For a healthy life, plants require nutrients. These nutrients are important for germination and healthy root growth. They are also vital for leaf, flower and fruit development and fighting off diseases.
These nutrients can be in the form of non-mineral elements such as carbon, hydrogen and oxygen or as mineral nutrients in fertilizers, usually added to the soil for the plant roots to absorb them.
The mineral nutrients that plants need are divided into two groups:
These are the essential nutrients that plants take up in large quantities for growth and development. Hence, they are usually added to the soil first.
They are also broken down further into:
- Primary macro-nutrients: The most important mineral nutrients that ensure healthy plant growth are:
1. Nitrogen (N)
Nitrogen is a vital nutrient for plants. It is important in chlorophyll formation which gives plants their green color and also all proteins, enzymes and metabolic processes involved in the synthesis and conversion of energy in a plant. This promotes rapid vegetation growth.
Symptoms of nitrogen deficiency include: stunted growth, pale green or yellow leaves and the production of smaller fruits and flowers.
2. Phosphorus (P)
Phosphorus is necessary for making big flowers and strong root systems, especially in young plants and root vegetables such as carrots and other tubers. Also, for all plants to harvest the sun’s energy and convert it into chemical energy for plant growth and reproduction, phosphorus is important.
Plant growth is slowed, maturity is delayed, and yield is reduced when there is insufficient phosphorus.
3. Potassium (K)
Potassium aids the stoma, which controls the exchange of carbon dioxide, water vapor and oxygen.
Within plant tissues, potassium aids in the movement of nutrients, liquid and carbohydrates. It also aids in the creation of starches, proteins and adenosine triphosphate. This is accomplished by activating enzymes within the plant, hence regulating the rate of photosynthesis.
Other roles of potassium include preventing crop diseases, maintaining turgor in plants and improving the plant’s drought tolerance.
If potassium is deficient, then the yield is reduced and plants have stunted growth.
- Secondary macro-nutrients: Usually, the soil contains sufficient amounts of secondary macro- nutrients hence fertilization is not always required. They include:
4. Calcium (Ca)
Calcium is responsible for holding the cell walls of a plant cell together and also activating enzymes that ensure cellular activities take place. It also aids in normal root development and makes the crop resistant to diseases.
Its deficiency results in poor root growth, distorted leaves and disease prevalence in crops.
5. Magnesium (Mg)
Magnesium is an essential mineral nutrient that forms the core of the chlorophyll molecule in plant tissues. In low quantities, plants have a shortage of chlorophyll hence poor and stunted growth.
It is also important in the plant’s normal metabolism by activating some enzyme systems.
6. Sulfur (S)
As a result of the gradual decomposition of organic matter like grass clippings in the soil, sulfur is generally present in small quantities.
Sulfur is important for the structure of proteins in plants and also for the functioning of enzymes. It helps in the protection of plants against pests and stresses, resistance to cold and gives flavor to onions and garlic.
Its deficiency will cause yellowing or pale green leaves.
Micronutrients are those elements that are needed for plant growth but only in minute (micro) amounts.
The micronutrients are:
7. Boron (B)
Boron is needed for cell division and formation thus a larger amount is needed for reproductive growth to aid pollination, fruit and seed production.
8. Copper (Cu)
Copper is necessary during photosynthesis, and plant respiration. It is also very fundamental in the utilization of nitrogen in plants.
It enhances the taste and color of vegetables, as well as the color of flowers, and its insufficiency causes loss of quality in crops, yield loss, delayed maturity and severe crop lodging.
9. Iron (Fe)
Iron plays an important role in the synthesis of chlorophyll as well as the structure and functioning of chloroplasts. It is required in metabolic processes like respiration, DNA synthesis, and photosynthesis. Thus, its deficiency causes chlorosis.
10. Manganese (Mn)
Manganese sustains different metabolic roles within plant cells, including photosynthesis, chloroplast formation and nitrogen metabolism. Pale molted leaves and brown patches in leaves are symptoms of Manganese deficiency.
11. Molybdenum (Mo)
Molybdenum is crucial in the functioning of nitrogenase and nitrate reductase, two main nitrogen-fixing and nitrogen-reducing enzymes.
The leaves turn pale and eventually die without enough Molybdenum, flowers fail to form and some plants develop whiptail.
12. Zinc (Zn)
Zinc is a core component in many plant enzymes responsible for metabolic processes and growth hormone production within the plant so its absence stops growth and development.
It is useful in the conversion of starches into sugars, and helps the plant withstand the cold.
NOTE: In low-pH soils, macronutrients are less common while in soils with a high pH, micronutrients are more common. So, adjust your soil accordingly after a soil test to ensure the healthy plant growth and better crop yield.
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