Let us go back to the basics and learn chemistry that would be extremely helpful in understanding its applications in gardening. Chemical elements analysis reveals that plants need definite proportions of specific plant nutrients elements.
Plant growth is solely dependent on 17 different elements. The presence of all these chemical elements in perfect proportion is primarily responsible for the healthy growth of a plant. As a gardener, you must know about these 17 essential elements. All these elements have been classified into specific categories. The basis of such classification is also interesting to understand. Let us open it up.
What is Plant Nutrition?
Every living thing needs nutrients for its survival and so do plants. These nutrients facilitate the life cycle of the plant and its growth. There are 16 such nutrients, which the plant might need, and out of these sixteen, nine are essential and the other seven are required by the plants but in the absence of the remaining seven, the plant would not die. The nutrients can be further classified into the following:
- Primary Nutrients
- Secondary Nutrients
Essential Plant Nutrients: Description and Significance
Primary Nutrients – Air and Water Macronutrients
Consist of Carbon (C), Oxygen (O), and Hydrogen (H) along with Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K). The latter three are commonly found in most fertilizers and the former are found in air and water from the atmosphere. These nutrients are required and are utilized more than the secondary and primary nutrients.
Carbon is required in photosynthesis and is an important constituent of biomolecules like cellulose and starch. Oxygen is elemental for cellular respiration, which generates energy for the plant called ATP (Adenosine Tri-phosphate). Hydrogen is also essential since it helps in the generation of sugars and thus contributes to the growth of the plant. Nitrogen is part of the DNA of the plant and is a major contributor to the growth of the plant.
Phosphorus is an important part of ATP and has a role to play in the conversion of light energy into chemical energy during Photosynthesis. Potassium plays an important part in water retention by the plant; it also regulates the opening and closing of the stoma.
A clean environment with clean air and quality water is not only important for humans but also plants.
The Secondary Nutrients consist of Magnesium (Mg), Sulfur (S), and Calcium (Ca) which though are required in smaller amounts are required by the plant for various reasons. Magnesium is a part of Chlorophyll pigment without which Photosynthesis would not be possible and the plant would fail to prepare food and energy. Sulfur is required for the generation of energy in the plant body. Calcium is helpful in the transportation of nutrients in the plant body.
Some essential elements are primarily derived from fertilizers. Nitrogen (N), Potassium (K), and Phosphorus (P) are three elements. Fertilizers are the best sources for their replenishment as these elements are required in comparatively large quantities and at a regular frequency. These elements are responsible for the maximum growth of the plants. Adding fertilizers to the soil is one of the best methods to maintain a minimum required level of replenishment.
As the name suggests, secondary micronutrients are added with primary micronutrients. More often the process of such addition is coincidental in nature. Calcium (Ca), Magnesium (Mg), and Sulfur(S) are three such secondary micronutrients. When you add lime in any form these elements are coincidentally added to it and plants derive them accordingly.
In chemistry, they are better known as “Trace Elements”. We may also call them minor micronutrients for gardening purposes. These elements are not required in large quantities rather just a trace present would suffice. Eight (08) such trace elements are essential for plant growth. These are :
- Manganese (Mn),
- Boron (B),
- Iron (Fe),
- Chlorine (Cl),
- Cobalt (Co),
- Molybdenum (Mo), and Zinc (Z).
Then comes the Micronutrients like Zinc (Zn), Copper (Cu), Boron (B), Manganese (Mn), Iron (Fe), and Molybdenum (Mo). These nutrients are required in very small quantities as the name suggests.
Zinc has a huge role to play in the stimulation and activation of enzymes; therefore it is required though in a small amount for the proper functioning of the plant.
Copper is also important for Photosynthesis and it a part of various enzymes. Boron is an important component of the cell walls. Besides sit also helps in the transportation of sugar and cell division. Manganese helps in the building of Chloroplasts and it also activates enzymes.
Iron also helps in photosynthesis and enzyme reactions. It also helps in the synthesis of chlorophyll. Molybdenum plays an important role in the fixation of Nitrogen and also is an important element when it comes to the generation of amino acids.
Common soils contain sufficient quantities of micro-nutrients. However, a soil test would be better to identify any further needs that can be replenished externally. If you apply good soil-building -practices you will perhaps never face any problem.
If you are using synthetic fertilizers in your garden then you must be aware of the fact that there are no trace elements in it. On the other hand, applying organic fertilizers is far better as there are trace elements present in sufficient quantity. Manure, compost, green manures, and mulching are most recommended for this purpose.
Essential Plant Nutrients
Here is relevant information about the nutrients that are essential for plants. So gardeners here is some reading material for you.
Sources of Essential Plant Nutrients
There are various sources of plant nutrients some natural and some synthetic. The natural sources have to be necessarily air, water, and soil but the synthetic sources are fertilizers and manures.
There are certain fertilizers, which supply certain nutrients for example calcium and magnesium can be found in Dolomitic Lime or Aglime. Similarly, sulfur can be obtained from Sulfur compounds, Gypsum and Magnesium, and Potassium Sulfate.
Micronutrients like manganese, copper, boron, zinc, and molybdenum are available from manganese, copper, and zinc sulfates, their oxides, oxy sulfates, and chelates. These nutrients can also be obtained from ammonium molybdate and boric acid.
What can be the Effects of Plant Nutrition Deficiencies?
The deficiencies of various nutrients lead to various problems, which are as follows:
- Calcium deficiency would lead to a decrease in the growth level of the plants.
- The deficiency of Nitrogen would lead to the stunted growth of the plants and also weaken the plant as a result of which it might also not flower.
- The deficiency of Phosphorus would lead to the fading of leaves and slow plant development.
- Deficiency of Potassium would lead to the yellowing of leaves and premature withering.
- Iron Deficiency leads to the development of white patches in between veins and that leads to the death of young leaves.
- Sulfur deficiency leads to the yellowing of leaves and weakening of plants, the effects are very similar to that of Nitrogen deficiency.
- Boron deficiency leads to the deformation and death of leaves along with the death of growing buds.
- Manganese Deficiency leads to the yellowing of leaf veins.
- Magnesium Deficiency leads to the yellowing of leaves and poor development of the plant and the fruits.
- Zinc Deficiency can lead to the yellowing of leaves and a reduction in the size of the leaf.