How many nutrients do I really need? Debunking Myths about Nutrients & Additives

Nutrients, supplements, additives…what do my plants really need? It can get confusing sorting through the noise that inundates the nutrient space. Our natural inclination may be to believe that a larger product line with more bottles will offer a more "comprehensive” feed for your plants. Because of this, many nutrient companies push 10–15+ different bottles, supplements, and additives, that all have to be mixed by you before feeding. Many believe that these feeding components either cannot be physically blended together or that blending them together would eliminate the grower’s ability to add more of each nutrient at their discretion.

What you may not realize is that these beliefs are closer to myths than reality. They’ve existed as "my buddy said”-ism’s for a long time as a way for growers to explain why they have to buy, store, and mix so many bottles. In fact, it is possible to mix these components together, and with the exception of truly experienced growers with dialed-in feeding schedules, most growers are not fine-tuning their feeding to the extent that individual nutrient mixing is necessary or even desirable.

Below, you’ll find a breakdown of what base nutrients you should be feeding, whether or not you really need all these additives, supplements & extra bottles, and a run-down of nutrient lines that are redefining what base nutrients, and feeding lines in general, should contain.

Feeding Decisions: Are your plants average or are they bodybuilders?

One of the best explanations that I’ve heard for how best to feed your plants is the comparison to humans and your desired body type. Some of us just want to eat enough to feel satisfied and have energy to get through our day. Others are working towards that perfectly bulked out, ripped and cut body with big muscles and perfect form. While many of us just want and need the basics, those looking for peak performance and to push their bodies to their maximum capacity are also intaking supplements and protein shakes and a variety of nutrients that many of us have never heard of.

Similarly, just feeding basic nutrients (NPK — Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium) will get you an average plant; it’ll survive, live through its cycle, and do an average job of performing with the sustenance it receives. It may even be a good plant, but it won’t aspire to be anything more. If you want a truly great plant, a plant that is spectacular and pushes itself to produce the best flowers and fruits, then you’ll want to be feeding a more comprehensive diet to your plants, composed of all of the macro and micro nutrients, as well as additives and supplements like microbes, mycorrhizae and sugars.

Think of your base nutrients like your three basic meals each day and your additives and supplements like your body-building protein shakes, vitamins and nutrients. The basics are enough to provide sustenance and energy that allow your body to maintain a comfortably average feeding routine, while the right supplements can push you to peak performance levels.

Most of us don’t want to be bodybuilders. We want to be in shape, but we aren’t willing to put in the work to get perfectly toned biceps or make drastic dietary changes. Similarly, many of us aren’t trying to grow cup-winning flowers, but we want them to be the best they can be with what we’ve got, with as little extra effort as possible. And nutrient companies like FOOP Organic Biosciences are taking note, blending these additives and supplements right in with their base nutrients to create a short cut to "bodybuilder” flowers without the extra work.

Nutrients, Additives and Supplements

Base Nutrients — "Macronutrients"

Most commonly used to refer to Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium (NPK), macronutrients compose six essential nutrients that plants need to survive. NPKs come from your base nutrients, while carbon, oxygen and hydrogen are introduced through the air and the water added to the substrate. Other secondary macronutrients like Calcium and Magnesium are often available as additives rather than included within the base, even though they are crucial to a plant’s macronutrient needs. 

The six macronutrients that plants need are:

  • Nitrogen (Primary)
  • Phosphorous (Primary)
  • Potassium (Primary)
  • Magnesium (Secondary)
  • Calcium (Secondary)
  • Sulfur (Secondary)

Additives & Supplements — "Microbes, Mycorrhizae, & Micronutrients”

As mentioned, Calcium and Magnesium are technically macronutrients but are often sold as an additive or supplemental nutrient to your base nutrients. Some nutrient brands such as FOOP Organic Biosciences include Calcium and Magnesium as part of their base nutrients. In addition, micronutrients (iron, boron, chlorine, manganese, zinc, copper, molybdenum, and nickel) may be fed to plants to support growth conditions. Elements like silica may be introduced as silicates or silicic acid to boost the plants resilience to threats, strengthen cell walls, and retain moisture, among other benefits.

Supplemental to nutrient feeding are additives that help condition the soil and make the nutrients you’re feeding more bioavailable and accessible to your plants. These include specific vitamins, beneficial microbes, mycorrhizal fungi, and sweeteners.

Redefining Base Nutrients

If your base now includes traditional "additives”, you don’t need to purchase those additives as separate bottles, and you won’t have to spend the extra mixing them in, figuring out the math and ratios for combining product lines, and, simply, you won’t have to store so many bottles on your shelf or in your grow space. Companies like FOOP are blurring the line between base nutrients and additives by including additives and supplements in with base nutrients. Most companies aren’t doing this because it is simply more profitable to sell each individual nutrient or additive mixed with a bottle of water; if you want everything, you then have to buy everything, spending more money for everything you could get in the same bottle from other brands like FOOP.

"We had a number of discussions early on about how we could redefine what base nutrients are…By taking all of most critical additives and making them part of base nutrients, we’re redefining what base nutrients are, and NPK is now NPK + — and what was once an additive is now part of the base,” explains Larry Footer, Founder of FOOP Organic Biosciences.

Finding a Product Line That’s Right For You

When shopping for nutrients, there’s no shortage of choices. You can buy your NPK base nutrients from a variety of companies, some of which also offer additives and supplements, while others require combining different brands and nutrient sources. Either way, you’ll have to mix up your own witches’ brew with all of these different bottles.

Others, like FOOP, rely upon specifically-sourced organic ingredients to offer NPK, additives, and supplements for your plant, all in the same bottles, saving you the time and room for error that come with mixing your own concoction. Unless you stumble on something specialized or niche, or have a rare use situation or plant need, these all-in-one nutrient lines will provide everything your plants need to be great.

Top Plant Feeding Myths:

MYTH #1: More is better. More bottles means more comprehensive nutrients.
MYTH BUSTED: More is daunting, unnecessary, and a hassle.

Many growers believe that the line with more bottles must provide more food and therefore produce better plants. While more additives definitely create more work and require more money, they are not necessarily better, especially if your base nutrients have a comprehensive formulation. There is no direct correlation between what nutrients are being delivered and how many bottles are being used.

Consider this: There are 5 bottles in FOOP’s line compared to 15 bottles in Nectar of the Gods, but there is a broader diversity of macronutrients and micronutrients in FOOP’s bottles than in Nectar’s. More bottles doesn’t equal more nutrients; it is simply a marketing and sales decision by fertilizer companies to separate them out so that they can sell you more bottles.

MYTH #2: Nutrients can’t be combined in the same bottle; they’ll react with one another unintentionally and provide undesirable results.
MYTH BUSTED: Companies like FOOP are combining macronutrients, micronutrients and traditional additives and supplements in the same bottles without running into this problem. Again, you aren’t getting more nutrients with more bottles — the fertilizer companies are just separating nutrients out and putting them in a different bottles with more water; and you’re paying for the extra water and packaging.

MYTH #3: Nutrients shouldn’t be combined. They need to be separate to offer growers the discretion to feed specific recipes unique to their situation.
MYTH BUSTED: With rare exception, there are generally agreed upon standards for approximately how much of each nutrient a plant needs based on its age and the size of its container, as well as the amount of water fed. For most growers, you’ll never stray from these recommendations, which means you could benefit from standardizing your mixture and eliminating the extra mixing steps each time you feed.

As with any rule, there are exceptions. Master growers with specific knowledge of certain cultivars and genetic expressions may fine-tune their nutrient distributions to a nuanced level that many growers never think about. In these specific cases, additional additives and supplements to a comprehensive line may boost efficacy of your feedings overall. Also, those growing in straight coco substrates may require additional calcium and magnesium because the medium doesn’t retain moisture well and may impact calcium and magnesium absorption.

MYTH #4: To grow great plants, you need a bunch of additives and extras that you need to add to your feeding schedule.
MYTH BUSTED: The only time you will need extra, specific additives and supplements if you are using nutrients that only include primary macronutrients. Fertilizer lines that do not contain micronutrients, mycorrhizae, or microbes may require supplemental feedings for optimal harvests.

More isn’t better; it’s just a bigger hammer

More nutrient bottles does not mean anything other than more mixing, more space for storage, and more hassle involved in feeding your garden. Not to mention the additional waste in packaging to individually separate nutrients that could easily be combined. More bottles simply means more math, more room for error, and more money spent.

Final takeaway: If you’re using a quality, comprehensive base line, you don’t need all these extra additives.

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