In my quest to have the healthiest garden possible, I’ve learned a lot about different types of fertilizers. Fertilizers come in many different forms. But, the one that piqued my interest most was liquid fertilizer. After using it on my plants, I started to wonder: How long does liquid fertilizer take to work? Here’s what I found out during my research.
Liquid fertilizer takes about 24 hours to work. The liquid seeps fast into the soil and leaves making the nutrients available to the plant. Depending on the climate and humidity, it could also take up to 4 days until the fertilizer becomes effective.
How Long Does Liquid Fertilizer Take to Work?
Liquid fertilizer products are fast-acting. They’re sometimes referred to as “quick-release” fertilizers. These products make valuable nutrients almost immediately available to plants.
In most cases, liquid fertilizers will need at least 24 hours to start benefiting your plants. Depending on the climate and humidity, it could take longer. At most, you’re looking at five days until the necessary chemical reactions happen.
Why are liquid fertilizers so fast? It all comes down to the formula and its form.
How Liquid Fertilizer Works
Liquid-based products can come in a few different forms. You might pick them up as water-soluble powders or as a liquid concentrate. Whatever the case may be, both forms must combine with water for proper dilution.
Once the fertilizer is in the correct liquid form, you can spread it throughout your garden. The liquid seeps into the soil uniformly. This ensures that all plants are getting access to the available nutrients.
Not only that, but the plants can start absorbing the fertilizer quickly. With granular fertilizers or organic compost, there’s a longer wait time. That’s because the fertilizer needs to decompose.
Compost and granules can take upwards of six weeks to break down and become available to plants.
As I mentioned earlier, liquid fertilizers only take as little as a day.
Most liquid formulas contain a mixture of urea and ammonium nitrate. Urea is an inexpensive form of nitrogen fertilizer. When applied to the soil, the urea will break down quickly, giving the plants a boost of usable energy.
How Often Should I Apply Liquid Fertilizer to Plants?
Liquid fertilizers are great when you need to give your plants a quick pick-me-up. However, its fast-acting nature can also be its downfall.
You see, liquid fertilizers don’t last very long. In most cases, the fertilizer will only supplement the soil for one to two weeks. This is a stark contrast to slow-release fertilizers, which last for about six to eight weeks.
Thanks to its liquid form, this fertilizer will leach into the soil much quicker. Before you know it, the fertilizer is already seeping down to the subsoil and layers of rock.
As a result, you’ll need to keep applying the fertilizer throughout the growing season. This is one of the bigger disadvantages of using liquid fertilizers. Other slow-release products usually only one or two applications a year. With liquid fertilizers, you have to reapply every two to three weeks.
Fast-acting fertilizers don’t do much to improve the quality of the soil. In fact, some types of chemical-based fertilizers can have a negative long-term impact on your garden.
To ensure that your plants are getting the nutrients they need to thrive, you must stick to a regular fertilization schedule.
What is the Best Way to Apply Liquid Fertilizer?
The great thing about liquid fertilizer is that it’s versatile. Unlike compost, you can apply it in several different ways. Here are some of the most common ways that gardeners use it.
Applying Fertilizer to the Soil
The easiest way to take advantage of liquid fertilizer is by adding it to irrigation water. Many gardeners think that the only way to supplement the soil is with granular products. That’s not true.
Applying liquid fertilizer to the soil will allow it to seep down to the roots for better absorption.
Before you do this, make sure that you water the plant with standard water first. If the soil is dry, the fertilizer could burn the roots.
After you have diluted the fertilizer, add it to a garden pail and water your plant as normaly. Focus on the soil around the base of your plant. You can also practice side-dressing application if you have a row of crops to supplement.
Using Liquid Fertilizer for Foliar Spray
Beyond standard soil applications, liquid fertilizer makes good foliar spray. Foliar sprays help plants take in nutrients through the leaves rather than the roots.
The leaves will absorb the liquid-based fertilizer through the epidermis. Tiny pores, called stomata, also take the fertilizer in.
If you use the fertilizer as a foliar spray, create a proper diluted mix. Then, apply it evenly over the plants.
Do this in the early morning when temperatures are cooler. Late evenings work, too. The stomata close up in the heat and direct sunlight. This prevents the plant from absorbing the nutrients. By applying the spray in the morning, the plant is ready to take advantage of the fertilizer.
How Much Liquid Fertilizer to Apply
Figuring out how much liquid fertilizer to apply isn’t always easy. Farmers and large-scale growing applications use complex formulations to figure out how to amend the soil.
Chances are, you don’t need to figure out fertilizer rates for many acres. Most fertilizer products come with instructions on how to mix or dilute the product. Just follow those instructions to create your foliar spray or soil application.
The exact measurements can vary, but a single application usually equates to one gallon of water. Add the appropriate amount of dry powder or liquid concentrate. Usually, it’s 1 tablespoon of concentrate to 1 gallon of water.
Don’t ignore those instructions. Using too much concentrate could lead to fertilizer burn. This will stunt the growth of your plant. In extreme cases, it could kill the plant.
What Kind of Liquid Fertilizer Should I Use?
Fertilizers come in different strengths and compositions. You might see several numbers on the packaging. These numbers represent the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
Those are the “Big 3” nutrients that plants need to reach their full potential. Nitrogen helps to promote plant growth. Phosphorus helps the plant convert other nutrients into usable energy to sustain growth. Lastly, potassium can resist disease and increase the crop yield.
Commercial fertilizers use these nutrients in different ratios. The different ratios will promote different types of growth.
For example, if your plant is still young, you could use a fertilizer that has more nitrogen. Using a nitrogen-rich fertilizer early on in the growing season will ensure that the plant’s structure is strong.
Other fertilizers may have more phosphorus and potassium. Those are best late in the growing season. That’s because they do more to help the plant produce flowers and fruits.
Choose a fertilizer grade that matches the needs of your soil and plant. You can get a soil test kit and use that as a guide.
Or, you can get an all-purpose formula. All-purpose liquid fertilizers contain even amounts of the key nutrients plants need to thrive. They can serve most plants well.
When Should I Apply Liquid Fertilizer to My Plants?
You can apply liquid fertilizers at any time during the growth cycle. But, you must make note of when you last used it. The last thing you want to do is overload the plant with nutrients. This will only cause stunted growth and development issues.
Most gardeners will wait a few weeks after planting to start applying fertilizer. That’s enough time for the roots to recover from any damage they might have experienced. You want the roots to be healthy to avoid burn.
Apply your liquid fertilizer whenever you’re watering your plants. As I mentioned earlier, you’ll need to reapply every two or three weeks. Liquid fertilizers don’t last long, so continued application is a must.
For foliar sprays, apply when the temperatures are cool for better absorption.
If you want to make fertilizer applications more frequent, there is a way to do that. Some gardeners prefer to apply weekly. In this case, you’ll need to dilute the fertilizer a lot to create to make it less potent.
A good rule of thumb is to use only a quarter of the recommended concentrate. So instead of 1 tablespoon per gallon, you would use a quarter of a tablespoon per gallon. The smaller dosage will weaken the fertilizer and make it safe for regular application.
Here are some of my favorite container gardening tools
Thank you for reading this post. I hope it helps you with your gardening needs. I’ve listed some tools below that can help you with container gardening. These are affiliate links so I’ll earn a commission if you use them.
Gardening Gloves – I find the Pine Tree Tools Bamboo Gardening Gloves really good for both men and women. It’s made from bamboo so helps absorb perspiration. They are also comfortable and fit very well.
Containers – You know picking the right container is crucial for your container gardening. I’ve written a detailed post on the best containers you can choose from. If you’re happy with a plastic container, you can check out the Bloem Saturn Planter.
Watering Can – This is a must-have tool when you’re growing plants in pots or grow bags. It helps to water the potting soil without splashing on the foliage. The Kensington Watering Can is stylish, strong, and can provide precision when watering potted plants.
Trowel – Garden Guru Trowel is my favorite because it’s durable and comfortable to use. My gardening friends really love having a trowel because they use it for digging soil, mixing fertilizer, moving seeds, leveling out the soil, mixing compost or mulch, and also dividing tubers
Bypass Pruner – I really like the Corona Bypass Pruner because it’s durable and gives a clean cut that helps plants recover faster. If you’re looking for something cheap, get the Fiskars Bypass Pruner that is really good as well.
To see an extensive list of the best container gardening tools gardeners recommend, check out this resource that I made for you.
Kevin is the founder of Gardening Mentor, a website that aims to teach people to grow their own food in a limited space. As a self-taught gardener, Kevin has spent several years growing plants and creating gardening content on the website. He is certified in Home Horticulture and Organic Gardening by expert gardeners from Oregon State University.