What is Foliar Feeding, and How Does it Work?
Many people are unfamiliar with feeding leaves, but it is actually a great way to get extra nutrition in your plants.
While most gardeners feed only in soil, it has the advantages of feeding the plant through leaves. This is especially true for stressed plants or those who lack a single nutrient.
Let’s take a look at what this is all about, and how to put it to best effect.
What exactly is Foliar Feeding?
The easiest way to explain this is to compare foliar feeding to skin care. We know that if we eat the right foods and drink plenty of water, our skin will be healthy, shiny and full of dew. If we moisturize it regularly, it will also be more healthy, balanced and happy.
Also, anything absorbed through our skin will make its way into our bloodstream. From there, it will travel in the intestine, as well as bones, cartilage, etc.
Plants are like that.
Yes, they absorb oodles of nutrients through their roots, pulling them and spreading them through the whole plant body through the xylem and phloem. However, they are not the only way to attract nutrients. Much like our own skin, plant leaf also absorbs nutrients.
By feeding the aerial parts of plants as well as their roots, you will nourish them from top to bottom and all the way.
how does it work?
As mentioned, plant leaves are porous and absorb nutrients the same way our skin does. Another way to think about it is when we dissolve medicines under our tongue, rather than swallowing them.
Depending on the medicine, it can penetrate our bloodstream much faster than going out of its way through our entire digestive system and then seeping through our body. Examples include intravenous and cardiac drugs (like nitroglycerin) and some sedatives and anxiolytics, like benzodiazepines.
When it comes to plants, the major nutrients they need are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). This is why the NPK ratio of almost all commercial fertilizers will be printed on their labels. These plants are the building blocks for health and are required by different species in varying amounts.
The same goes for magnesium. If you find that your plants are yellowing badly, test the soil to determine magnesium levels. Some Epsom salts may work there to ensure you are receiving the necessary magnesium.
Additional nominee required
All of that said, your plants also need other Nutrients to keep them healthy, such as zinc, calcium, and iron.
Here’s the tricky part: N, P and K above, are best absorbed through plant roots, but iron, zinc, and calcium are more easily absorbed through leaves. This is because they are detecting minerals, so they are in very low concentrations in the soil, as well as in standard fertilizers.
These are nutrients that you can spray on your plant leaves through feeding foliage.
What should I use for folar feeding?
Well, since you are going to apply it as a liquid / mist, it is best to use liquid fertilizer. You can use a commercial-grade liquid fertilizer, or you can brew a batch of your own.
Personally, I like leaf fodder with compost tea that I make with a mixture of vermicompost (worm!) Mixed with water and a little jaggery. If my worm friends have not hunted enough to make fertilizer, however, I buy a good liquid fertilizer instead.
In fact, there are liquid fertilizers specially formulated to feed the foliage. If you can get your hands on one of these, then great! Otherwise, dilute the liquid fertilizer in water in the ratio of 1:10 of the fertilizer.
If your plants are showing signs of nitrogen deficiency, you can also use comfrey tea. Think of it as a thin green smoothie, but for your plants. Basically, take a handful of fresh, healthy comfrey leaves and toss in a blender. Fill the rest with water, and do a lot of liquefaction.
Then take out the chunky bits and dilute it at the same 1:10 ratio for a good foliar shower.
Equipment required for foliar feeding
So, here is a tip that others may not cover when it comes to leaf feeding techniques: Get yourself a paint sprayer.
Those hand-held pump sprays are good and all, but are useful only if you have to plant a lot of plants on your balcony. If you are cultivating a large garden space, do yourself a favor and get a paint sprayer.
You can down large areas and lots of plants without pain or numbness in your hands.
Aim for a sprayer that has a mist option, as it is ideal for fine particle delivery. Oh, and consider adding a few drops of gardening soap or oil to the soap with which you are hiding your plants. Believe it or not, this nutrient-dense spray allows the leaves to adhere for better absorption.
* Note: Remember to get the undersides of the leaves too!
When and how to feed like this
It is just as important to know what to give to your plants through feeding of foliage When To feed them. For example, you should feed flowering plants only during their vegetative state. Once the plant buds start to bud, the top nutrients can actually do more harm than good.
Likewise, if you are using foliar feeding to remove issues like rotting blooms in tomatoes or squash plants, only spray the top when the fruits are small. After this, it is better to get wet at the root level every week to add extra calcium.
Try to spray first thing either in the morning before the sun rises, or in the late evening / early morning. Remember that liquid droplets can act as mini magnifying glasses.
Sun rays are essential for the growth of a healthy plant, but they can burn leaves and fruits incredibly when magnified through all those droplets.
How often to feed
It really depends on what you are doing, the overall health of your plants, and growing conditions.
For example, when I and my partner were cultivating a garden in the very hot, dry Sierra Nevada Mountains, we dined a few times a week. We watered the plants every morning and evening at the root level and gave them root-fertilizer at the weekly level.
This was because liquids evaporate quickly from dry environments, so plants often do not get enough time to suck up all the nutrients they are being given.
On the contrary, I am homesteading here in Quebec Laurentians, their conditions are very different. It is cool and moist, and the plants that grow best under these conditions are very hardy. As a result, I only feed the foliage every two weeks and / or if some plants look bad.
Note the following factors:
- Normal daily temperature
- Dry or damp condition
- The species is being grown
- Do foliar issues need to be addressed (such as deficiencies or insect damage)
Then gauge according to your feeding cycle.
If you are in a hot, dry area where your plants are at risk of scorching, feel free to give them a booster feed boost every 4 days. Conversely, if the place is cold and moist, you may only need to feed in this way if your plants start to show at the peak.
As mentioned, some people make the mistake of feeding their foliage when buds develop and / or open. This can cause moist conditions inside the flower heads, and they may rot and fall rather than develop into fruit. This much labor will undo; It is also not fun to think.
Talking of moist, many people can also get excited about how much they are reducing their plants. Aim for a light mist and as you begin to see the liquid particles begin to edge together and dry up a bit. They should not be soaked and poured.
Dipping them in this way can do more harm than good, as it can create the kind of environment where soil borne pathogens can thrive. Once again, think of a way to gently moisturize your skin: you are aiming for a thin coat that will create a healthy glow, not slattering with a trowel.
Depending on the nutrients you are giving, you may also find that you are saturating the plants with a very good thing.
For example, if the liquid fertilizer you are using for foliar feed is high in nitrogen, then your fruiting plants can put all their energy into making leaves instead of fruits. Juicy tomato plants look great, but they will not be very good if they are only making a little food offerings here and there.
Likewise, losing your spinach, chard, and kel with a fertilizer that is high in phosphorus will not do very well.
Do your research to determine what your different species need most, and feed them accordingly.
Idea Source: morningchores.com