When you’re growing plants in an indoor garden, grow room, or grow tent, there are a lot of factors to keep in mind and take care of. The truth is, it’s possible to miss something when you’re caring for your plants. One issue that can have negative long-term effects on your plants is nutrient lockout.
Nutrient lockout can really be a challenge — and an annoyance — when it comes to growing your own fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be the end of the world for your grow room or indoor grow tent.
Table of Contents
- What Is Nutrient Lockout?
- How to Identify Nutrient Lockout Symptoms
- How to Fix Nutrient Lockout
- Preventing Nutrient Lockout
If you can understand what nutrient lockout is, how to identify, how to prevent it, and, if needed, how to remedy it, you’ll be able to save your plants and get back to business as usual. To help you out, we’ve outlined everything you need to know about nutrient lockout so you can have peace of mind.
Nutrient lockout is what happens when a plant can no longer take up the nutrients it needs from the grow medium it’s placed in. This is an issue because nutrient lockout prevents the plant from feeding. If you don’t work to reverse nutrient lockout, it can be detrimental to your plants, leading to nutrient deficiency which could cause them to die.
Knowing the cause of nutrient lockout is a good first step to reversing it. Nutrient lockout can occur because the soil medium you use in your indoor garden is oversaturated with nutrients — especially chemical fertilizers with high salt contents.
This, too, happens with hydroponic grown plants. In fact, when you're using plant nutrients with coco coir, pebbles, or rockwool, even 1ml over what your plants need can lead to an overdose of nutrients.
When your growing medium accumulates too much salt and other nutrients, these nutrients will sometimes bond together or develop an incompatibility. This results in the plant not being able to absorb the necessary nutrients to continue growth.
Nutrient lockout can also happen when the pH levels of the soil, water, or nutrients are too extreme or unsuitable for your plant. Plants have an ideal pH that they thrive in, and if the pH isn’t at this level, the plant may begin to favor certain nutrients over others. With the wrong pH, your plant’s roots won’t be able to absorb all of the necessary nutrients it needs to survive.
Obviously, you’re going to want to be able to notice signs of nutrient lockout so that you can act quickly before it affects your plants drastically. Typically, a plant affected by nutrient lockout will look similar to a plant that’s not getting enough nutrients, which can make things tricky. Here are nutrient lockout symptoms to look for:
- Weak or Limp Plants — Nutrient lockout will keep your plants from being as strong and healthy as they should be.
- Curling or Yellowing Leaves — Affected plants will have weak and damaged leaves.
- Stunted Growth — Your plant won’t be able to grow to its full potential if it’s suffering from nutrient lockout.
The trouble with figuring out what’s wrong with your plants is that lots of issues look the same. You could be overwatering or underwatering, for example.
In order to be sure you’re dealing with nutrient lockout, you’ll want to check the pH levels of the soil, water, and nutrient solution. If the pH is above 7 or below 5.5, you’ve probably found the issue. If the pH seems fine and you’re sure the issue doesn’t have to do with how much you water the plant, wind burn, or nutrient deficiencies, you may simply be overloading the plant with nutrients, causing nutrient lockout.
To properly check for and identify nutrient lockout symptoms in your plants, you should be prepared with the following:
Nutrient lockout is unfortunate, but it can absolutely be fixed, so if you do identify the problem in your plants, don’t stress! Let’s outline the steps in fixing nutrient lockout in your plants:
- Stop feeding your plants. This is the first action to take if you’re going to address nutrient lockout. Overloading them with even more nutrients will only worsen the problem.
Flush your plants with water. Flushing plants is a process that involves flooding your plants’ pots with pH-balanced water in order to dilute the minerals and rebalance the pH.
- Note: If you have a hydroponic system setup, you’ll want to use a fresh solution.
- Make sure your growing system is fully saturated. This process will help with the excess salt that’s built up in your growing medium by breaking it up and making it easier for your plant to absorb all the nutrients it needs again.
- After flushing, let your soil completely dry out before you water your plants again. This will prevent root rot by ensuring that your roots have room to breathe.
- Afterward, water your garden normally for a while before you reintroduce nutrients to your plants. This will ensure they’ve been completely flushed and will be able to healthily absorb the nutrients again.
Nutrient lockout can be fixed, but like all problems, it’s best to continuously work to prevent it so that you don’t have to worry about dealing with it later. Let’s take a look at a few things you can do to prevent the issue from occurring.
Maintain pH Levels
One of the keys to avoiding nutrient lockout is to keep a close eye on the pH levels of your plant’s environment by testing the soil levels regularly. If the pH is off, you can buy a pH adjuster to either increase or decrease pH. Simply add this solution to your soil in order to rebalance it and ensure healthy levels.
Check your soil (or solution, if you’re using a hydroponic setup) weekly or bi-weekly to make sure your plant is growing in the healthiest possible environment. If you continue to check to make sure everything is balanced, you won’t have to deal with a serious nutrient lockout issue in the future. You can catch any problems at the source and adjust the environment as needed.
If you have a hydroponic setup, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to invest in a pH controller for your solution to monitor your pH levels and add acid or alkaline as necessary.
To help maintain the pH levels of your plants, it’s a good idea to keep the following items handy:
- Bluelab pH Up, 1 Liter Bottle, Case of 12 (Price: $203.95)
- Bluelab pH Down, 1 Liter Bottle, Case of 12 (Price: $156.95)
- Autopilot Digital pH Controller (Price: $317.10)
Another option you could explore is using organic fertilizers. Organic fertilizers typically have lower levels of the nutrients and minerals your plant needs than the chemical fertilizers do (and especially less salt, which is a huge factor of nutrient lockout).
These lower nutrient and mineral levels make it less likely that you’ll run into nutrient lockout. In addition, because organic fertilizers are natural, they’re also better for your plants overall and allow for a more natural and healthier
For example, you'll want to use organic potting soil like Foxfarm Ocean Forest. This grow medium uses a blend of worm castings, bat guano, and fish and crab meal. In addition to these organic ingredients, this potting soil also uses forest humus, sandy loam, and peat moss to create a light texture that your plants' roots can sit comfortably in.
- Foxfarm Ocean Forest Potting Soil - 1.5 cu ft (Price: $18.95)
Flush Your Plants Regularly
While flushing plants is typically done to fix nutrient lockout, it’s also a great way to prevent the problem when done regularly. Here are some tips for flushing your plants on a regular basis:
- Flush your plants with pH-balanced water at the end of each growing season. This is a great way to make sure your plants are absorbing the nutrients they actually need.
Re-feed your plants’ soil. Potting soil is typically drained of nutrients at the end of a growing season, so flushing it at that time and re-feeding the soil is a helpful step to take before you plant the next crop.
- You may even choose to compost your potting soil and start with fresh soil.
- Flush your plants before you adjust any nutrient levels. This is helpful, especially before you switch to feeding your plants more phosphorus. The pre-flowering stage is typically a good time to flush your plants’ soil. Overall, it will ensure that the soil is nice and neutral in order to prevent any nutrient buildups.
Use a flushing solution. While just using water to flush your plants will do in a pinch, it's a good idea to use a flushing solution. This is especially true if you notice your plants aren't recovering from nutrient lockout. These will help excess nutrients much more effectively than water alone. On top of that, it'll allow your plants to continue using the nutrients they do need.
- If you can't flush your plants, use a water filtration system. For whatever reason, you might find yourself unable to flush your plants. When that's the case, we recommend filtering your water using a reverse osmosis (RO) system such as the NU Aqua Platinum Series 7 Stage Alkaline and UV Ultraviolet 100GPD RO System.
Don’t Let Nutrient Lockout Affect Your Plants
Nutrient lockout may be disheartening, but it doesn’t have to mean your plants are doomed. Even if you don’t prevent it, if you catch nutrient lockout early enough, you’ll be able to avoid a host of problems for the plants in your grow room.
Thankfully, you should now be prepared to deal with nutrient lockout. And now that you know how to deal with it, you’ll be ready if the issue arises.
While your plants may suffer from a lack of nutrients for a little bit, with a bit of damage control like flushing, regular pH maintenance, and other preventative measures to ensure you don’t run into the problem again, your plants will be growing healthily again in no time.