Applying fertilizer is a great way to ensure the healthy growth of your plants. However, deciding when to apply new fertilizer and knowing how long it will last in the soil can be tricky. So how long does it take for fertilizer to completely break down in soil?
It takes about 2 – 6 weeks for fertilizer to dissipate, depending on the type of fertilizer used. Liquid fertilizers tend to break down more quickly than those with granules. Dry organic fertilizer also tends to absorb more slowly than its liquid counterpart.
In the rest of this article, I will be going over the different types of fertilizers, how often you should apply fertilizer, how to tell when your plants need it, and some other frequently asked questions. So if you would like to learn more about how long fertilizer takes to dissipate and how often you should reapply, be sure to read on.
Dissipation Speed of Granulated vs. Liquid Fertilizers
Generally, when applying fertilizers, you can apply two different types. Liquid fertilizer is, as it sounds, water-based, making its nutrients instantly available for plants upon application. In contrast, granulated fertilizers have tiny granules that are mixed into the soil and slowly release the fertilizer when they come in contact with water.
So let’s discuss further the pros and cons of both types of fertilizers.
Granulated Fertilizer Pros and Cons
First, I want to review granulated fertilizer’s pros and cons. This fertilizer is one of the most popular fertilization methods, especially in large garden areas.
The pros of using granulated fertilizer:
- Easily spread with a broadcast spreader
- Stores for longer
The cons of using granulated fertilizer:
- Can have a high salt content
- Difficult to apply evenly
- Comes in large, heavy-to-move bags
So as you can see, there are a few pros and cons to using granulated fertilizer. However, this type of fertilizer can last longer in the soil since it takes time to break down completely.
Liquid Fertilizer Pros and Cons
Next, I want to discuss the pros and cons of using liquid fertilizer. This type of fertilizer is prevalent for a number of reasons, but there are also some drawbacks. So let’s learn more about using liquid fertilizer in the soil.
The pros of using liquid fertilizer:
- Easy to use
- Instant delivery of nutrients to your plant’s system
- Fertilizer does not saturate the soil for more than 2-3 weeks
- Less likely to burn plants with its salt content
- Easy to evenly distribute through the soil
The cons of using liquid fertilizer:
- Tends to be more expensive
- Generally does not provide a slow release of nutrients
- Expires or turns bad more easily
Both types of fertilizer have their own benefits and drawbacks. However, using a liquid can be a great way to instantly boost a plant’s health, while granules can aid in long-term health. This is due to their ability to slowly release plant food.
How Long Does It Take for Organic Fertilizers To Break Down?
Another type of fertilizer that comes into play is organic fertilizer. Understanding how often to apply organic fertilizer can be tricky as each organic mix is so unique and contains different nutrients. However, in general, there is a time frame you should stick to when using organic fertilizer.
It takes organic fertilizers 2 – 6 weeks to break down. Organic liquid fertilizers tend to break down more quickly than solid fertilizers. Testing the soil is a great way to tell if your organic fertilizer needs to be reapplied. This will ensure you know which minerals the soil lacks.
Not all homemade fertilizers are created equal, so it’s essential to monitor your soil’s health and how your plants are responding to it, especially if you are trying a new mix. How long it takes for your plants to use up the fertilizer in the soil heavily depends on your fertilizer’s ingredients and your plants’ needs.
Factors That Affect How Quickly Fertilizer Dissipates
How long your soil can hold on to fertilizer can depend on several things, such as the ingredients in your fertilizer. However, there are several other factors that can cause your fertilizer to break down much more quickly.
Factors that cause fertilizer to dissipate more quickly include the following:
- Overwatering: Fertilizers can be washed away by too much water or heavy rainfall. This is called leaching and is used as a method to remove excess fertilizer when too much has been applied.
- Plant size and need: Fertilizer is created for plants to absorb the nutrients and turn those nutrients into sugars for the plant’s energy. Plants will naturally deplete the nutrients from the soil over time. Bigger plants need more nutrients to support growth and maintain health.
- Pests: Some pests like to make their home in nutrient-dense soil and, in large numbers, can deplete the fertilizer found there.
- Temperature: Each nutrient needs an optimum temperature to break down into forms that plants can absorb. That’s why some fertilizers require a certain season or soil temperature for application. Outside the ideal temperature range, some nutrients may break down more slowly.
How Often Does Fertilizer Need To Be Applied?
It’s essential to understand when to apply more fertilizer. This is because you can over-fertilize a plant which can lead to complications with growth and even death. So that begs the question, how often does fertilizer need to be used?
Fertilizer needs to be applied 4-5 times per year. However, each type of plant will need different fertilization, and each fertilizer will have instructions for the frequency of application. It’s also important to note that not every plant will need fertilization if planted in nutrient-dense soil.
If you have excellent quality soil in your garden, you shouldn’t have to fertilize frequently. A fertilizer’s job is to replenish the soil when necessary nutrients have been depleted. However, you should also be wary of over-fertilization as this can lead to salt build-up in the soil. The build-up can cause burns to plant roots, preventing them from gaining nutrition from the soil.
How To Tell if Your Soil Needs More Fertilizer
It can be just as easy to over-fertilize as it is to under-fertilize a garden. This is why it’s essential to learn to recognize when your soil is lacking in vital nutrients. Luckily, there are several signs you can look for.
Here are some ways to tell if your soil needs more fertilizer:
- Use a soil test. A soil test is the only sure-fire way to tell if your garden dirt is lacking in essential nutrients. There are several different types of soil tests, but most are rapid and can easily be done at home.
- Check for plant growth. Your soil is healthy if your plants are growing well and you are constantly dealing with weeds. Frequent and rapid growth is a sign of healthy soil.
- Look for signs of organisms. Worms and other fungus-type plants are a great indicator of your soil’s nutrient levels. Creatures like worms thrive in nutrient-dense soil.
- Check the color of your soil. Soil that is darker in color tends to be healthier since it contains more rich organic matter.
Another great way to know if it’s time to add fertilizer to your soil is by following the directions of your fertilizer brand. On the back of most fertilizer containers, instructions will state how frequently they need to be applied.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Fast Do Plants Absorb Fertilizer?
Plants absorb fertilizer after 24-48 hours after the initial application. However, it can take about 2-6 weeks for plants to completely deplete fertilizer from the soil. This time frame mainly depends on the type of fertilizer used, as liquids tend to wear off more quickly.
How Long Does It Take for Fertilizer To Soak Into the Ground?
It takes 48 hours for fertilizer to fully soak into the ground. This is because fertilizer must use the help of water to penetrate the soil’s surface and get to the plant’s roots. Each brand of fertilizer’s soaking times may slightly vary, so be sure to read the instructions.
Will Heavy Rain Wash Away Fertilizer?
Heavy rain will wash away fertilizer. This is because fertilizer can easily be leached from the soil with large amounts of water. So if your soil is experiencing heavy rainfall, you may need to reapply fertilizer after the rainstorm has passed. You can tell by using a soil test kit.
Fertilizer can take about 2-6 weeks to completely dissipate. However, each type of fertilizer may have different potency. So you should always read the instructions before applying. It’s also a good idea to test the soil to prevent over-fertilization.
Checking the weather forecast for any chances of rain and selecting the most suitable season can also help you maximize the use of fertilizer and avoid losing the nutrients from leaching.