How To Remove Excess Fertilizer From the Soil

When it comes to fertilizer, you can accidentally apply too much of a good thing, and the results aren’t great for your plants. So what exactly should you do if you suspect your soil has too much fertilizer? Is there a way to remove fertilizer from soil? 

Here are 8 steps for removing excess fertilizer from the soil:

  1. Identify signs of overfertilization.
  2. Remove any excess fertilizer. 
  3. Apply water to the soil. 
  4. Allow the water to thoroughly drain from the soil. 
  5. Leach with water again. 
  6. Remove any dying parts from your plants. 
  7. Replant if symptoms of overfertilization persist. 
  8. Prevent future overfertilization.

In the rest of this article, I will discuss what happens when soil becomes over-fertilized and give you 8 steps to remove that fertilizer and save your plants.

1. Identify Signs of Over Fertilization

Step one is identifying overfertilization in your plants. If you’re googling this topic, then chances are you have noticed something is wrong with your plants. These are some of the signs your plant has been over-fertilized:

  • Stunted growth
  • Yellowing leaves
  • Wilted leaves
  • Browning leaf tips
  • Crusty-looking soil (this is more noticeable in potted plants) 

These are signs that your plant may be over-fertilized and that you must act quickly. Saving a plant from over-fertilization can be tricky if not done immediately. As I previously stated, excess fertilizer can build up salt in the soil, causing your plant’s roots to burn and leaving them unable to take in much-needed nutrients. 

2. Remove Any Excess Fertilizer

To save an over-fertilized plant, you should do your best to remove any excess fertilizer. This step mainly pertains to granular fertilizers rather than liquids. However, it’s still possible to remove both types in some cases. 

To remove granular fertilizer, you should take a small shovel or spoon and scoop up any fertilizer that might be sitting on the soil surface or just below. Removing this fertilizer will stop you from adding more when you’re watering. 

If you use a liquid fertilizer, you can remove some of it if you notice a whitish-yellow crust has formed on the soil’s surface. You can scoop the discolored soil out, which will help to not add to the fertilization process as you start the next step. 

3. Apply Water to the Soil

Once you have removed any excess fertilizer, it’s time to begin the watering process. To save your plants from excess fertilizer, you will need to dilute the fertilizer using water. The hope is that the fertilizer will be washed away and rendered useless by adding enough water. 

Simply turn on the hose and let the water run over the over-fertilized soil. You want the dirt to become very saturated with water. The goal is to get the fertilizer as far away from your plant’s root system as possible. 

Water the soil until water begins to pool along the soil’s surface. If you use this method with a potted plant, simply allow the pot to fill with water.

You can read my other article on how to flush soil without over-watering the plant here: How to Flush Soil Without Over Watering the Plant

4. Allow the Water to Thoroughly Drain From the Soil

Next, you should allow your plant’s soil to dry. This will ensure that your plant doesn’t develop other issues like root rot from the water sitting on its already damaged roots. Depending on how warm your climate is, the soil may take hours or days to dry. Be patient and watch carefully for the dirt to dry, as the process will need to be repeated. 

5. Leach With Water Again

Once the soil is sufficiently dry, it’s time to add water again. Place the hose at the base of the infected plant and allow the water to run until the soil becomes moist and the water pools. Once this occurs, you should again wait for it to dry. 

You can repeat this process once more if you feel there is still too much fertilizer built up in the soil.

6. Remove Any Dying Parts From Your Plants

After finishing the water leaching process, it’s time to remove any dying parts of the plant. Burned leaves and other sections of the plant that won’t make a recovery should be cut away to make room for new growth. This pruning will help your plant focus its energy on healing viable parts of itself and give it a better chance of surviving. 

You might also try adding gypsum to the soil to neutralize some of the imbalanced nutrients and improve water drainage. While it’s not possible to apply gypsum and fertilizer at the same time, gypsum has great soil-enhancing characteristics. Check out my other article to learn about the purpose of gypsum and when it should be used here: Can You Apply Gypsum and Fertilizer Together?

7. Replant if Symptoms of Over-Fertilization Persist

If you fear your soil is still too saturated with fertilizer, then consider replanting. This step is crucial if you have a potted plant, as it can be tricky to remove fertilizer from pots altogether. 

Simply remove the old plant from its container and place it into a new one. Or, if your overfertilized plant lives in a garden bed, consider moving it somewhere the dirt hasn’t been recently fertilized. Just be sure to do your research before replanting any plants, as each plant will require different care for replanting. 

The best way to ensure your plant isn’t going into soil with excess fertilizer is to test it before replanting. I personally recommend Luster Leaf’s 1602 Soil Test Kit (available on Amazon.com). This kit comes with multiple tests and they are all very quick, so you’ll be able to know your soil specifications in a moment. 

8. Prevent Future Overfertilization

Finally, the best way to keep your plants safe from excess fertilizer in the soil is prevention. Fertilizer can undoubtedly be helpful when it comes to growing large healthy plants. However, if misused, it can easily lead to death in your plants. How can you make sure that you use fertilizer correctly?

Here are some tips for preventing overfertilization:

  • Read the fertilizer instructions before applying it to the soil. 
  • Fertilize your plants infrequently. 
  • Research each of your plants’ fertilization needs before applying fertilizer. 
  • Test your soil before adding fertilizer. 
  • Refrain from applying fertilizer if your plants don’t need it.

Another way to avoid the risks of overfertilization is to use homemade compost unless you need something more powerful. Compost and other natural fertilizers aren’t as nutrient-dense as synthetic fertilizers, so it’s less likely that you’ll end up with an overfertilization problem. It still can happen, though, so stay alert.

What Happens if You Add Too Much Fertilizer to the Soil?

It’s essential to understand what exactly happens when a plant becomes overfertilized. Using fertilizer is akin to humans taking vitamins: it’s not necessary unless the plant is lacking nutrients in some way. It’s relatively easy to over-fertilize a plant if you aren’t careful. 

If you add too much fertilizer to the soil, the salt content in the soil can increase, resulting in improper nutrition, burning the plant, and damage to the root system. As a result, your plant will likely become sickly and die without intervention.

Not to mention, using large amounts of synthetic fertilizer can harm the environment as the nitrogen can leach into the soil and end up in waterways. It’s always a good idea to air on the side of caution when applying fertilizer to your soil. 

What Are the Signs of Overfertilizing Plants?

Signs of over-fertilizing plants are stunted growth, yellowing, wilting, and browning leaves. You may also notice a strange yellowish-white crust along the soil’s surface. This is due to the increased salt content in the soil. 

How Long Does Fertilizer Last in Soil?

Fertilizer can last in the soil for 2-6 weeks, depending on the fertilizer applied. Liquid fertilizers tend to last a shorter amount of time than whole slow-release fertilizers. Most fertilizer’s instructions will state how often you are supposed to apply their mixture. 

Final Thoughts 

Ultimately, removing excess fertilizer from the soil isn’t too difficult. However, even after removing harmful amounts of fertilizer, plants may not recover fully.

The sooner you react to over-fertilization, the better chance your plants will have of recovering. If you notice signs of fertilizer build-up, it’s a good idea to begin water leaching immediately. Let the soil dry and repeat the process a couple of times if necessary.

If you’d like to learn more on how to treat fertilizer burn on plants, you could check this article out: How to Treat Fertilizer Burn on Plants (Gardener’s Guide)

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of TheGrowingLeaf.com, 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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