Nitrogen is a macronutrient or essential plant nutrient. It is the ‘N’ in NPK and is primarily responsible for growth and vigor in a plant.
It is the backbone of amino acids, the structural building block of proteins. Do you know what else are proteins?
Enzymes. Enzymes are proteins that are catalysts for all the processes within a cell.
Furthermore, nitrogen is a primary component of the chlorophyl molecule (C55H72MgN4O5). This is known as the ‘green’ in leaves.
With a nitrogen deficiency, have you noticed the leaves will yellow at the bottom first? That is because nitrogen is a mobile element. With its primary importance on providing growth and vigor, the plant will signal itself to pull nitrogen from older growth to provide for new growth.
At the end of a plant’s life, nitrogen has been seen to accumulate within a plant approximately 3-4% of its total mass!
The nitrogen cycle is important in understanding how nature works.
When plants die, they decompose via bacteria and fungi. These bacteria and fungi create a process called ammonification with these decomposing organics. This is the production of NH4 or ammonium.
Plants can take up some of this ammonium but the rest will be converted by other bacteria called nitrifying bacteria into nitrite, which in turn is converted to nitrate by other types of archaea and bacteria.
Nitrate is a plant available nutrient and is bioavailable in the rhizosphere.
Phosphorous, also known as the ‘P’ in ‘NPK’ is a mobile nutrient within a plant. Phosphorous deficiency is noticed when older growth turns bluish.
Consisting of a mere 1/1000th of the Earth’s crust, phosphorous is in limited supply on the Earth. It is estimated that we will run out of phosphorous in 30-40 years if we continue at the same rate of mining as we are today.
Formative in the molecules that encode , translate and store the genetic code/essence of life itselfDNA, RNA, ATP, etc), phosphorous is crucial in the life system of a plant.
***Geek moment: phosphorous is the base of the adenosphine triphosphate molecule; ATP provides energy to the plant and is known as ‘energy currency’ in all living cells. Phosphorous holds strong molecular bonds, breaking and binding and storing processes of the ATP molecule creates an influx of enzymes and energy.***
Simply put, without phosphorous there is not enough energy to sustain growth.
A lot of concern is raised about the influence of phosphorous leaching having a deleterious effect on the environment. This concern is warranted.
Phosphorous holds a tight bond in soil due to its attraction to clay particles and humates. Basically, when phosphorous hits the ground, some of it is absorbed by plants but about 90% is almost instantly gets bound into the soil and takes years to unlock. The rest of the excess is runoff into our lakes, ponds, rivers, etc.
When phosphorous lands in our waterways, an algae bloom occurs. This algae blooms and chokes out plants and animals and dries up the water system. No more pond. A truly disastrous effect on natural systems.
I do not recommend using high phosphorous fertilizers.
I recommend the use of mychorrizal fungi for phosphorous production. Binding to about 95% of C3 plants’ rhizosphere, endomychorrizal fungi convert root exudate carbon into plant available phosphorous. *Note: Mychorrizal fungi will cease production of P with the presence of mid-high levels of phosphorous; again, another reason not to use high phosphorous fertilizers.
Potassium, also known as the “K” in ‘NPK’ fertilizers, makes up about 2.5% of the Earth’s crust. It is the only essential plant macro-nutrient that is not a physical part of the structure of a plant. It was first derived from burned hard woods and plants, also known as ‘pot ash’.
A positively charged cation and mobile element, Potassium acts as a regulating chemical within a plant. Deficiencies are seen as dead spots on leaves which eventually makes the whole leaf die out.
Potassium aids in the uptake and movement of nutrients, water and carbohydrates in plants. It regulates over sixty key enzymatic reactions while speeding the plants metabolic activities over 1000x.
Aside from its obvious influence on overall health of the plant, it is crucial in the development of enzyme activation with the plant wihch affects proteins, starch and adenosphine triphosphate production (ATP).
A good source of potassium is burning hardwoods or bananas and mixing them in your compost. Bananas in compost will enrich your pile. Granite dust, langbeinite and kelp meal are all sources of Potassium as well.
Calcium, also known as ‘Ca’ is an abundant element on the Earth. It is a non-mobile element and is a key structural component of a plant’s cell wall. Used to transport all cell processes across a cell, it is a key part of many enzymes and is referred to as a ‘signaling’ molecule.
Calcium deficiencies appear first in young & new growth as stunted or malformed growth due to calcium’s comparatively large concentration in meristematic divisional cells.
Calcium is an abundant element and comes from weathered minerals such as chalk, gypsum & limestone deposits as well as egg shells, crustaceans and more.
It is interesting to note that Calcium (and Magnesium) is depressed in a plant’s ability to uptake it in the presence of high phosphorous levels. This may help explain why you may have a Ca-Mg deficiency during the fruiting or flowering phase if a high phosphorous fertilizer was used.
This post was written by sperling