Most gardeners know that fertilization is a necessity for healthy plants. What’s often lesser known is the wide variety of methods, such as fertigation, that can ensure proper fertilization.
Read on to learn all about this unique fertilization method–including what it is, how it’s done, the pros and cons, and how to do it properly for the growth of your own home garden and landscaping.
Fertigation: What is It, Exactly?
If you are new to the term “fertigation,” you are not alone! While this is not necessarily a new gardening practice, its terminology is only now beginning to become more mainstream.
Fertigation involves the injection of fertilizer, water amendments, or other water-soluble products into a water system. This water system then feeds a large number of crops, often by soil- or drip-based irrigation. This fertigation system allows for the fertilization of a greater number of plants over a larger space in a shorter, more efficient amount of time.
Historically, fertigation has been a practice kept to larger, more commercial agricultural and horticultural avenues. However, in recent years, the practice has begun to expand thanks to the creation of more reliable and easy-to-use fertigation dispenser units.
Why Fertigation Is Important
One of the main reasons fertigation is used widely in commercial crops is because these are often lacking in some vital nutrients. The fertigation process allows a grower to target the nutrient deficiencies in specific plants and address them more effectively.
This targeted approach not only makes for healthier plants, but it can also trim down the fertilizer you need over time. You can thank the timed irrigation systems for this slower, more even release. Additionally, fertigation is purported to reduce soil erosion and balance out water consumption.
Fertigation vs. Chemigation: Is There a Difference?
Along your gardening journey, you may have heard of the term “chemigation,” perhaps even more widely used than fertigation. Occasionally, these terms are used interchangeably; however, it is important to be aware of a crucial difference between them.
Chemigation delivers chemical compounds to the soil, such as insecticides, herbicides, and pesticides. These can often have a negative impact on humans, animals, and the environment. Fertigation, on the other hand, typically uses an organic-based compound to fertilize crops.
Thus, fertigation has been accurately deemed safer, allowing for its expansion into home landscaping. Chemigation, meanwhile, remains far more strictly regulated and controlled and is standardly still used only in commercial contexts.
Pros of Fertigation
Allows You to Target Crop Needs Precisely
With a fertigation system, you can much more easily and efficiently deliver the precise needs of your plants.
Fertigation systems work well with commonly lacking nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphate. The liquid form of these nutrients is also easy for root systems to absorb, making them quickly and easily consumable.
Much More Control Over the When, How, and How Much
With a fertigation system, you can target the precise needs of your plants, garden, and landscape. You can deliver a micro-dose of nutrients or lay down a full layer as needed. This targeted approach leaves the health of your plants much less to chance.
Increased Nutrient Absorption In Your Plants
Studies have shown that fertigated plants are more vigorous and precise with their intake of nutrients. This is why this practice is so popular in commercial crop growing! When targeted properly and given the proper nutrients, fertigated plants truly thrive.
Saves Time, Water, and Energy
While there may be more upfront work to get fertigation set up, as opposed to laying down compost, the good news is the savings on time, water, and hard work is tremendous on the back end. You will also spend less on fertilizer solutions this way than via traditional fertilization methods.
Not only that, but a fertigation system can also cut back on your time spent weeding and tackling soil erosion. And, with less fertigation fertilizer washed away by rains, you will have fewer instances of needing to lay down fresh fertilizer.
Cons of Fertigation
It’s Targeted–But Not Targeted Enough
While fertigation systems allow you to tackle a specific need among your landscaping or gardening plants, what you might run into with a variety of crops is a variety of needs. For this, fertigation systems are not as useful.
If you have a lot of crops with similar needs, fertigation can be a time and money saver. But it will dispense its fertilizer indiscriminately, so you may find plants that are already sufficient in a specific nutrient are now getting too much of it while others are getting the right amount.
The Risk of Fertilizer Burn
When using a fertigation system, you must be mindful of how well you mix in the fertilizer. If you rush and don’t take the necessary steps to ensure the fertilizer mixes properly into the water, you are likely to run into fertilizer burn.
This is where the salts naturally found in fertilizers suck out the moisture in your plants, giving them a scorched appearance. While this can be reversed, it takes time and effort you may not have room to spare.
It Can Be Pricey And Tricky to Install
While fertigation systems are becoming more affordable, they still cost a bit to fully set up. And a proper setup is absolutely crucial in order to avoid fertilizer burn, insufficient fertilization, and other issues with the dispensation of the water.
Chemical Considerations & Backflow
Another issue many people don’t pay close enough attention to is the use of chemicals in fertilizers. While you can certainly use more organic fertilizers, such as fish emulsion, many folks still choose chemical-based fertilizers.
In this case, fertigation can be a bit risky for two reasons. First, you cannot always control where the fertilizer is going, such as if you use a spray system. This can affect surrounding properties where neighbors may have no desire for the presence of chemical fertilizer.
Certain fertilizers also need to be wiped off immediately if they come into contact with paint or metal, as they can corrode and wear down. This can be dangerous for vehicles–yours and others- if you use a spray system.
Another thing that necessitates attention when using chemically based fertilizer is backflow. Because irrigation systems don’t just flow one way, you run the risk of having chemically tainted water backflowing into your system. This can affect the water with which you shower, wash dishes, and drink.
For this reason, it’s crucial to purchase a pressure backflow preventer; however, these can also sometimes be costly. In many cases, you will need a separate water supply, such as a several-gallon tank, to feed your fertigation system.
How to Fertigate Plants Properly
Ensure You Have the Proper Water Supply
The water supply for your system should be able to withstand the challenges of fertigation. This requires steady flow and the strength to dispense through one or multiple irrigation heads. Even then, you will need to watch out for pressure loss in your main irrigation line.
You may also need to consider an entirely separate water supply for fertigation due to the risk of chemical contamination in the domestic water. Fortunately, many fertigation systems come with their own tank, which mitigates this hassle effectively.
Purchase a Good Fertigation System
One of the biggest keys to doing this properly is to purchase a trustworthy fertigation system. Something like the EZ-FLO 2.5 Gallon Fertilizer Dispensing System can be good for a standard-size garden, but you may need something larger–or multiple systems–depending on the size of your landscape.
If you are on the hunt for a drip fertigation system that easily walks you through the setup and comes with all the tools you need, you can also try the Hoss Fertilizer Injector. This sturdy, solid option is easy to move and set up.
You may also want to consider multiple fertigation systems if you are planning to use several nutrient bases. Not all fertilizer nutrients, such as sulfur and phosphorus, can mix with calcium or chelates and non-chelates.
Take Time to Set Up Your System Properly
You will save yourself a lot of headaches and hassle by being meticulous in setting up your fertigation system. This can vary in terms of steps and intensity depending on what sort of system you purchase–drip, spray, ground soaking, etc.–and the components it contains.
You also want to ensure you place and position your fertigation system well. This will help reduce the risk of contaminating the wrong crops with the wrong fertilizer or crossing over property lines, affecting other property items such as house siding, vehicles, etc.
Choose Your Preferred Fertilizer
You can use two fertilizer classes: soluble fertilizer (which dissolves in water) and liquid fertilizer (which is already in liquid form). Some fertigation systems, like the Hoss Fertilizer Injector, can use both. However, some fertigation systems may work better with one or the other.
The best thing you can do is research the type of fertilizer that best suits the needs of your specific crops. Bear in mind things like temperature, the soil in your garden, etc., as these will also impact the efficiency of your fertilizer solution.
Set Up a Fertilization Schedule
It’s important to use the system properly. Laying down fertilizer at the right time and in the right amount is key to ensuring it does the job well. And this can be difficult to do since almost every plant, grass, and tree has different fertilization needs.
Typically, you want to lean toward laying down fertilization no more than five times per year and no less than twice. Spring is usually a good time to do some fertilization of most grasses, plants, and trees, but be sure to research the fertilization needs of your specific horticulture to ensure you are not over or under-fertilizing.
Time to Fertigate!
Feeling confident about using a fertigation system to keep your plants happy and healthy? This is just one piece of the puzzle of what your garden needs to thrive! Be sure to check out our Garden Tools page for other handy tools that will help make your gardening efforts easy and efficient this year.
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