Saturday, May 2, 2009

Major nutrients


Most gardeners are familiar with the “N-P-K” in commercial fertilizers: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). But these three represent only half the major nutrients a plant requires in relatively large amounts. The other major nutrients are sulfur, calcium and magnesium. Consistent use of Perfect Balance fertilizer will result in the proper calcium/magnesium ratio for your soil, as well as provide the necessary nutrients which are not in balance.


Minor nutrients are not really minor, or unimportant. They are essential – vital to plant growth but needed in lesser amounts than major nutrients. Essential minor nutrients are the secret weapons of successful gardeners and farmers. In spite of their critical importance, most fertilizers do not include them.

Plants, like people, can suffer from too much of a good thing. In humans, vitamin D, necessary for health, can cause disease or even death when too much is consumed. Similarly, too much boron can be toxic to a plant.


Calcium is needed for cell division and plant growth. Its buffering characteristics are critical to soil balance and largely determine the availability of other nutrients. Lack of calcium results in yellow or pale leaves, and causes blossom-end rot on tomatoes and peppers. A deficiency in beans causes yellow leaves with curling margins, stunted plants, and blackened, dying shoot tips. Deficiency causes brown-tipped leaves on cabbage, forked roots in beets, and unusually small potatoes.


Magnesium (often confused with manganese, a minor nutrient) is an essential element of chlorophyll, and a deficiency is generally shown in yellowing leaves. Carrots may be poor in flavor and color. Insufficiency also affects potatoes and peas.

When calcium and magnesium levels are not in balance, the availability of many other nutrients is affected adversely. Minor nutrients produce best results when the calcium/magnesium ratio is close to 68:12.


Phosphorus is required for cell growth and plant reproduction, and it is crucial for flower and fruit formation. Too little phosphorus can result in stunting, but too much can cause bitter flavor in crops. Symptoms of phosphorus deficiency are often mistakenly attributed to virus disease.


Potassium activates plant enzymes and keeps cell fluid movement in balance. Potassium regulates water loss through stomata (tiny pores) on the leaves, and it is necessary for root formation and food storage in the plant. Severe deficiencies in vegetables can appear as deformed, stunted or yellow leaves, weak stems and premature fruit drop.

Potassium deficiency in young tomato plants results in deformed stems and leaves, browning in older leaves; ripe fruit falls off vines.


Iron is essential for plants to make chlorophyll, plays a role in the synthesis of plant proteins, and helps plants fix nitrogen. A deficiency causes young yellow leaves with green veins, symptoms which are often confused with nitrogen deficiency. Iron deficiency often appears in soils with pH above 6.8; at neutral or high pH, the iron that may be in the soil is not readily available to plants.


Zinc aids in moisture absorption and in the production of chlorophyll. A deficiency is indicated in tomatoes by small, narrow leaves with black spots in yellow areas; plants may be stunted.


Boron is the most widely deficient minor nutrient in vegetable crop soils. It is needed in protein synthesis, and increases flower set, crop yield and quality. In combination with adequate phosphorus, boron increases pollination, fruit set and seed development.

Boron deficiency causes growth reduction at the growing tips. Plants have small, crinkled, deformed leaves, with large areas of discoloration. Boron deficiency is often caused by application of too much lime. While boron is essential for root growth and fruit development, it can become toxic if over applied. Always test the soil and apply only the recommended amount.


Most soils are deficient in copper. Some gardeners believe that copper is toxic to plants and should be kept out of the garden. In fact, too much copper can be toxic to roots and leaves, but a small amount is a necessary component of plant growth. Copper should not be applied before having the soil professionally tested.

Copper increases flavor and sugar content of vegetables and fruits. It increases color intensity and yield of carrots, spinach, onions, corn and cabbage.

Soils with high organic matter form a tight hold on copper and can cause copper deficiencies in the resident plants. As a result, soils which are high in organic content are more likely to respond to copper application.

An early sign of copper deficiency is the uniform, light green color of young leaves. Deficient plants produce small or yellowing leaves and may be particularly susceptible to airborne fungal diseases.


Sulfur increases the protein content of crops and stimulates more rapid root development during early periods of growth. A lack of adequate sulfur is almost always a limiting factor in garden soils. Visible symptoms include a uniform yellowing and mild upward curling of leaves on deficient plants. (Nitrogen deficiency shows confusingly similar symptoms.) A moderate to high level of sulfur is especially required for potatoes.


Manganese accelerates seed germination and hastens fruiting and ripening of crops. Deficiencies result in yellowing, cupping and/or spotting of leaves, stunted growth, and reduced crops.


Nitrogen is the element that plants use in greatest amounts. It is the most important – yet the most often deficient – element in plant growth worldwide. Nitrogen is highly volatile, so it escapes to the air, and it leaches away in run-offs of water. It needs to be applied more often than most fertilizer components, especially when the organic content of the soil is low.

Nitrogen is essential to photosynthesis and healthy cell growth and reproduction. It is vital in producing chlorophyll (which gives leaves good green color) and amino acids. It also promotes shoot and leaf growth.

Sources of Specific Nutrients
Many of these fertilizers are available processed and packaged. You don't have to harvest your own.

  • Nitrogen: bat guano, blood meal, chicken manure, cottonseed meal, fish emulsion, kelp meal, livestock manure (composted)
  • Phosphorus: bonemeal, rock phosphate, super phosphate
  • Potassium: granite meal, greensand, seabird guano, shrimp shell meal, sulfate of potash, wood ashes
  • Calcium: bonemeal, chelated calcium, eggshells, limestone, oyster shells, wood ashes
  • Boron: borax, chelated boron, manure
  • Copper: chelated copper
  • Magnesium: chelated magnesium, dolomitic limestone, Epsom salts
  • Sulfur: iron sulfate, sulfur, zinc sulfate
  • Zinc: chelated zinc, zinc sulfate
  • Iron: chelated iron, iron sulfate

Nitrogen= for leafy growth,Phosphorous helps to promote healthy roots and flowering.
Phosphorus= helps to promote healthy roots and flowering. Phosphorous
9-59-8 for bloomers
Potash= strong root and stem development

Manganese sulfate , deficiency palms frizzle top

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