Going Off Schedule: The Importance of Nutrient Feeding Recommendations
Every nutrient line comes with a nutrient feeding schedule. To the uninitiated or unfamiliar, this schedule seems like a logical starting point for your first run using a particular brand. To an experienced grower, these recommendations are often too high, sometimes doubly so. This “unwritten rule” of cutting the concentration of these fertilizer companies’ recommendations in half is something that most novice growers have to learn firsthand through trial and error (perhaps costly errors) upon overfeeding and burning their plants. Then, there’s nutrient lines that offer accurate recommendations, but the nature of the product could allow you to feed more than recommended, sometimes up to twice as much more. How do you know whether the feeding recommendation is accurate? And how do you know when to deviate in either direction?
The Unspoken Rule on Nutrient Schedules: You’re being lied to.
Generally speaking, nutrients are accepted as “hotter”, or more highly concentrated, than they need to be. Ask any grower about how to approach a new line or feeding schedule, and they’ll likely tell you to cut the manufacturer’s recommendations in half. Many products are highly concentrated because they want you to buy more (remember, plant’s don’t absorb more than they need, even if you’re blowing through your nutrients overfeeding) and, if you listen to the recommendations, you’ll likely burn your plants, causing a host of issues.
As a first time grower, I was explicitly told to ignore the feeding recommendations on the Botanicare bottles, instead being gifted a feeding schedule from an experienced grower. And this was Botanicare’s organic line, no less. These grower-specific feeding recipes contribute to the unwritten, secretive nature that surrounds plant feeding regimens; everyone has their “secret sauce” that they largely attribute their quality or yields or bag appeal to, and they don’t want everyone to know what they’ve figured out. There are plenty of growers like my friend who are generous with their knowledge, but the industry largely keeps certain information to themselves, resulting in a huge variety of nutrient recommendations, some higher than recommended, some overly cautious, with the opportunity to increase feedings.
How do you know when to go up or down?
While every nutrient line must be examined individually based on the sources of its macro and micronutrients, there are a few general guidelines for when to cut recommendations down and when it’s safe to ramp up feeding.
- Feed less than recommended if the nutrients are: synthetic, nonorganic, and/or chemically-derived. Additionally, if the nutrient line requires you to mix individual nutrients from a bunch of individual bottles at specific ratios, requiring you do the math and mixing, there’s an increased room for error, with more variables that could be going wrong. In either of these cases, start low and gradually titrate according to what your plants want; some of the bottles may have more accurate recommendations while others may need to be halved or adjusted.
- Feed more than recommended if the nutrients are: organic and/or naturally-derived (preferably from minerals and naturally-occurring sources), preferably both. Additionally, organic lines like the ones I personally use from FOOP Organic Biosciences have the ratios and math taken care of, involving a maximum of three nutrients involved in mixing, two of which are in equal parts, eliminating the room for error found in individually-mixed, chemically-derived lines. Unless you’re feeding bulb flowers like Tulips, certain veggies like Sugar Snap Peas, or certain delicate trees like Japanese Maple, properly formulated nutrient lines will never burn your plants.
Keep in mind, this is only a general guidance. Experienced growers know when and how to ramp up synthetics and complicated nutrient lines as needed, but if you’re just starting or trying out a new line and still learning the ins and outs, there’s less room for error when you aren’t artificially pushing the plant past its natural capabilities.
My Experience Changing Nutrient Lines from Botanicare to FOOP
As I learned from my introduction to Botanicare, when you change nutrient lines, you should almost always underfeed out of caution. So, when I made the switch to FOOP and tried it on a cycle, I followed suit, feeding less than the recommended amount. Not a lot less, but I wasn’t confident going 100% in on any new line and potentially losing a crop. My plants were super happy throughout the entire cycle, but the noticeable impact of underfeeding was low yields; the plant wasn’t getting everything it needed in the quantities it needed.
After speaking with other FOOP customers, I learned that some have been able to push their feeds to almost 200% of the recommended feeding doses with FOOP. Plus, it’s safe enough that you can comfortably overfeed your plants without the threat of salt burns that can cause root damage and impact your entire cycle.
“The more familiar I became with FOOP’s products, the more aggressively I tested them -- even ramping up to almost double the recommended feeds,” explained Green Ninja Growers. “I was shocked that I was able to double the feed without any burn -- my plants actually loved it.”
This cycle, I’m feeding just over 120% or so, and the plants are loving it. My flower plant is praying as hard as possible to the lights. My veg plants are all happy and chugging along. And I’ll be keeping tabs on yields, but I’m already seeing at least a week's worth of difference in bud structure (People were guessing I was a week ahead of the actual age of the plant). With the right nutrient line, you can actually feed what you’re recommended without precautionary cycles, eliminating the extra “test" cycle (and the time and money associated with it). And, with the right nutrient line, you can actually ramp up the recommendations. And the best news?
If your nutrient line is truly organic, bioavailable, water soluble, and properly formulated, you’ll never burn your plants.