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Roger Weller, geology instructor

Soil Nutrition
by Laryssa Dickey
Physical Geology
Spring 2014



     Around the world, people love to garden. It is great way to relax, save some money, and even eat healthier. People often don’t realize the importance of a good quality soil. Healthy soil is what can make the ultimate difference in success and failure of a garden.


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Thirteen Minerals Nutrients That Make All the Difference

     There are thirteen different mineral nutrients that plants absorb with the roots from the soil around them. These minerals are then split into two types: Macronutrients and Micronutrients.

     Macronutrients can be even further separated into Primary and Secondary nutrients. Primary nutrients are nutrients that play a major part in the growth of plants. Soils usually tend to lack these nutrients. Secondary nutrients tend to be in plentiful supply in the soil, and do not need to be added. (These are also key minerals needed for plant growth.)

   Primary Nutrients: Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), Potassium (K)

   Secondary Nutrients: Calcium ( Ca), Magnesium (Mg), Sulfur (S)

Micronutrients are minerals that are necessary for plant growth, but not in as large of quantities.

   Micronutrients: Boron (B), Copper (Cu), Iron (Fe), Chloride (Cl), Manganese (Mn), Molybdenum (Mo), Zinc (Zn)



  • Nitrogen is a part of all living cells and is a necessary part of all proteins, enzymes and metabolic processes involved in the synthesis and transfer of energy.
  • Nitrogen is a part of chlorophyll, the green pigment of the plant that is responsible for photosynthesis. 
  • Helps plants with rapid growth, increasing seed and fruit production and improving the quality of leaf and forage crops. 
  • Nitrogen often comes from fertilizer application and from the air (legumes get their N from the atmosphere, water or rainfall contributes very little nitrogen)



  • Like nitrogen, phosphorus (P) is an essential part of the process of photosynthesis. 
  • Involved in the formation of all oils, sugars, starches, etc.
  • Helps with the transformation of solar energy into chemical energy; proper plant maturation; withstanding stress.
  • Effects rapid growth.
  • Encourages blooming and root growth.
  • Phosphorus often comes from fertilizer, bone meal, and superphosphate. 

Potassium (K)

  • Potassium is absorbed by plants in larger amounts than any other mineral element except nitrogen and, in some cases, calcium. 
  • Helps in the building of protein, photosynthesis, fruit quality and reduction of diseases.
  • Potassium is supplied to plants by soil minerals, organic materials, and fertilizer.


  • Calcium, an essential part of plant cell wall structure, provides for normal transport and retention of other elements as well as strength in the plant. It is also thought to counteract the effect of alkali salts and organic acids within a plant. 
  • Sources of calcium are dolomitic lime, gypsum, and superphosphate.

Magnesium (Mg)

  • plants and essential for photosynthesis. It also helps activate many plant enzymes needed for growth.
  • Soil minerals, organic material, fertilizers, and dolomitic limestone are sources of magnesium for plants

Sulfur (S)

  • Essential plant food for production of protein.
  • Promotes activity and development of enzymes and vitamins.
  • Helps in chlorophyll formation.
  • Improves root growth and seed production.
  • Helps with vigorous plant growth and resistance to cold.
  • Sulfur may be supplied to the soil from rainwater. It is also added in some fertilizers as an impurity, especially the lower grade fertilizers. The use of gypsum also increases soil sulfur levels. 



Boron (B)

Copper (Cu)

Chloride (Cl)

Iron (Fe)

Manganese (Mn)

Molybdenum (Mo)

Zinc (Zn)



A good way to provide a lot of these minerals is by creating a compost pile and using the composted materials as a fertilizer. Many people even like to add various kinds of animal manure. Another helpful “fertilizer” is a pre-planting routine of adding coffee grounds, sugar, and ground eggshells to soil.




Texture Matters

Why does the texture of soil matter? Soil is usually a varying ratio containing clay, silt, sand, and organic material. The textures of soil is what determines how easily water, as well as minerals, drain out. The best kinds of soil have as close to an equal amount of all these elements as possible.



Knowing what you plant plays a key factor in how you grow it. Certain plants need a higher amount of certain nutrients than others, some need different pH levels, and some need varying amount of water. You also need to consider the area in which you live. Look at the soil around you. Is it capable of sustaining the plants you wish to grow? If not, a simple solution is to plant in a raised garden bed or pots.



Aquaponics is a way that allows plants to grow without soil. The concept is to have a grow tank (or tanks) that are connected with a fish tank (or tanks) in a continuous cycle to have a mini ecosystem. The grow tanks typically have lava rock, or any other type of rock that is extremely porous, to act as a filter and a place for the plants to take root. The tank of fish provides most of the minerals that a plant needs to grow. What isn’t provided by the fish can simply be added to the tank without hurting the fish.

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     There are so many ways to make a garden. You just have to be aware of the science behind it. Plants need certain minerals to grow, water, and sunlight. Also remember to pay close attention to the needs of the specific plant you wish to grow.


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