The Essential Elements Of Plants

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There are 17 essential elements that plants need to grow and reproduce. These required nutrients are often placed in four categories. The first group are the carbon (C), hydrogen (H), and oxygen (O) that plants obtain primarily from water and air. The remaining three categories contain the 14 essential nutrients generally taken up by plant roots from soil (Table 1). The primary macronutrients are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). These three elements are required in large amounts by the plant and are the most commonly applied nutrients in most fertilizers. The secondary macronutrients, calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and sulfur (S) are usually required in slightly lower amounts than primary macronutrients. Applications of these nutrients may be needed but are generally less frequently required than the primary macronutrients.

The fourth and final category of plant nutrients are the micronutrients. Although just as essential for proper plant growth and reproduction, micronutrients are needed in much smaller quantities. In many soils, micronutrients are present in sufficient amounts for plant growth. Micronutrient excess, called toxicity, can also be problematic. Care must be taken to not oversupply micronutrients through fertilization or pH management. Soil tests are the best way to be certain that micronutrient levels are adequate but not too high.
How Plants Fill Nutrient Needs
Plant roots serve many functions, but one of their most critical roles is the
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