Nutes for Newbies: All-In-One Fertilizer or Separate Bottles?
For a new cannabis grower, selecting the right fertilizer can be daunting with so many kinds to choose from. Chris Bond checks out the pros and cons of all-in-one fertilizers versus single-bottle nutrients.
Go into any hydroponic store, garden center, or even the garden aisle of a big box store and you can be easily overwhelmed by the wide array of fertilizers. It can be confusing for even the most seasoned cannabis grower, let alone for a newbie. There are complete fertilizers (all-in-ones), fertilizers labeled for roots, labeled for vegetation, for bloom, among hundreds of others. To complicate matters there are soluble nutrients, insoluble nutrients, organic nutrients, chemical nutrients, etc. To determine which type of fertilizer is best for a new cannabis grower, we will check out some of the pros and cons of each.
Single-Nutrient Fertilizers for Cannabis
Single-nutrient fertilizers or special-purpose fertilizers are great for cannabis plants that may be particularly lacking in a specific nutrient or if you are growing a particular strain that has a higher-than-average need for a certain nutrient. These types of formulations are also very useful for specific growing circumstances. For example, hydroponically grown cannabis will have different pH and nutrient needs than soil-grown cannabis, as will cannabis produced in an artificial medium. Also, a cannabis plant or crop may be lacking in a specific nutrient that is best addressed with a single-nutrient fertilizer. This way the deficiency can be addressed without over-feeding the plants the other nutrients found in all-in-one fertilizers.
A keen and trained eye may be able to detect specific nutrient deficiencies in a cannabis crop. The only way for most growers, however, to know for sure that a specific, individual nutrient is needed or lacking is with a soil or tissue analysis. Testing for nutrient deficiencies is neither complicated nor costly. There are several do-it-yourself kits on the market costing from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars and ranging in difficulty and complexity, respectively. Most new growers can get the answers they need with tests on the cheaper side. These tests are not typically as precise as a lab analysis but will bring to light larger deficiencies. Lab analysis is not necessarily that costly or complicated either, though.
Most, if not all, states and land-grant universities offer agricultural or horticultural testing services. They offer a range of tests that can give you a complete overview or test for very specific deficiencies (or toxicities). These tests range in price from very reasonable to very expensive. The benefit to lab analysis is your plant or soil sample will be analyzed using far more advanced and precise equipment than what the average person would or could have access to. It also creates a record that you can compare with for future crops. If you are growing cannabis someplace where it is not yet legal to do so, this type of testing may not be the best course of action. Lab testing can set a good baseline to know which nutrients your crops are typically deficient in, which may justify switching from an all-in-one fertilizer to creating your own fertilizer regimen. Another very useful aspect of lab testing is that in addition to spelling out your results, recommendations will be made as to what type and quantity of nutrient should be applied to obtain optimal results. This alone may inform whether you opt to use all-in-one or individual nutrients.
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Exploring All-In-One Cannabis Fertilizers
Building your own fertilizer regimen, using individual nutrients or inputs from various sources, can take your cannabis crop from good to fantastic. To do this, however, a grower needs to have a very astute sense of what role each nutrient performs within each part of the cannabis plant and at each stage of growth. Using all-in-one fertilizer formulations takes a lot of this work out of the equation, meaning you can focus on those things you have more control over such as light levels, temperature, humidity, etc. There is, however, no all-in-one fertilizer formula that is perfect for every strain, growing in every type of media, growing in every type of environment at every stage of growth. This is the trade-off any grower will need to make.
Is it better to use an all-in-one formulation that will provide most of what your cannabis needs, in most environments or create your own regimen? From a cost perspective, it is cheaper up front to purchase the single bottle containing some amount of all or most of the nutrients your plants need. The cost per nutrient by volume will likely be higher than in an individual fertilizer. This is almost always the case, though, when you buy in bulk — the total price may be higher, but the per unit price is generally lower. It is also safer to use the all-in-one formulations.
Since the ratios of each nutrient are already measured out, it is less likely to overfeed, or burn your cannabis crop using all-in-one fertilizers. All-in-one fertilizers are generally formulated with enough of each nutrient your cannabis plant needs for a particular stage of growth. This does not mean it is not possible to burn crops with all-in-one fertilizers — it is. It is just less likely to burn your crops if you follow recommended application rates versus using individual nutrients. The other component to safety is storage and handling.
Using all-in-one fertilizers mean there are fewer bottles or bags to store. Many fertilizers should be stored away from flammable items, preferably in fire-proof enclosures, especially if they are chemical-based fertilizers that can combust and feed fires.
Obviously, using individual nutrients means there are more bottles or packages of concentrated chemicals which can increase the possibility for spills or worse.
Individual nutrients can be more dangerous for the inexperienced grower to handle. While this is not true for most readily available fertilizers on the shelves, it is true for some concentrated, chemically based nutrients. Nitrogen, for example, is sometimes available in the form of ammonium nitrate. This is a highly flammable, highly combustible form that has been used for making bombs. As such, caution should be used in the handling and storage of it.
Pros and Cons: All-In-One Fertilizers vs Individual Nutrients
In a nutshell, the differences between using all-in-one fertilizers for your cannabis crop versus individual or special purpose fertilizers can be visualized as follows:
|All-In-One Fertilizers||Individual or Special Purpose Fertilizers|
|Cheaper up front||Cheaper by unit by volume|
|Ready to use||Useful for creating custom blends|
|Safer to handle and store||Useful for treating specific deficiencies|
|Less likely to burn plants by misuse|
|All-In-One Fertilizers||Individual or Special Purpose Fertilizers|
|More costly by unit by volume||More dangerous to handle and store|
|More difficult to customize||Often need to mix with other nutrients|
|Not a solution for all deficiencies||More likely to burn plants by misuse|
To summarize, it is safer and easier for newer or inexperienced growers to go for the all-in-one fertilizer. This is especially true if the application of said fertilizers is carefully synced up with the phase of cannabis production your plants are in. For example, during the vegetative phase, you should be using an all-in-one fertilizer designed for the vegetative stage; during the bud formation and flowering phase, you should switch over to an appropriate all-in-one for that stage. The individual nutrients or special purpose fertilizers should be reserved for growers with a bit of practice or a few crops under their belt. It is too easy to overfeed individual nutrients and end up burning your crop, especially if your cannabis plants only need a small amount of a particular element.
Written by Chris Bond | Certified Permaculture Designer, Nursery Technician, Nursery Professional
Chris Bond’s research interests are with sustainable agriculture, biological pest control, and alternative growing methods. He is a certified permaculture designer and certified nursery technician in Ohio and a certified nursery professional in New York, where he got his start in growing.