go brown, they are definitely goners.
Nutrient burn can be gradual if the overdose is only slightly stronger. It can also be rapid-appearing, progressing over a few days. The worst-case scenario is a chronic overdose that causes crop-wide yellowing and wilting overnight with leaf curl and lack of turgidity. In this case, if during the vegetative phase, start again. Recovery may be impossible or take longer than restarting completely.
Buds can be affected by nutrient burn as well. During the flowering phase, cannabis changes the way it uses nutrients. The need for nitrogen drops almost to zero while the demand for other compounds like calcium and magnesium increases. An overdose of any kind of additive will cause the same type of burning features.
HOW TO FIX IT
Once your plant’s woes have been identified as nutrient burn, carefully remove all the damaged material. Break off all the damaged leaves. Trace calyx clusters back to their branch and remove the whole florette, just to be sure. Dead flowers and leaves will rot. As soon as possible, flush your growing medium out with clean, pH balanced water. If you are growing with a reservoir, measure the contents with a pH/EC meter and adjust with fresh water.
If you are mixing daily by hand, then calm down jabroni, less is more with cannabis. Keep in mind that satisfactory results can be obtained with just plain water for the whole life of the plant.
Prior to returning to a regular feeding schedule, use a specialized plant tonic to nurse the plant back to health. The root biosphere will have been affected, as well as the green parts of the plant. Tonics with silver nitrate, humic and fulvic acids, vitamins and minerals are ideal to restore plants to health.
When returning to regular feeding, use only ¾ strength to avoid burning again. Plants will quickly regain their vigor and continue to grow strongly. Remember to adjust the growing period to allow for time lost when the plants were ill. Adding time to the vegetation photoperiod will not harm the plants. If the burning happened during flowering or with autoflowering strains, then you will just have to take the lower yield on the chin.
Prevention is always the best policy, so its a bright idea to develop good habits that decrease the chances of mistakes. First of all, be sure to use the correct nutrients for the appropriate growth stage. Even then, it is a wise idea to only use ¾ the recommended dosage on product packaging. Sometimes, manufacturer recommendations can run things a bit “hot,” which leaves little room for error.
Use an EC/pH meter to check nutrient strength every time, whether hand mixing daily or in hydro reservoirs. Be sure to flush hydroponic systems, grow mediums, and soils to prevent salt build-up in the root zone.
When measuring nutrients, use a measuring device that has a set capacity. If the mix is 10ml per litre, use a 10ml kitchen-type measuring spoon, for example. Take the human error out of the equation as much as possible. It is very easy to overdose if you misread a measuring line on a jug or cup. Looking down on a measuring line will always be too much. Make sure you always measure at eye level.
One of the numerous benefits of growing in organic soil is that it provides a buffer zone of organisms around the root system. Soil grown plants are more resilient to overfeeding and other stressors. A well-prepared organic soil really needs no nutrients for the entire grow cycle, removing the danger of burning altogether.
Nutrient burn can be a cumulative problem or an overnight disaster depending on the overdose amount. Early detection and remediation can save your crop. Don’t freak out if your plants get burnt; well okay, freak out a little bit. Then, follow these easy steps to return plants to health and vitality.