Nutrient burn, What is it and how to prevent it

Last Updated on May 9, 2021 by cmoarz

It doesn’t matter what kind of plant you are growing, From a tomato to some nice MarriJ, all plants are effected the same when it comes to Nutrient Burn. It can strike a plant at any stage of life, from seedling to full grown mama with her crown bud in it’s full glory, and the effects can be devastating.

Because it’s such a serious problem, we’re going to lay out a few things to help you manage and avoid it in the future. This article will focus on Identifying potential Nutrient burn and how to prevent it from happening at all, or any more in the future.

Given that Cannabis plants are so sensitive to Nutrient burn and most people reading this article will be looking for information pertaining to that specific plant type (because low key, let’s be honest, that’s why your here right?), I will be using it as an example in the article.

If you are here for other types of plants, These instructions are still relevant so keep reading as well!

Nutrient Burn

Most commonly, nutrient burn is seen when people use liquid or dry nutrient additive products. This can effect both soil and hydroponic setups and in most circumstances is 100% human error. Sorry guy’s, but it’s your fault! But that’s ok, that is why you are here after all!

The problem is, plants are very finicky and sensitive to how much nutrients they can handle in their medium. This is especially true for fragile plants like cannabis. Because the nutrients you buy in the store are super concentrated, it doesn’t take much to over-fertilize.

The old adage “more is better” couldn’t be any more wrong in the case of plants and nutrient additives. And don’t think just because you’ve got a ton of experience under your belt you won’t run into nutrient burn at some point in your growing life. It will happen to everyone.

example of plant leaves effected with nutrient burn

What is nutrient burn?

Plant’s never evolved a method to prevent things like overfeeding, Because why would it? Surely that was never a problem in the wild. However because of this, Plants are able to take in far too much nutrients which hurts them, and causes what we call nute-burn.

What causes this? Well it could be for a variety of reasons, such as a damaged plant, pests, or another unrelated sickness like mold. More often than not though it comes down to the medium the plant resides in being too rich.

This can happen because you’ve put too much nutrient additives in or simply because the soil type you are using isn’t viable for the plant type you are growing. The same is true for hydroponically grown plants, except in this case it’s usually due to not measuring correctly, or not using the wrong product in your nutrient mixture for the tank.

But, No matter what the cause happens to be, the simple fact is your plant is getting too much of something and it’s causing damage to its leafs, it’s roots and its stems.

Because of damage to the root system, The plant may not be able to take up as much water, and if it does it will be covered in even more nutrients, just compounding the problem.

Another side effect is the browning of the leaves. When a leaf turns brown it’s no longer able to collect light as well as a healthy leaf would, or none at all in some serious cases.

With out adequate light absorption, the plant will be unable to synthesis the light into energy and the plant will wilt away and die.

Their are 4 things that plants require in order to grow big and strong and produce healthy fruit, leaves and stems. light, water, air flow, and nutrients. Add too much of any one of these 4 things and the plant can do poorly and even die.

That can be said for any living thing on this planet, And any nutrients we take in. For example, If you hate 5 pounds of bacon in one sitting your going to be very unwell, and may even cause permanent damage. A plant is no different.

Absolute balance is required for a plant to grow healthy and special care should be taken to make sure you are mixing in only the best quality nutrients at the proper measurements for your plant. And because every plant is unique, You should plan ahead.

Real life isn’t a cartoon where you add more miracle grow and your plant grows twice as big in half the time. In reality, All you do is hurt the plant or potentially kill it! Good things take time.

What should i look for, what are the signs?

We’ll go back to our example of a cannabis plant, because of it’s susceptibility and is popular to grow.

This particular plant shows different symptoms based on what happens to be poisoning it. This can make it easier to identify and correct what’s causing the burn before the plant ends up dying or having permanent damage.

The early warning symptoms

These are the signs you should be looking for while taking care of your plant every day. If you see any of these, their is a good chance your plant is building up too many nutrients.

  • The leaves become very dark green in a short period of time, Or are greener than usual
  • The edges and tips of the leaves may start to turn a golden brown or yellow as they start to wilt and die (the burn)
  • The tips of the leaves start to curl inwards and show signs of death

The reason you see this at the edges of the leaf before you notice it anywhere else is because of how the plants nutrent distribution system works.

As plants gain more and more nutrients they shunt it to the edge of the plant, furthers out from its root’s. Most of the time this is the leaves, But depending on the plant this could be the flower as well.

It’s like if you were stocking a closet, You wouldn’t start stacking thing’s in the front first, You would start in the back corner, furthest away from the door. Same principle.

You should monitor your plant every day for these signs and symptoms during your regular routine checkups. If you can catch it early enough you can correct it and reverse the damage caused, saving the plant.

The serious symptoms

As the severity of the nutrient burn increases, So do the symptoms the plant will display. It will no longer just be visible on the tips of the leaves but now it will be noticed on the back and inside parts.

If your plant is in this stage you must act to ensure it’s survival, or else the leaves will wilt completely and fall of the plant. This will, obviously, kill it.

The more serious symptoms of advanced nate-burn are:

  • The golden brown/yellow tint will move back towards the stem like blood poisoning
  • You may see a golden halo like imprint in the center of the leaf coming in from the edges and tips.
  • Smaller leafs may have already started to completely wilted, curl up and fall off, While larger leaves may have started curling up as well.

Interestingly, If you see more curling than anything else, It’s usually a sign of too much nitrogen for example.

How do I fix nutrient burn?

Well, If you’ve been paying attention to your plants and were able to catch it on the early symptoms, your probably going to be able to reverse the deteriorating health of the plant, Allowing the plants to continue growing large happy buds.

Unfortunately, The parts of the plants that have already been effects are effectively dead and can not be saved. Burn can’t be reversed and it is what it is.

Assuming you caught it early enough, the plant should do just fine with out those dead pieces, so you will need to carefully cut them away. This is an important step because if you do not remove the dead flesh, It will spread to the rest of the leaf.

The dead spots will also begin to rot, causing mold and bug attraction amongst other undesirable outcomes.

Once you’ve done that you will need to clean out your tanks or soil to remove excess nutrients that caused the burn in the first place. With hydroponics it’s pretty easy, You just drain all the tanks and replace the water with the appropriate pH-balanced water. That will need to do a 24 hour cycle while you continually test the EC levels.

For dirt, all you have to do is add a ton of pH balanced water and let it run thru the soil to clean out excess. You should collect the runoff in order to measure it and see how many times you will need to repeat the process.

Figure out how it happened to begin with

Let’s be honest, You probably messed up somehow and that is why it happened. No big deal, it happens to all of us. But since some of you reading this are just simply too perfect to make mistakes, a few other causes could have been:

  • Improper filtration
  • Outside Contamination
  • Faulty testing equipment
  • Run off from another area
  • Poorly manufactured or reject products
  • Your lights aren’t bright enough causing the plant to store more nutrients than it actually needs
  • Your plant’s genetics are sensitive to the strength you normally use
  • Tainted grey water

It’s important to monitor temperature, airflow, light levels and nutrients on a daily basis. Luckily technology has advanced to such a degree that most of this checking is effortless and even automated in some cases.

Measure twice, Pour once!