Fertilization is the subject of the proper balance of elements needed for a plant to have a healthy and vigorous life-from it’s juvenile state through maturity, from one season to the next, and with varying environmental and physical conditions. With all of these variables it is obvious that a plants nutrient requirements is in a constant state of flux-not unlike that of a human. A juvenile needs a different diet than octogenarian, an office worker can probably have a different diet than an Olympic athlete and a teenage boy can eat different foods than a soon to be mom. But to start a discussion of plant nutrition we must first have a basic understanding of the basic elements needed for cell growth and function. To accomplish this academics have divided plant nutrients into two broad categories-macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients. In this issue I will discuss micro-nutrients.
Micro-nutrients are further broken down into two categories-
non-mineral elements and mineral elements. Non-mineral elements are carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. These elements are found in air (O2 and CO2) and water (H2O). They are the basic building blocks for sugars and starches (carbohydrates). The plant converts these basic elements into carbohydrates through a process called photosynthesis. This process is the very basis for almost all life on earth. This is because it converts sun light energy into a primary energy source (carbohydrates) required by most living organisms and additionally creates oxygen (O2) as a by product. These three elements are freebies and we generally we do not need to manage them as mother nature does that just fine.
Micro-nutrients in the mineral element category are nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), potassium (K), sulfur (S), calcium (C), and magnesium (Mg .
- Nitrogen is an essential part of all living cells and is a necessary element in protein and enzymes involved in the transfer and synthesis of energy. It is also a component of chlorophyll which is necessary for photosynthesis. Without nitrogen plants exhibit stunted and slow growth. It must be converted to nitrate nitrogen (NO3) or ammonium nitrogen (NH3) before it can be utilized by the plant.
- Phosphorous is also critical in the conversion of light energy to chemical energy as well in the formation of sugars and starches. It is critical in the maturation of a plant and it’s reproductive cycle as well as root development. Without phosphorous plants will have difficulty bearing fruit, enduring stress, more prone toward disease and have a stunted root system.
- Potassium is important in protein formation, photosynthesis, fruit formation and disease resistance.
- Sulfur is necessary in the formation of proteins, enzymes and vitamins and is critical to the formation of chlorophyll.
- Calcium is essential in the formation of cell walls.
- Magnesium is also a part of chlorophyll and necessary for photosynthesis.