Plant Nutrients

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Remember when you asked your science or chemistry (monosyllabically just “Chem” to us majors) teacher why you had to learn those pesky chemical symbols and more than likely said, “I’ll never need to know them again”? Well here’s to your redemption Mr. Bobbitt.

Divided into two groups, there are sixteen chemical elements important to a plant’s growth and survival.

Non-mineral nutrients are composed of hydrogen (H), oxygen (O), and carbon (C). These nutrients are found in air and water. In the process of photosynthesis, plants use energy from the sun to change carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O) into starches and sugars- which are the plants food. Plants get hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon from the environment and don’t need to be supplemented.

Mineral nutrients (13) come from the soil are dissolved in water and transported through the plant’s roots. There are not always enough of these nutrients in the soil for healthy plant growth. This is why farmers and gardeners add fertilizers to the soil to supplement. Mineral nutrients are divided into two groups: Macronutrients; further subdivided into two groups primary and secondary, and Micronutrients.

The primary macronutrients are the major nutrients usually lacking from the soil as growing plants use large amounts for their growth and survival. They are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium K) and are found in most fertilizers. The secondary macronutrients are calcium (Ca), Magnesium (MG), and sulfur (S). There are usually enough of these elements in the soil that supplementation from fertilizers is usually not necessary. Large amounts of Ca and Mg are added when lime is applied to acidic soils. Sulfur is available in adequate amounts from decomposition of soil organic matter and a benefit for leaving grass clippings and leaves on the ground.

Micronutrients are the elements necessary for plant growth but needed only in very small quantities. They are boron (B), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), chloride (Cl), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo), and Zinc (Zn). Recycling matter like grass clippings and leaves is a great and cheap way of providing micronutrients to growing plants.

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