Nutrient Burn in Hydroponics: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention Tips  

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Nutrient burn is a common cannabis plant and overall gardening problem that can cause reduced growth and even death. If you’re not sure what nutrient burn is or how to treat it, keep reading. In this blog post, we’ll cover the causes of nutrient burn, how to treat it, and prevention tips to help you avoid this problem altogether! 

What is plant nutrient burn, and how do you know if you’re experiencing it? 

Nutrient burn is a common problem for gardeners, especially those who are new to planting. It occurs when the plants are overexposed to nutrients, causing them to develop brown “rust spots” or yellowing of leaves. In severe cases, the leaves may become covered in black spots and begin to fall off. While nutrient burn is not harmful to the plant itself, it can be unsightly and may reduce the plant’s yield. 

Though plants need nutrients like Nitrogen, Potassium, Calcium, and so on to grow, too much of these minerals can cause nutrient burn. This typically occurs when gardeners over-fertilize their plants or water them with nutrient-rich water. 

Often, new cannabis plant growers will make the mistake of adding too much fertilizer to their plants, anxious to see their plants grow, thinking that more is better. However, this is not the case! Too much fertilizer can actually damage your plants and cause nutrient burn, causing a nutrient imbalance by locking out other nutrients. Therefore, it is best to use top-quality balanced preformulated fertilizer when growing. 

If you suspect that your plants have been overexposed to nutrients, there are a few things to look out for. 

Symptoms of Nutrient Burn 

There are a few telltale signs that you’re dealing with nutrient burn. 

Early warning signs: 
  • Slow plant growth 
  • Dark green (near blue) or discoloration of leaves 
  • Bending/curling at the tips of the leaves 
Immediate warning signs: 
  • Browning or yellowing of leaves 
  • Burnt leaf tips or rust spots 
  • Curling leaf edges 
  • Leaves twisting or clawing 
  • A yellowish halo separates healthy tissue from damaged edges at the center of the leaf 
  • Leaves may become covered in black spots 
  • The plant may begin to wilt, and leaves will start to fall 

The nutrient burn symptoms begin at the leaf tips because as excessive nutrients accumulate, the plant attempts to distribute them, and the leaf tip is the furthest distance they can travel. As a result, it’s critical to keep an eye on any changes in a plant’s leaf tips to ensure that nutrient burn is detected as soon as possible. 

If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to act immediately. Left untreated, nutrient burn can damage your plants and reduce their yield. 

Other Common Nutrient Burn Issues 

Although overfertilizing plants is the most common cause of this issue, it might also be caused by other factors such as: 

  • Underwatering – plants require moisture to absorb oxygen and a balance of nutrient moisture levels.   
  • Plant growth boosters – when overused they can cause plants to dwarf and attempt to absorb too many nutrients. 
  • Extended drying period – If the soil becomes depleted of water, it will change the plant’s nutrient to water ratio, resulting in an increase of nutrients. 

Each situation is unique, so it’s important to take note of the plant’s nutrient needs and make sure not to overdo it. 

Whether you’re growing cannabis or another type of plant, too much of anything can be harmful. 

How to Fix Nutrient Burn 

Treating nutrient burn can be tricky, and often requires a bit of trial and error. If you think your plant is suffering from nutrient burn, here are a few things you can try: 

1. Stop fertilizing immediately 

This is the most crucial step in treating nutrient burn. If you continue to fertilize your plants, you will only make the problem worse. 

2. Cut your plants back 

 If your plants are severely damaged, you may need to remove any burnt tip left on the plant to encourage new growth. Additionally, cut off all dry and dead leaves to prevent rot. 

3. Flush the soil 

 This helps to remove any excess nutrients from the plant’s roots. To do this, water your plant deeply and slowly a few times, allowing an equal volume of water as the container size,  to run through and flush out the soil. You can also measure the PPM/TDS of the runoff water to determine how much reduction in nutrient salts you’ve achieved. 

  • In hydroponic systems this means emptying the reservoir, refill with pH balanced water. Run this for 24 hours. 
  • In soil-based systems, heavily water your environment with pH balanced water. 

4. Add organic matter to the soil 

This will help to improve drainage and prevent nutrient build-up. Consider adding growing media such as perlite, vermiculite, or Charcoir — Will help “buffer” the nutrient salts. 

5. Adjust your nutrient solution 

If you’re using a nutrient solution, make sure it’s properly balanced. However, be sure to refer to the manufacturer’s label on your hydroponic nutrient solution or nutrient rich soil for proper measurements and feeding schedule. Of course, the suggested ‘dosage’ will vary somewhat depending on the sort of plant you are cultivating. To make sure you are giving your plants the right amount of nutrients, you should use a TDS meter to measure how many dissolved particles are in the water. This will help you adjust your nutrient solution correctly. Sometimes labels ask you to use too much. Always observe your plants and let them tell you if they need more or less. 

6. Boost your roots 

Vitamins, hormones, and microorganisms can all be found in root stimulators and help to speed up root development. It’s easier for the plant to recuperate and return to normal. 

While immediately tending to your hydroponic system or garden can be helpful, it may not always be possible to save your plant. In some cases, the best course of action is to start over with new seeds or clones. 

Prevention Tips for Avoiding Nutrient Burn 

The best way to avoid nutrient burn is to be proactive and take measures to prevent it from happening in the first place. Here are a few tips: 

  • Start with a small amount of nutrients – when starting out, it’s always better to err on the side of caution. You can always add more nutrients if needed, but you can’t remove them once they’ve been absorbed by the plant. 
  • Follow the nutrient schedule – most nutrient solutions will come with a feeding schedule. Make sure to follow this schedule and don’t overdo it.  Be consistent always observing the plant’s growth. 
  • Monitor your plants regularly – take note of how your plants are growing and progressing. If you see any signs of nutrient burn, make sure to adjust accordingly. 
  • Measure pH level and EC level – When you are adding nutrients to your reservoir, use a digital pH/EC meter to check it for nutrient strength on a regular basis or when it needs to be refilled. This will help you make sure the nutrient concentration is just right. 
  • Be patient – it’s important to give your plants time to adjust to their new environment. Don’t be tempted to add more bottled nutrients if they don’t seem to be growing as quickly as you’d like. Remember, slow and steady wins the race! 

If you follow these tips, you should be able to avoid nutrient burn and keep your plants healthy and happy. Of course, even if you do everything right, nutrient burn can still happen from time to time. If it does, make sure to take the necessary steps to treat it quickly and prevent it from happening again in the future. 


Will plants recover from nutrient burn? 

If your leaves have been burnt, they will not turn green again. However, you can clip off the burnt bits. The key indicator that your recovery methods are working is if the burning stops. If whole leaves are burnt to the point of dropping off the plant, make sure to remove them, so they don’t rot and infect the rest of your plant. 

How to tell if it’s nutrient burn or a nutrient deficiency? 

If the leaves are yellow and/or purple, it’s likely a nutrient deficiency. If the tips of the leaves are brown or crispy, it’s most likely nutrient burn. 

How do I prevent nutrient lockout? 

Nutrient lock out occurs when the plant can’t absorb any more nutrients, even though they are available. This goes for cannabis plants and other plants as well. This happens when the pH is off, or the roots are damaged. To prevent this, monitor your pH levels and check your roots regularly for damage. 

Are there other forms of nutrient stress?

Nutrient burn is the most commonly talked about form of nutrient stress, but there are many other stresses such as “nutrient toxicity” or “nutrient deficiency.” The first is when the affected plant has too much of a certain nutrient while the latter is having too little. These types of stresses can include:

– Root burn
– Fertilizer burn
– Nitrogen toxicity
– Nitrogen deficiency
– Calcium deficiency
– Potassium deficiency
– Magnesium deficiency
– Phosphorus deficiency

As with everything, moderation is key when it comes to your nutrient mix. This is especially important during the flowering stage as your plant is more susceptible to nutrient burn and can cause your buds to become less potent or stunted growth.
Depending on your growing medium, you may also want to consider using compost tea as it can help add beneficial microbes and fungi to the roots, promoting healthy growth.

Avoid Cannabis Nute Burn with the Right Hydroponics Supplies 

Plant nutrient burn is a common issue for hydroponic gardeners. It can cause damage to your plants and reduce yields. The good news is that it’s easy to treat and prevent if you know what to look for. 

In this article, we’ve outlined the causes of nutrient burn, how to treat it, and some prevention tips. If you think you’re experiencing nutrient burn, it’s important to take corrective action. The best way to prevent nutrient burn is to use quality hydroponic equipment and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for dosage rates. 

Our HRG Brands offer a wide selection of top-quality hydroponic equipment for all your hydroponic gardening needs.

Visit our store locator to find a hydroponics supplier near you!