Plant Nutrient Information

» Jump to: Plant Nutrient Roles & Symptoms of Deficiency

Mineral Nutrients

Mineral nutrients, of which there are 13, come from the soil, and are dissolved in water and absorbed through a plant's roots. There are not always enough of these nutrients in the soil for a plant to otherwise thrive. Therefore, many farmers and gardeners use fertilizers to add the nutrients to the soil.

Mineral nutrients are divided into two groups: macronutrients and micronutrients.


Macronutrients can be broken into two more groups: primary and secondary nutrients.

The primary nutrients are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). These three nutrients usually are depleted from the soil first because plants use large amounts for their growth and survival. When you see a bag of fertilizer with numbers like "7-7-7" or "5-10-5", that is termed the "NPK ratio". Different plants require one or more of these nutrients and the ratio lets the gardener know what percentages of each are contained in a given fertilizer.

The secondary nutrients are calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and sulfur (S). There are usually enough of these nutrients in the soil so fertilization is not always necessary. Also, large amounts of Calcium and Magnesium are supplied when lime is applied to acidic soils. Sulfur is usually found in adequate amounts from the slow decomposition of soil organic matter, an important reason for not throwing out lawn clippings and leaves.


Micronutrients are those elements essential for plant growth which are needed in only very small quantities. These elements are sometimes called minor elements or trace elements, but use of the term micronutrient is encouraged by recognized agricultural groups. The micronutrients are boron (B), chloride (Cl), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo) and zinc (Zn). Recycling organic matter such as lawn clippings and leaves is an excellent way of providing micronutrients, as well as macronutrients, to growing plants.

Non-Mineral Nutrients

Hydrogen (H), oxygen (O), & carbon (C) are considered non-mineral nutrients, and are found in the air and water.

By a process called photosynthesis, plants use energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide (CO2 - carbon and oxygen) and water (H2O - hydrogen and oxygen) into starches and sugars, which are used by the plants as food.


Nutrient Roles & Symptoms of Deficiency


Role: Helps with rapid growth, increasing seed and fruit production and improving the quality of leaf and forage crops.

Symptoms of Deficiency: Yellowing of older foliage, new growth will ultimately suffer similar yellowing and be weak and spindly.


Role: Aids photosynthesis; proper plant maturation; withstanding stress. Effects rapid growth. Encourages blooming and root growth.

Symptoms of Deficiency: Older leaves turn a darker shade of green, followed by chlorosis.


Role: Aids in the building of protein, photosynthesis, fruit quality and reduction of diseases.

Symptoms of Deficiency: Initially as a mottled chlorosis. Dying areas along leaf margins and tips. Followed by leaf curl and blackening and scorching of leaf tissue.


Role: An essential part of plant cell wall formation, provides for normal transport and retention of other elements as well as plant strength.

Symptoms of Deficiency: "Die back" of leaf margins ("tip burn") and leaves show brown to black scorching. Blossom end rot.


Role: Part of the chlorophyll in green plants and essential for photosynthesis. Also helps activate many plant enzymes needed for growth.

Symptoms of Deficiency: Yellowing of leaves, spreading out from the center to the margins.


Role: Essential plant food for protein production. Promotes activity and development of enzymes and vitamins. Aids in chlorophyll formation. Improves rooting and seed production. Aids vigorous plant growth and resistance to cold.

Symptoms of Deficiency: Young leaves become pale. Continued growth will be hard and woody with little increase in radial growth.


Role: Promotes the use of nutrients and regulates other nutrients. Aids production of sugar and carbohydrates. Essential for seed and fruit development.

Symptoms of Deficiency: Slow death of plant tissue in multiple areas. Cracks in fruits. Stems deteriorate and become hollow.


Role: Aids plant metabolism.

Symptoms of Deficiency: Wilting due to a restricted and highly branched root system. Abnormal leaf shape, and leaf mottling and leaflet blade tip wilting with chlorosis.


Role: Important for reproductive growth. Aids root metabolism and the utilization of proteins.

Symptoms of Deficiency: Wilting of new growth and, sometimes, irregular growth, with dying back of new shoots. Fruit split with during ripening.


Role: Necessary for formation of chlorophyll.

Symptoms of Deficiency: Leaves turn nearly white. Veins yellowed.


Role: Aids in breakdown of carbohydrates, and nitrogen metabolism.

Symptoms of Deficiency: Yellow mottling of younger leaves.


Role: Aids plant's use of nitrogen.

Symptoms of Deficiency: Leaf paleness and burnt appearance at leaf margins. Abnormally-shaped foliage, and plant will show typical nitrogen deficiency symptoms.


Role: Necessary for the transformation of carbohydrates. Regulates consumption of sugars. Part of the enzyme systems which regulate plant growth.

Symptoms of Deficiency: Undersized leaves on new growth, giving plant a stunted appearance.