A Short Introduction to Essential Plant Nutrients: Part 1

Crops have a biological potential yield that can be achieved if all other potential yield-limiting factors are removed. Unfortunately, practically there is always some yield-limiting factor. These factors include:

  • Drought
  • Too much heat
  • Too much cold
  • Not enough nutrients
  • Pest and disease
From: IPNI Nutrient Removal Calculator (https://www.ipni.net/app/calculator/home)

Which nutrients then?

Plants are able to make their own food by capturing the energy from sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into sugar. But, in order to stay healthy and bear flowers and fruit, they take additional nutrients out of the soil. Seventeen chemical elements are known to be important to a plant’s growth and survival. 

The 17 chemical elements are divided into two main groups: non-mineral and mineral. 

Non-Mineral Nutrients

The non-mineral nutrients are are hydrogen (H), oxygen (O) and carbon (C) which are found in the air and water. Through photosynthesis (meaning “making from light”), plants use the energy from the sun to change carbon dioxide (CO2 – carbon and oxygen) and water (H2O – hydrogen and oxygen) into starches and sugars. These starches and sugars are the plant’s food (and a lot of them are our food).

Since plants get carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen from the air and water, there is little farmers can do to control how much of these nutrients a plant can use.

Mineral Nutrients

The 14 mineral nutrients, which come from the soil, 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 grow healthy. This is why many farmers use fertilizers to add the nutrients to the soil.

The mineral nutrients are divided into two groups:

Macronutrients and micronutrients (also called trace elements). These terms are not based on the importance of the nutrients, but rather the amount of the nutrients needed by the plant. Macronutrients are needed in much greater quantities than 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 major nutrients usually are lacking from the soil first because plants use large amounts for their growth and survival.

The secondary nutrients are calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and sulphur (S). There are usually enough of these nutrients in the soil so fertilization is not always needed. In addition, usually sufficient amounts of calcium and magnesium are added when lime is applied to acidic soils. Sulphur can be found in sufficient amounts from the slow decomposition of soil organic matter but is often neglected and can have a big impact on crop quality.


Plants need micronutrients in very small (micro) quantities but they are still essential for plant health and growth. The micronutrients are boron (B), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), chloride (Cl), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo), zinc (Zn) and nickel (Ni).

COMPO EXPERT has a full range of enhanced efficiency plant nutrient products to supply plants in every developmental stage

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