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How does foliar feeding work?

Foliar fertilizing
Author: Jaap Lubbersen | Latest update: 12-02-2021

When fertilizing is discussed, many people think of the most common and most used method, namely fertilization through the plant’s roots. However, the intake of nutritional elements can be obstructed in this method of fertilization. When this is the case, foliar feeding, for which the leafs are responsible, can be a solution. Like this, a stable intake of nutrients is ensured. 

What is foliar feeding? 

Foliar feeding, also called ‘foliar fertilization’, is seen as another method to apply fertilizers to the plant besides the regular method (through the plant’s roots). When a (temporary) need for change in fertilization is remarked, this is often caused by a poor intake of nutrition by the crop’s roots. This can be caused by the following factors: 
  • Low evaporation
  • Too wet/dry substrate
  • Weak roots (susceptible for diseases e.g.)
  • Quick plant growth 
  • Young and underdeveloped roots
  • High pH in the root environment
  • High pressure on the crop due to stress factors
One or more of these factors could result in the necessity to change to foliage fertilizers. Foliar fertilization can happen through the stomata, trichomes, layer of wax on the leaf (cuticula), or through the intake and supply of the plant cells (endocytosis). The method that is ‘used’ eventually, is dependent on the fertilizer. One of these manners is activated by the specific fertilizer that is used.  

Is foliar feeding suitable for me?

In order to be able to determine if foliar fertilizers are suitable in your situation, a consideration should be made, based on the pros and cons. Some help is offered by our fertilizer specialist by listing the ins and outs of foliar feeding below: 

Benefits (pros)

  • Quick intake of nutrients
  • Low amount of energy needed for transport of nutrients, because the nutrients are in the right place immediately
  • Also non-mobile nutritional elements remain in the plant
  • High utilization of nutritional elements
  • No risk for fixation in the soil or substrate

Disadvantages (cons)

  • Limited intake of nutritional elements
  • Solely applicable in low dosages
  • No after-effects, so repetition in application is necessary
  • Increased risk for leaf damage or burning

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Application of foliar feeding

It is important to know that foliar fertilization could also occur by nature. This is the case when the phyllo sphere (micro biology on the leaf) of a crop is arranged properly. Micro organisms are able to convert dead lice, insects and other organisms into nutrition, which after that can be taken in through the plant's leaf easily.

Several things should be taken into account when switching to foliar feeding. This should be done under high pressure, but with a fine and delicate drip. This, so that damage to the crop can be prevented. When use of a large drip is made, the risk for leaf damage is increased. Drops are believed to have a ‘prism effect’, leading to a risk of burning the leafs. When making use of foliar feeding, take into consideration: 

  • Irradiance 
    High concentrations of sodium combined with a rapid evaporation could lead to burning of the leafs.

  • Composition of the foliar nutrition
    Make use of water soluble fertilizers and trace elements. A layer of dust could remain on the leaf, when a non-suitable fertilizer such as a granular fertilizer, is chosen. Because pH is not relevant on leafs, both chelated trace elements and trace elements in the form of sulphate can be used. 

  • Thickness of the wax layer on the leaf
    When this layer of wax is too thick, an obstruction in the effect of the fertilizer, in terms of intake, is seen.

  • Age of the leaf
    A variation in the intake of nutritional elements is seen for older and younger leafs. 

  • Humidity and temperature
    Nutrition is taken in better by the plant, in an environment with high humidity and a temperature around 20°C. 

  • Moment of application
    When the pressure in the leafs is high (turgor pressure), nutrition is taken in the best. Therefore, this pressure should always be monitored.

  • Method of application
    In order to remain an optimal effect, foliar feeding should never be mixed with chemical products. Besides, application under high pressure is preferred in comparison to sprinkling from above. 

Dosage foliar feeding

A new dosage must be calculated once a shift towards foliage fertilizers will be made. Moreover, it should be taken into account that not every fertilizer is suitable for the application through the leaf. When tailor-made advice is desired, please feel free to contact our fertilizer specialist.  

More information about foliar feeding 

HDO you have any questions about foliar feeding, or do you need a persomal advice? Please contact our specialist Jaap Lubbersen by filling in the form below. We will contact you as soon as possible, on workdays within 24 hours.

Jaap Lubbersen About Jaap Lubbersen

Jaap Lubbersen is an internal crop care product specialist at Royal Brinkman and has had over 13 years of experience in glass horticulture. "As an internal product specialist, I deal with growers' issues on a daily basis. Every time again it is a challenge to seek the proper solution, in cooperation with the grower, whether it is about healthy and vibrant cultivation, legislation or safety."

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