Proper irrigation is vital for developing desirable plant life in our yards and gardens.
Unfortunately, the same can be said for fertilizing. The problem with the latter, however, is that it can be very harmful to the environment.
So, what’s the answer?
If we put the two words together, we get “fertigation.”
And maybe we’re onto something…?!
But what is fertigation?
Fertigation is a process that puts fertilizers, soil amendments, and other such products into an irrigation system, along with the amount of water a plant requires.
Thus fertilizing and irrigating at the same time.
It has several major advantages in agriculture, but is it a win-win for homeowners?
Let’s find out.
- Fertigation – The Short Version
- The Meaning of Fertigation
- How Fertigation Works
- What is Eutrophication?
- Should You Use Fertigation?
- Types of Fertilizer
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Fertigation – The Short Version
Let’s not beat around the bush for anyone in too much of a hurry to read the full article.
Fertigation is a process that injects fertilizers and other treatments into an irrigation system. The key advantages are:
- Fast uptake of nutrients.
- Less water and product used.
- Plants absorb more of the good stuff.
- Targeted application reduces run-off.
The main problem – for part-time/weekend gardeners at least – is the fact that you need to set up this system first in order to benefit from it. Initial starting costs can be pricey, with a heavy workload to boot.
There are also numerous downsides when it comes to your location, the type of plants you’re fertilizing, and how suitable the process is going to be, all things considered.
But stay with us as we explore more of the pros and cons of fertigation, so hopefully you can decide if it’s something you’d like to try in your yard.
And you might like to start with the video below, which shows a great example of a fertigation system on an urban farm.
The Meaning of Fertigation
The word “fertigation” is a portmanteau of irrigation and fertilizer. It’s not exactly rocket science.
At some point, horticultural boffins discovered that combining irrigation and fertilizing has so many benefits, it would be insane not to put it into practice.
The same can be said for sticking the two words together to describe the process. Easy, right?!
It’s also sometimes called “nutrigation,” which is exactly the same thing.
But try not to get it confused with chemigation – although the words are sometimes used interchangeably.
Chemigation, as you might expect, refers to chemical products being added to an irrigation system, and is more to do with the application of pesticides (including herbicides), and fungicides.
Dispensing these products can cause significant harm to us and the environment, and so – much like fertigation, chemigation can help to lessen these effects with controlled, direct application.
For today’s agricultural practices, using fertilizer is just about unavoidable.
The problem is – it’s not very good for the environment, and even when applied correctly, it can still have a negative effect on the water table, increase greenhouse gasses, and cause eutrophication (more on this, below).
And this can happen at home, too. Perhaps not in the quantities used at the farmer’s field, but when you have millions of people applying fertilizer – it starts to add up!
That, and homeowners have a tendency to be irresponsible when it comes to the distribution of chemicals and fertilizers, and apply them incorrectly, or recklessly around their yards and gardens.
Whether this is down to human error, or – worse – not giving a damn, is a moot point.
It’s a thing.
Fertigation might just be the answer, and it has a number of excellent advantages, the likes of which we’ve included below.
Advantages of Fertigation
- Plants absorb more nutrients – where the water goes, so does the good stuff.
- Targeted placement of nutrients – they get right where they need to go.
- Accurate and measured distribution – no more waste or overfertilizing with controlled rates. Plants get what they need – and nothing more.
- Reduces run-off, and helps prevent/limit fertilizer products leaching into waterways.
- Cost-effective – reduces the overall amount of water and product used.
- Precise timing available – product is distributed only when required, at times set by you.
- Reduced risk of disease through potentially contaminated soil.
- Reduces the chance of soil erosion.
- Can save the gardener a lot of time, especially during a busy growing season.
However, it’s not without its downsides, too; as the list of disadvantages below will tell you.
Disadvantages of Fertigation
- In order to practice fertigation, you first need to have a system set up. This is certainly more of a headache to most homeowners than to simply water and fertilize your plants separately.
- Initial costs can be expensive. Good fertilizer injectors and pumps aren’t cheap!
- Products can weaken in water, and as the fertilizer dissolves, some plants might not feel the desired effects.
- Drought rationing will pretty much shut this kind of operation down, so if you live in a typically parched region – it might not be the best option.
- A separate water line is required to avoid cross-contamination with the domestic supply.
- Every plant will receive the same amount/type of fertilizer – so it’s not ideal if you want to spot treat certain plants or areas with different formulas/nutrient combinations.
- Some types of fertigation can disperse products into unwanted locations – such as over your neighbor’s fence, for example.
But how does it work? Keep reading to find out.
How Fertigation Works
There are several methods utilized for the practice of fertigation.
The most common is to use an “injector” pump, which dispenses product into the irrigation lines at a controlled rate.
You apply the fertilizer or amendment product into a connected tank, and turn on the pump and the water flow.
A valve will control how much or how little fertilizer is applied at any given time. If you’re looking to use it on grass, this article on when to fertilize a lawn will give you an idea when it comes to settings.
Remember, grass will need different rates of fertilizing depending on the species. This article on different types of grass seed will tell you more – as well as being useful for overseeding choices.
How the fertilizer/water actually gets to your vegetables/flowers/lawn depends on the system you have set up.
Two popular methods are drip-irrigation systems, and sprinkler/mist irrigation. The video below will show you the differences between each.
What is Eutrophication?
This word might have cropped up a couple of times in this article, so let’s properly explain what it means.
Eutrophication is the process where bodies of water become saturated with nutrients, and minerals, which leads to excessive and harmful algae production.
Oxygen levels are dramatically reduced, which leads to “dead zones” in our seas, oceans, rivers, and lakes. Dead zones are places when animal and plant life cannot survive, due to lack of oxygen.
In short, it kills things.
And what causes eutrophication?
Excessive fertilizer run-off into waterways – particularly nitrogen and phosphate based products.
And don’t think this is only caused by agricultural practices, or lawn care on an industrial scale (golf course, parks, etc.).
Misuse of residential fertilizers is a huge contribution to climate change, when you have millions of homeowners overfertilizing their lawns in an attempt to get the best patch of green on the block.
Perhaps it’s time to re-think fertilizer use altogether? Maybe it’s time you even did away with your lawn? This article on the less-than-savory history of lawns will tell you more.
At the very least, we should all be following these eco-friendly lawn tips.
And go here to learn how to make an organic DIY lawn fertilizer, which is great for use in organic gardening in general.
Should You Use Fertigation?
Now, this is all very well and good, but is it practical for residential use? Should homeowners be using fertigation on their lawns, in vegetable patches, and flower beds?
It really depends on your yard, what you’re growing, and the quantities you’re growing it in.
If you have extensive vegetable patches, for example, and you’re doing your best to be self-sufficient, then a fertigation system is highly recommended.
But remember that different plants have different needs, and it’s probably not a good idea to dispense the same amount of product in a vegetable patch containing a variety of produce.
For large-scale plots containing the same plant, however, fertigation comes into its own – such as conditioning rows of tomato vines, for example.
Likewise for fertilizing your lawn, as fertigation can save so much water, time, money, and effort – particularly over larger areas.
If you’re serious about lawn-care, then this process should be on your radar. And you should also check out our complete month-by-month guide on how to achieve a beautiful lawn. Don’t forget these essential lawn tools, too.
However, for individual perennial and annual plants, fertigation isn’t the best option, as their requirements change depending on a number of factors, and not all plants need the same, uniform fertilizer application.
Furthermore, care and consideration should be taken over how your fertigation system is actually going to disperse the product on your plants.
If you’re using spray nozzles, for example, the mist can easily drift into unwanted areas – including into your neighbor’s garden, if you live in a residential area.
And some home sprinkler systems can easily contribute to run-off, which defeats the purpose of fertigation in the first place!
If that’s the case, a drip-irrigation system is probably your best bet – so you can apply fertilizer into the soil, right where it needs to go.
Less wasteful than sprinklers, drip irrigation is the best option for homeowners – particularly for smaller yards and gardens, and/or if you’re likely to incur the wrath of Mr and Mrs Smith next door.
You need to remember that all fertigation systems require the installation of a backflow preventer – to stop unwanted products from reaching potable water supplies/your water source.
This is required by law, and you should check with your state regulations for more information.
Additionally, there’s a lot to learn about the types of nutrients and products you can and can’t use in a fertigation setup.
If you want to know more about the sciency stuff behind it, I suggest you read this excellent article from the Earth Observing System.
Types of Fertilizer
If you’re thinking about trying fertigation, you should also be aware that you need to use the right type of fertilizer for the process.
You can’t just fire any old product down the tubes and hope for the best.
As a result, you have two choices:
- Liquid fertilizers that are ready to be dispensed through an irrigation system.
- Dry fertilizers that are water-soluble, and need to be dissolved before fertigation can take place.
This article on the different types of lawn fertilizer should tell you more, and you can also check out this link which offers comparisons of granular and liquid fertilizers – to find out which is right for you.
How do you apply fertigation?
There are many ways you can try this method of fertilizing and irrigation, but you need to have an irrigation system already in place to start with.
Take a look at the video below, which shows just one example of how you can get started with a DIY fertigation system.
Does fertilizer kill weeds?
Fertilizer misuse can have a serious effect on the environment, but does it kill weeds? The short answer is no – as it’s designed to help plants grow.
There isn’t such a thing as a “selective fertilizer” that will boost some plants but not others. Remember that weeds are still plants, and dandelion will benefit from fertilizer as much as a rose.
This article on fertilizers and weeds will tell you more.
Does Fertilizer kill worms?
Again, we know the effects of large-scale fertilizer misuse on animal and plant life, but does it kill helpful insects in our lawns?
It depends on the type of fertilizer you’re using, but worms will largely go unharmed for the most part, and can even benefit from sensible fertilizer use.
This article asks, does fertilizer kill worms? and has more info.
What is fertigation? It’s the process of adding fertilizers to an irrigation system, for better control of product application, less waste, increased benefits to plants, and a more eco-friendly practice in general.
I hope this article has brought it to your attention, and that you’re considering trying it in your garden. At the very least, we should be taking more care when applying any kind of fertilizer on our property.
Let me know your thoughts on the topic in the comments.
Stay safe out there, stay green, and happy gardening!