Many gardeners unnecessarily fertilise plants annually, regardless of plant health or growth, according to North Carolina Cooperative Extension. Fertilizers add nutrients to the soil for optimal plant growth, but excessive amounts of fertiliser effect plants negatively. Overusing fertilisers also adds to environmental pollution. Proper use and application reduce the risk of these problems and ensure healthy growth. Important practices include basing fertilisation on soil tests that indicate the need for certain nutrients and the optimal application rate.
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Fertiliser components applied in excess run off or soak into groundwater, polluting rivers, streams and the local water supply. Phosphorous and nitrogen, two common components in fertilisers, prove especially problematic, even in small amounts, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Nitrogen-contaminated water causes potentially fatal health problems in infants, while phosphorous contributes to bad colour and odour in drinking water. Aside from human environmental concerns, fertilisers also kill fish and result in algae blooms.
Fertilisers contain salts that result in wilting and stunted plant growth when applied in excess. This results from the inability of plants to absorb water from the soil due to the water and salt imbalance between the soil and the plant. Overfertilized plants often sustain root injury, chemical burn and leggy growth. Out-of-control growth requires large amounts of energy, making the plant more susceptible to winter breakage and cold damage.
Overuse of fertiliser stresses plants, increasing their susceptibility to various diseases and insect pests. In grass species, excess nitrogen increases thatch development. This, in turn, provides an ideal habitat for insect pests. It also leads to moisture retention and lack of sunlight at the base of the plant, increasing the likelihood of certain problems, such as fungal diseases.
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- North Carolina Cooperative Extension: A Gardener's Guide to Fertilizing Trees and Shrubs
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- Texas A&M University Extension: Fertilizing Vegetables
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