When the once staunch leaves of your Chinese Evergreen stop growing and lose their vigor, it can be understandably distressing. One of the culprits is often a lack of nutrition, which can be solved by regular and consistent application of the right fertilizer. This article will cover everything you need to know about when and how to fertilize aglaonema plants successfully at home.
Fertilizing and Plant Health
There are many essential components in plant health and growth. Two of the most often talked about ones when it comes to houseplants are light and water. But nutrients – the components plants use to build and maintain cells (among many other things) are often overlooked.
Nutrients can be broken down into three categories – macronutrients, secondary nutrients, and micronutrients.
- Macronutrients: The big three are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. You may have seen these abbreviated as NPK on fertilizer packaging next. These nutrients are required in the largest amounts, and each serves a slightly different purpose, working together holistically to keep the plant alive and spur growth.
- Secondary nutrients: These nutrients are required in large amounts, but not as much as the macronutrients. Including elements like calcium and sulfur, secondary nutrients play a vital role in plant care.
- Micronutrients: Required in much smaller amounts, micronutrients include things like iron and boron. Your plants may only need a tiny drop of these nutrients, but a lack of them can have severe consequences for overall health. They are smaller but no less significant than any of the other nutrients on the list.
These nutrients are found in the soil, drawn up by the roots through water, and transported to where they are needed most.
Houseplants and Fertilizer
When it comes to houseplants (or any plants in a container), the amount of nutrients in the soil is finite. The plant slowly uses up what is available over time and when there is nothing left, the plant will stop growing. That’s where fertilizer comes in.
Fertilizer contains macronutrients (and hopefully secondary and micronutrients) in specific ratios, designed to best suit certain plants. You may have seen three numbers on bags of fertilizer at your local nursery – these are the NPK values. They indicate how much nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are in a bag of fertilizer, allowing you to choose the perfect one for your plants.
Adding fertilizer to the soil replenishes these essential nutrients, spurring growth and providing the best conditions for your houseplants. Without it (or a repotting at minimum), growth will become stunted, and the plant will eventually die.
Signs Your Aglaonema is Lacking Nutrients
There are several signs to consider when checking for nutrient deficiencies in your plant, from growth problems to color changes. However, these signs also indicate other, more common issues like lack of sunlight or overwatering.
If you repot your plant frequently (every 1-2 years), nutrient deficiencies are unlikely to be the cause of your problems. However, if your plant has been in the same pot for several years without fertilizer or a soil top-up, these signs are the ones to look out for.
Lack of New Leaves
A healthy Aglaonema should continue to produce new, glossy leaves during the growing seasons of spring and summer. They may grow slower depending on age, light levels, and environmental conditions, but you should see some new growth throughout the season.
If your Chinese Evergreen does not put out any new growth and looks generally lackluster, lack of nutrients may be the cause.
While excited houseplant owners look forward to new leaves popping up, overall growth is also something to monitor. Roots, by nature, continually grow and expand to feed the plant and facilitate growth. Aglaonemas are also relatively large plants, so younger and smaller ones should grow in size over time.
If there is absolutely no growth in your plant over the entire growing season, pot size is normally the culprit. However, lack of nutrients could also be the cause.
Nutrients, along with water, make up a large part of a plant’s cells. They also contribute to root growth and health and the strength of plant stems.
When your plant lacks nutrients, the leaves and stems are less able to hold themselves upright, resulting in wilting. However, there are also many other causes for this issue – such as the more likely underwatering – to take into consideration before reaching for the fertilizer.
Finally, yellowing leaves – one of the most common houseplant problems around – could also signify nutrient deficiency. This yellowing is usually irregular and spotty, starting on older leaves and working its way up to the newer leaves until the whole plant turns yellow. Nitrogen, in particular, is the nutrient to look out for, especially in leafy houseplants like Aglaonemas.
When and How Often Should You Fertilize?
Like most tropical houseplants, most types of aglaonema should only be fertilized during the active growing seasons of spring and summer. During fall and winter, growth slows when the temperatures dip, and fertilizer will only spur new and vulnerable growth that can be damaged by cold.
As most liquid houseplant fertilizers are diluted, with nutrients made immediately available to the plants, there is no need to start fertilizing in late winter to prepare for spring. Once the temperatures increase and the soil warms outdoors, you can begin fertilizing indoors.
Most liquid houseplant fertilizers are applied once every 4-6 weeks, which can be stretched to 8 weeks for slower growing plants in low light conditions. Slow-release fertilizers are slightly different as they dissolve in the soil over time, usually only applied once per season.
The exact timing will depend on your chosen product and its concentration. Some lower concentration fertilizers can be applied as often as every 2 weeks, while others require longer waiting times to avoid salt build-up in the soil.
The Best Fertilizer for Aglaonema Plants
A balanced fertilizer with equal NPK values is most suitable for Aglaonemas to contribute to overall plant health. You can also choose a fertilizer slightly higher in nitrogen for healthy leaves and stems or any houseplant-specific fertilizer designed for indoor gardens.
Try any one of these options which are ideal for Chinese Evergreens (via Amazon):
- Miracle-Gro Indoor Plant Food
- Miracle-Gro Indoor Plant Food Spikes
- The Gro Co Organic Indoor Plant Food
How to Apply Fertilizer
Most houseplant fertilizers are diluted in water before pouring over the soil as you normally would. Avoid getting any water on the leaves as this can cause them to burn. Always dilute according to packaging instructions, or dilute to half strength for slower growing plants in low light areas and increase the dose as required.
Slow-release fertilizers for houseplants are also available in stick form, simply buried in the soil around the plants. As you water, these sticks slowly break down to release nutrients into the soil over a more extended period of time.
Your chosen product should have specific instructions on how to apply them. Incorrect application can cause the leaves and roots of your plants to burn, so it’s essential to follow them precisely.
Whenever gardeners want to spur growth or resolve any growing issues, they tend to reach for fertilizer to solve their problems. However, it is not a cure-all, and applying it at the wrong time can do far more damage than you may expect.
Overfertilizing causes a build-up of salts in the soil, burning the roots and leaves. Unless you flush the soil well to get rid of these salts, they will continue to do damage and may end up killing the plant.
If you notice any signs of struggle soon after fertilizing, it’s best to flush the soil. Run water through the pot until it runs completely clear, leaving all the excess water to drain from the drainage holes. Hold off on fertilizing for a while to give the plant time to recover.
Fertilizing Aglaonema FAQs:
Do Aglaonemas need fertilizer?
When repotted consistently, Chinese Evergreens don’t rely on fertilizer for growth. However, they will generally perform better when fertilized during the growing season.
When should I fertilize my Aglaonema?
Fertilize in spring and summer every 4-6 weeks or as recommended on your chosen product’s packaging.
What is the best fertilizer for Aglaonemas?
A balanced houseplant fertilizer or one slightly higher in nitrogen is suitable for your Chinese Evergreen.
Is Miracle-Gro suitable for Aglaonema Plants?
The Miracle-Gro Indoor Plant Food, either in liquid or slow-release form, is suitable for Aglaonemas. They also have a Tropical Houseplant Food that can also work for these plants.
Are used coffee grounds good for Aglaonema?
While many gardeners save their coffee grounds for their indoor and outdoor plants, they should not be considered a holistic source of nutrition. They are also known to attract aglaonema pests – especially indoors – so it’s best to stick to specialized products to ensure you’re giving your Aglaonema everything it needs for healthy growth.
If you want your Aglaonema to look as statuesque and glossy as it did the day you bought it, fertilizer is your answer. Make sure you apply the right amount at the right time for the best results.