Here’s What Happens if You Don’t Use Plant Fertilizer

Plants are incredible. They can thrive under many different conditions as long as they receive the correct nutrients they need to make their food. Fertilizer, however, provides plants with many optimal nutrients on a regular schedule that makes it very easy for plants to access them when necessary.

If you don’t use plant fertilizer, the following might happen: 

  1. The soil may become malnourished.
  2. Your plants will stop growing.
  3. Your plants will stop producing and flowering.
  4. Yellow and browning leaves may appear.   
  5. Pest infestation or diseases may occur. 
  6. Your plants may decay.

Although plants can survive without fertilizer, they might not grow or produce to their maximum capacity. The rest of this article will talk about what might occur if you choose not to fertilize your plants. 

1. The Soil May Become Malnourished

Soil is precious for plants, and so is potting mix. Whether using traditional soil or another material, all plants derive their nutrients from an earth source. And, naturally, it is easy for plants to do so. 

Soil, however, needs to remain nourished to supply a plant with its needs. If soil is not hydrated, it cannot always recuperate on a natural level. In some ways, it might replenish itself, but not every nutrient that a plant needs to thrive will recover. 

Fertilizer provides soil with the necessary ingredients that plants need to thrive on a seasonal schedule. Soil or potting mix will soak up the elements that a fertilizer offers, and then plants will soak up the nutrients from the soil. From there, the soil must recover what was given away to the plants. 

Without fertilizer, it can be a hard and treacherous process for soil to recover every nutrient that is provided to a plant. It is common and normal that soil may become malnourished. 

Noticing the Signs Of Malnourished Soil 

Without paying regular attention to your plants and soil, it can be hard to know if your soil is malnourished or not. Luckily, there are visible signs of malnourished soil that many can find. The symptoms will, first, appear in your plants before anything else. 

Here are a few significant signs to look for: 

  • Browning or yellowing leaves.  
  • Your plant is not growing.
  • Your plant is withering away.
  • Your plant’s roots appear weak and discolored.
  • Your plant’s leaves are crisp and curling downwards. 
  • Your soil appears dry. 

If you are curious about your soil’s nutrient levels, you can have your soil tested. There are 16 essential nutrients that all plants need. Three of those are called the big three ingredients. These ingredients are well-known by many in the gardening world: 

  • Nitrogen 
  • Phosphorus 
  • Potassium 

The other main thirteen ingredients are not stressed as much by the gardening world, but they are still precious for a plant to reach its maximum growth capacity:

  • Carbon 
  • Hydrogen 
  • Oxygen 
  • Calcium 
  • Magnesium 
  • Sulfur 
  • Boron 
  • Chlorine 
  • Copper
  • Iron 
  • Manganese
  • Molybdenum 
  • Zinc 

Your soil’s nutrient levels should be specific to what your plants need. If you can, speak to a professional to learn more when testing your soil. 

2. Your Plants Will Stop Growing

Many love to educate themselves on what their plants need because they desire a flourishing garden. Big and healthy plants are aesthetically pleasing for a garden and can be satisfying to take care of.

However, all plants need nutrients, or they will stop growing. If your plant stops receiving nutrients, you will notice a lack of growth in your plants: 

  • Your plants have not grown since you planted them. Although your plants appear healthy, they may not grow very large if your soil is malnourished. It is essential to watch over your plants attentively over a few weeks or even a season after planting.
  • Your plants stop growing. When fertilizer is lacking, your soil may begin to lack, too. Any plants that had significant growth before might slow down or stop altogether if nutrients become scarce. This can become frustrating for gardeners because there is a lack of movement. 
  • Your plants lack vibrancy. Plants with nutrients in their system are green in color and very vibrant. Plants that do not have enough nutrients are not as appealing to see. They may appear pale, weak at the roots, and may cause internal issues in your garden. 

3. Your Plants Will Stop Producing and Flowering

Growing a garden is an exciting process that many love. It can be fun to watch plants blossom in their environment, especially when they flower and produce. However, when fertilizer isn’t present, the process may become slow and tedious. 

Fertilizer is essential if you have plants that flower and produce fruits, vegetables, or seeds. It might be more valuable for these species of plants than others that do not flower or produce. 

If you choose not to fertilize your plants that produce or flower, the following may occur: 

  • Your produce will not grow to its maximum capacity. Fertilizer helps plants grow and blossom to their highest potential, which is true for produce. Without fertilizer, a plant may have difficulty producing fruit, vegetables, and seedlings. If they make them, they will not be very large or nutritious. 
  • Your plants will not flower on schedule as they are supposed to. Fertilizer helps plants bloom during the seasons in a timely fashion. Without it, your plants might flower at a slow rate or not at all.
  • Your plant’s produce may wither away and die. Although it isn’t expected for produce to die, it can happen. If your plant’s soil cannot provide nutrients, your plant’s produce may begin to wither and decompose. 
  • Your plant will not grow strong enough to produce anything. Plants that flower or produce need to have a robust root system. Without fertilizer, there is a chance that plants will not grow roots strong enough to obtain more nutrients from the soil, resulting in low-quality produce or overall difficulty in making produce.

4. Yellowing and Browning Leaves May Appear

Like people, plants need proper nutrients to stay healthy. Over-fertilization, as well as no fertilization, can cause some severe issues in a plant. 

One symptom that shows up in plants when they are weak or not receiving the proper nutrients is the yellowing and browning of leaves. This can also show up on a plant’s roots but is more common when over-fertilization occurs. 

If these symptoms occur in your plant, you can trim away the spots that are not blooming. The plant can, then, grow back new and healthy leaves. The new growth might not occur quickly without fertilizer, though.

If you have discoloration in your plant, it may be a sign that you need to test your soil’s pH levels and nutrient levels. After which, you can help your plant get back on track. 

5. Pest Infestation or Diseases May Occur

Nutritional elements can help your plants in a wide variety of ways. Without them, a plant’s health may deteriorate relatively fast, and they won’t thrive in the way you want them to. 

One of the most common symptoms of a lack of nutritional elements is vulnerability. Unfortunately, plants can become susceptible to pest infestations. Plants can also develop diseases. Here are a few of them.

  • Blight
  • Canker
  • Black spots 
  • Powdery or downy mildew 
  • Bacterial wilt

Weak plants have a hard time defending themselves against pest infestations and plant diseases. Although this doesn’t always happen to plants, it is a typical symptom that gardeners can watch for, especially if they believe their soil or plants are malnourished. 

If pest infestations are a concern, some solutions can help heal your plant. However, it can be challenging for plants to recuperate back to optimal health if they do not have water, sunlight, and the proper nutrients they need. 

Here are a few helpful steps to rid pests. 

  • Remove any infected parts of the plant. 
  • Spray and wipe down your plant with water. 
  • Use a cotton swab with alcohol or vegetable oil to dab away pests. 
  • If pests remain, you can spray them with an insecticidal spray. 

6. Your Plants May Decay

One of the biggest fears that many gardeners have is the decay of their plants. Fertilizer can help diminish many fears by keeping your plants alive and in bloom. 

Whether your plants have received fertilizer on a season schedule or not, a decaying plant can recover before withering away and dying. Fertilizers can help provide nutrients to a plant, but what matters at the end of the day is that plants have the support they need.

There are noticeable signs when your plant is decaying. Catching the symptoms can be essential to helping your plant heal. Here are a few of them. 

  • The roots on your plant are brown or black. 
  • The leaves are discolored, curling inward, and crisp.
  • Your plants are not growing. 
  • Your plants have dust on them, showing signs of infestation.
  • Your flower buds and produce are shriveling. 

Each sign of a decaying plant can tell you certain things about your plant. If you are unfamiliar with the specific symptoms, you can consult a professional or research to find out more. 

Final Thoughts 

Fertilizer is an essential additive for plants. Although it isn’t always necessary, feeding your plants with fertilizer can make a difference for plant owners everywhere. 

If you choose not to use fertilizer, watch over your plants and hydrate them to the best of your ability. Ensure that your soil or substrate has sufficient nutrients to meet your plants’ needs. As long as your plants have steady access to the nutrition they need, they will blossom. 

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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