Essential Plant Nutrients

Gardening Tips
Essential Plant Nutrients

Most fertilizers include all the important plant nutrients. There are three essential nutrients for your plants all fertilizers have to include: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (N-P-K, in that order). However, these "big three" are not the only nutrients your plants need.

Here is a quick info about all of the important plant nutrients. Many fertilizers include the big three + additional nutrients to make your plants thrive.


Nitrogen spurs on leafy growth. It's important to provide your plants with an adequate amount of nitrogen. If you give too much, some plants will not flower. If you give too little, plants may get yellowish or pale-green older leaves.


This nutrient encourages proper blooming and root development. If you use too little phosphorus you may end with plants with stunted growth. Another bad thing that can happen due to lack of phosphorus is that your plants may get purplish younger leaves.


This nutrient is directly involved in photosynthesis. This is the process of converting sunlight to energy. Potassium also offers other benefits, such as encouraging sturdy stems and disease resistance. If your plant lacks potassium, it may develop yellowish or spotted older leaves.


This nutrient is important because it encourages strong cells as well as root growth. Certain environmental conditions (heat, drought, etc.) can make it very difficult for some of the plants to absorb calcium. Signs of lack of calcium is loss of blossoms: they may drop suddenly. Another sing are yellow edges on young laves or curled leaves.


This element is important for proper formation of chlorophyll (this is the green pigment in plants, needed for converting light to energy). Sulfur also promotes healthy roots and it lowers soil pH. If your plants lack sulfur they can develop yellow leaves. However, sulfur deficiency is not really common.


Magnesium is a component of chlorophyll. It's important to understand that sandy, acidic soils tend to contain less magnesium than humus-rich, clay, alkaline soils. It's also worth noting that too much nitrogen or potassium can make it difficult for your plants to absorb magnesium. If the plant lacks magnesium, it may develop yellowish older leaves with green veins.


This nutrient is involved in the formation of chlorophyll. It also helps plants use nitrogen. Manganese is more readily available in acidic soils than in alkaline soils. If your plants lack manganese, they may develop yellowish older leaves.


This element is more available in acidic soils. If you add organic matter or sulfur to the soil it may lower its pH. This is very beneficial and often works better than adding more iron. Iron is associated with chlorophyll so the lack or this nutrient will often result in stunted plant growth or younger leaves turning yellow. This yellowing will usually start at the edges and spread inward.


This element is very important to plant metabolism. It also influences water movement within the plant. It is very rare for plants to lack chlorine. Having too much of this element is more common. This is particularly common near swimming pools. Too much chlorine will result in brown leaf tips. Leaves may turn yellow and fall out.


Zinc helps the plants use sugars. In turn, this increases plant size and growth rate. In case a plant lacks this important element in the soil, it may develop smaller leaves than usual or it may have leaves with puckered-looking edges.


This nutrient influences how plants use and absorb other nutrients. If your plants lack boron in the soil it may develop deformed or dead new growth. Another thing that may happen are unusually brittle leaves. However, keep in mind that plants require very little boron.


This element is a part of many proteins. It's very important for plant reproduction. In case your plants lack copper they may develop misshapen or dark blue-green younger leaves.


This element influences how plants use nitrogen. It's important to know that plants require only small amounts of this mineral. However, without it, they may look like they are suffering of nitrogen deficiency. They may develop pale-green or yellowish older leaves.

To make sure that your soil contains all the important minerals and nutrients, it's best to test it at a certified soil lab.

Photo credit: Oregon State University

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