Mastering fertilizer in maize farming

Fertilizer in maize farming. Maize farming is an essential agricultural practice that requires careful nutrient management for optimal growth and abundant yields. Fertilizers play a crucial role in providing the necessary nutrients to support maize crops throughout their growth cycle. In this article, we will explore the different types of fertilizers commonly used in maize farming and delve into the optimal timing for their application.

Maize farming is a dynamic and rewarding endeavor that requires careful attention to nutrient management. Proper fertilizer application plays a crucial role in ensuring optimal plant growth, higher yields, and overall farm productivity. We will explore the key considerations and best practices for fertilizer application in maize farming.

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Mastering fertilizer in maize farming

Understand Soil Nutrient Requirements

Before applying fertilizers, it’s essential to assess the nutrient status of your soil. Conducting soil tests helps determine the existing nutrient levels and any deficiencies or imbalances. The test results guide fertilizer selection and application rates, enabling targeted nutrient supplementation and improved efficiency.

Selecting the Right Fertilizer

Maize crops have specific nutrient requirements, with nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) being the primary macronutrients. Choose fertilizers with the appropriate nutrient composition based on soil test recommendations and crop needs. Common fertilizers used in maize farming include urea, diammonium phosphate (DAP), and potassium chloride (Muriate of Potash).

Timing of Fertilizer Application

Timing is crucial when applying fertilizers to maize crops. Here are the key stages to consider:

  • Pre-Planting: Apply basal or pre-planting fertilizers before sowing the seeds. Incorporate them into the soil during land preparation to ensure uniform nutrient distribution and availability during the early growth stages.
  • Side-Dressing: Side-dressing is the process of applying fertilizers alongside growing plants during the growing season. Nitrogen is typically side-dressed because maize has a high demand for this nutrient. The timing of side-dressing varies but often occurs when the plants reach knee height (around 4-6 weeks after emergence). Additional side dressings may be applied during the pre-tasselling stage and just before flowering to support optimal growth and grain development.
  • Split Applications: Splitting fertilizer applications allows for better nutrient management and uptake. For example, you can apply a portion of the fertilizer during planting and the remaining amount during side-dressing. This approach helps synchronize nutrient availability with the crop’s changing needs, resulting in improved nutrient utilization.

Application Techniques

To ensure efficient fertilizer uptake by maize plants, consider the following techniques:

  • Broadcasting: For pre-planting or basal applications, distribute fertilizers evenly across the entire field using broadcast spreaders or suitable machinery. Follow recommended application rates to avoid under or over-application.
  • Banding: During side-dressing, create fertilizer bands near the maize rows. This technique places the nutrients closer to the root zone, optimizing uptake. Banding also reduces fertilizer contact with foliage, minimizing nutrient losses and potential leaf burn.
  • Incorporation: After applying fertilizers, incorporate them into the soil through shallow tillage or irrigation. This step helps reduce nutrient losses due to volatilization and runoff, enhances nutrient availability, and minimizes environmental impact.

Monitoring and Adjusting

Regularly monitor the growth and health of your maize plants throughout the season. If visual signs of nutrient deficiencies or excesses appear, consider making adjustments. Seek advice from local agricultural extension services or agronomists to guide you in fine-tuning your fertilizer application strategies.

Successful maize farming requires a systematic approach to fertilizer application. Understanding soil nutrient requirements, selecting the right fertilizers, and applying them at the appropriate stages are vital for maximizing yields and promoting healthy plant growth. By implementing these best practices and continuously monitoring the crop, you can achieve optimal fertilizer utilization, contribute to sustainable farming practices, and reap the rewards of a bountiful maize harvest.

Understanding Fertilizers for Maize Farming

Nitrogen (N) Fertilizers

Nitrogen is a key nutrient required for maize growth, as it promotes leaf and stems development, enhances chlorophyll production, and improves overall plant vigor.

Common nitrogen-based fertilizers include

  • urea,
  • ammonium sulfate, and
  • calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN).

These fertilizers release nitrogen gradually, ensuring sustained nutrient availability to the maize plants.

Phosphorus (P) Fertilizers

Phosphorus is vital for root development, flowering, and fruiting in maize plants. Phosphorus-rich fertilizers, such as

  • diammonium phosphate (DAP) and
  • triple superphosphate (TSP),

provide readily available phosphorus to support early plant growth and establishment.

Potassium (K) Fertilizers

Potassium is essential for maize plants as it enhances disease resistance, water uptake, and overall stress tolerance.

Common potassium-based fertilizers include

  • potassium chloride (Muriate of Potash) and
  • potassium sulfate,

which provide a readily available source of potassium for the maize crop.

Optimal Timing for Fertilizer Application in Maize Farming

Pre-Planting Application

Before sowing maize seeds, it is beneficial to apply a basal or pre-planting fertilizer. Incorporate a balanced fertilizer into the soil during land preparation to ensure a good distribution of nutrients in the root zone.

Side-Dressing or Top-Dressing

Side-dressing or top-dressing refers to the application of fertilizers during the growing season when the maize plants require an additional nutrient boost.

Nitrogen-based fertilizers are often side-dressed to meet the crop’s increasing demand for nitrogen during critical growth stages.


The optimal timing for side-dressing nitrogen fertilizers varies depending on the maize variety, climate, and local practices. However, a common practice is to apply the first side-dressing when the maize plants reach knee height or around 4-6 weeks after emergence.

Additional side dressings may be applied during the pre-tasselling stage and just before flowering to support optimal plant growth and grain development.

Foliar Application:

In certain situations, foliar application of liquid fertilizers can be beneficial, especially when addressing specific nutrient deficiencies or promoting quick nutrient absorption.

Foliar sprays are typically applied during the early morning or late evening to maximize nutrient uptake through the leaves.


Fertilizers are essential tools for maximizing maize yields and ensuring healthy plant growth. By understanding the different types of fertilizers and their specific nutrient contributions, farmers can make informed decisions regarding fertilizer selection and application timing. Pre-planting applications provide a solid foundation while side-dressing and foliar applications address the crop’s changing nutrient requirements during the growing season. By following recommended practices and considering local conditions, maize farmers can optimize fertilizer use and contribute to successful maize cultivation.

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