Nutrient Lockout – What It Means And How To Prevent It

Whether you are using a hydroponic or a traditional soil-based system, there’s one thing that might turn all your efforts into waste, and that’s the nutrient lockout. Nutrient lockout occurs when your plants cannot absorb the nutrients through their roots properly.

Still, the failed nutrient absorption doesn’t necessarily correlate with the lack of nutrients in the mix. It’s a complex issue that depends on several factors, and you’ll want to act quickly to save your plants and yield. So, reading this guide will get you on the right track, as we’ll deal with common reasons that cause a nutrient lockout, and how to tackle them!

What Is A Nutrient Lockout?

So, a nutrient lockout is the inability of your plant’s roots to absorb the much-needed nutrients necessary for proper growth and development. Still, you shouldn’t look at it as the issue of nutrient deficiency alone.

While it might be your first guess that you should add more nutrients to the mix, it probably won’t be the solution. If the roots can’t take in the nutrients, chances are that adding more won’t fix an issue, regardless of the total nutrient amount.

The outcome might be similar to a nutrient burn, which is when your plant receives too many nutrients. So, you can’t fix the problem by adding more nutrients, and you can’t do it by reducing their amount either. What should you do to save your plant? Well, let’s start with the ways of recognizing the lockout, and go through some ways of tackling it. 

How To Spot A Nutrient Lockout?

In cases of nutrient deficiencies or other reasons that cause a nutrient lockout, it’s crucial to act fast and spot it on time. Luckily, you can tell something is wrong by taking a closer look at your plant.

Spot A Nutrient Lockout

Here’s how you can spot the problem in time and move on to fix nutrient lockout:

  • Stunted growth
  • Yellow or brown marks on the leaves
  • Stunted flowering stage
  • Dry leaves

Besides knowing the signs of nutrient lockout, it’s also essential to understand the reasons behind it so you can deal with the issue. It’s the best way of overcoming the issue and preventing nutrient lockout in the future.

Main Reasons Behind The Nutrient Lockout

If your plant doesn’t absorb nutrients properly, it could be due to several reasons. You’ll need to get into the specifics to deal with nutrient lockout, and we’ll start explaining it all through the example of cannabis plants.

You might see that the flower heads are forming a bit slower than they should and that the leaves are getting dry and yellow-ish. So, observing the nutrient lockout in cannabis plants can be a good starting point to determine what’s wrong for the following reasons:

Unstable pH Levels

Ensuring pH-balanced water is a must for every grower, especially in a hydroponics system. If your pH level is too high, or too low for that matter, certain nutrients in the mix might remain locked for the cannabis plants or any plant, for that matter.

So, your plant might show signs of deficiency even though all the nutrients are physically there – the roots just can’t absorb them properly. The best way to deal with pH imbalance is to use an electric pH meter and compare the readings with the initial level of the setup.

In most cases, hydroponic systems will require a pH range from 5.5 to 6.5 for optimal growth depending on the plant. If your pH level is out of the sweet zone, you can use the “pH Up” and “pH Down” solutions to restore the balance to the system.

To fix nutrient lockout that’s pH-based, you might also want to prepare a new nutrient solution mix and get it right pH-wise from top to bottom again. The pH meter will be your new best friend in growing in this case as well, as you’ll need to constantly measure the pH levels.

Salt Buildup – What It’s All About?

Another reason behind your plant’s nutrient lockout could be the salt buildup. It usually happens in hydroponic systems as you are probably using chemical fertilizers. So, the growing medium in which the plant is placed might get too much salt residue.

While your plants need salts like Epsom salt to grow, too much salt might cause trouble leading to nutrient lockout. The salt buildup reduces the water uptake and therefore affects the plant’s ability to absorb the nutrients. Reduced growth and yellow leaf tips are often the results of a nutrient lockout caused by salt buildup.

Luckily, it’s possible to remove the buildup of salt deposits from the growing medium by using a technique called flushing, as we’ll elaborate on shortly.

Overfeeding The Plants With Nutrients

If your nutrient mixture is off target, it can entice nutrient incompatibility. It’s much like the salt buildup, as the nutrients accumulate in the growing medium so much that they develop a sort of a bond that prevents the roots from proper intake of them.

Especially with growing mediums that have high absorbing capacities like coco coir or Rockwool, it’s easy to make the mistake of overfeeding your plants. The nutrient solution needs to be precisely calculated for each type of plant, to avoid forming a residue of chemical fertilizers that lead to a chemical reaction resulting in overfeeding.

How To Fix Nutrient Lockout?

Hopefully, you’ll now know about the signs of a nutrient lockout, as well as the reasons behind it, so you can act swiftly to restore the balance. It’s a good thing though that you can easily fix the nutrient solution and regain pH-balanced water to give back the balance to the system and remove excess nutrients.

One of the best ways of doing so is called “flushing” and it’s probably the go-to option for fixing nutrient lockout. By flushing, you’ll remove the salt buildups and all the excess nutrients and minerals to restore pH and nutrient balance, and prevent a nutrient lockout in the future.

Fix Nutrient Lockout

Again, flushing marijuana plants makes a perfect example of how the process works. You’ll want to deliver pure water into the pot and flush the plant with 4 times more water than the pot can handle.

So, you’ll need to repeat the process a couple of times for the best results. Make sure to set up a drip tray below the pot to collect the excess water, and simply allow the plant to soak completely.

You can also use a flushing solution that just contains a few chemicals that clean the soil from the mineral residue. If you are scared that the plant will starve from water flushing alone, this could be a good option for you. 

However, you can rest assured that you won’t damage the plant any further than what it would be due to nutrient lockout.

Flushing can turn the tables around and it’s only essential that you let the soil completely dry before you add any nutrients again. 

For those of you that are using a hydroponic system, it’s enough to switch the growing media and introduce a new nutrient reservoir to deal with the nutrient lockout. 

You can flush the system by pouring just water into the reservoir and letting the plant intake it for 24 hours just to be sure.

Avoiding Nutrient Lockout

The best way to reduce the chances of a nutrient lockout to a minimum is by monitoring the pH level. Especially in hydroponic systems, it’s easy to monitor the pH levels through a reliable pH meter with precise measurement.

You’ll want to maintain the correct pH for different types of plants at all times, and it also helps if you use organic nutrients. Using organic fertilizers reduces the chances of salt buildup and usually includes fewer minerals than chemical fertilizers.

So, these are some quick tips you can use to prevent nutrient lockout and you should carefully monitor both the nutrients and the pH levels throughout the growing cycle of your plant.

Final Thoughts

Nutrient lockout is a troublesome thing for every horticulturist since it can be difficult to diagnose. 

It might appear like a nutrient deficiency, while in reality your plant just can’t access and absorb the locked nutrients from the soil or hydroponic nutrient solution.

Hopefully, this guide will help you identify nutrient lockout, and help you treat nutrient lockout as fast as possible.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):

What does nutrient lockout look like?

Your plant might stop growing and developing properly in case of a nutrient lockout, and several factors indicate this diagnosis. If you spot yellow leaf tips or stunted growth and flowering, chances are that your plant can’t access the locked nutrients from the soil or hydroponic reservoir.

Can overwatering cause nutrient lockout?

If you are using untreated hard water, it might lock certain nutrients that your plant needs to grow properly. However, watering can sometimes even help if you are flushing the plant to tackle the consequences of nutrient lockout.

How to prevent nutrient lockout from happening?

The best way to prevent a nutrient lockout is to use organic fertilizers and to measure the pH level of your nutrient solution or soil frequently. Besides the pH monitoring and organic nutrients, you should also carefully choose growing media in hydroponic systems to prevent minerals and certain fertilizers from build-up and reduce the water intake capabilities of your plant.

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