Foliar feeding is a technique of feeding plants by applying liquid fertilizer directly to the leaves. Plants are able to absorb essential elements through their leaves. The absorption takes place through their stomata and also through their epidermis. Transport is usually faster through the stomata, but total absorption may be as great through the epidermis. Plants are also able to absorb nutrients through their bark.
Foliar feeding was earlier thought to damage tomatoes, but has become standard practice.
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A popular version of the feeding is to use sea-based plant mixes, especially kelp, which contains many of the fifty "trace nutrients"; the more such nutrients are needed, the harder it is to balance them within the soil. Kelp also contains some hormones considered good for the development of the plants' leaves, flowers and fruit, of interest to organic gardeners who reject artificial hormone applications.
H.B. Tukey was head of Michigan State University (MSU) Department of Horticulture in the 1950s. Working with S. H. Wittwer, they proved conclusively that foliar feeding is effective. Radioactive phosphorus and potassium were applied to foliage. A Geiger counter was used to observe absorption, movement and nutrient utilization. The nutrients were transported at the rate of about one foot per hour to all parts of the plants.
A spray enhancer can help nutrients stick to the leaf and then penetrate the leaves' cuticle.
Foliar application has been shown to avoid the problem of leaching-out in soils and prompts a quick reaction in the plant. Foliar application of phosphorus, zinc and iron brings the greatest benefit in comparison with addition to soil where phosphorus becomes fixed in a form inaccessible to the plant and where zinc and iron are less available.
Foliar feeding is generally done in the early morning or late evening, preferably at temperatures below 24 °C (75 °F), because heat causes the pores on some species' leaves to close.
- George Kuepper, NCAT Agriculture Specialist (2003). "Foliar Fertilization". ATTRA Publication #CT135.
- Fageria, N. K.; Filho, M.P. Barbosa; Moreira, A.; Guimarães, C. M. (2009). "Foliar Fertilization of Crop Plants". Journal of Plant Nutrition. 32 (6): 1044–1064. doi:10.1080/01904160902872826.
- "What is Foliar Feeding and Why You Should be Doing It?". 13 Essentials. July 2018.
- Tukey, H.B., Ticknor, R.L., Hinsvark, O.N and Wittwer, S.H. (1952). Science, 116: 167–167.
- Charlie O'Dell (March 2004). "Foliar Feeding Of Nutrients" (PDF). American Vegetable Grower. Dramm Corporation. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 February 2008.
- Waraich, Ejaz Ahmad; Ahmad, Zahoor; Ahmad, Rashid; Saifullah; Ashraf, M. Y. (2015). "Foliar Applied Phosphorous Enhanced Growth, Chlorophyll Contents, Gas Exchange Attributes and PUE in Wheat (Triticum aestivumL.)". Journal of Plant Nutrition. 38 (12): 1929–1943. doi:10.1080/01904167.2015.1043377.