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The nutrients from the soil that plants are using to make food and help them grow are composed of mineral ions, absorbed in solution from the soil through the roots and used with carbon dioxide and water. The mineral nutrients are divided into two groups: macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients, required in relatively large amounts, include: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), magnesium (Mg), calcium (Ca) and sulphur (S). They are usually lacking from the soil, mainly because plants are using them in large amounts for their growth and survival. Micronutrients are equally important but they are required only in small amounts. Micronutrients include: iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), boron (B), molybdenum (Mo) and chlorine (Cl). Recycling grass clippings and tree leaves is an excellent way to provide nutrients to your garden plants.

Soil Nutrients

In poor soils, when they are unable to provide the adequate amounts of the nutrients that plants require to grow healthy, it is necessary to add fertilizers that contain the missing nutrients, to ensure healthy plant growth. Only some fertilizers need to be added regularly. For example: nitrogen – which promotes vigorous growth, phosphorus – for assisting strong root growth and potassium (potash) –  which improves flowering and fruiting.

A deficiency of those main nutrients will cause various problems for plants. For example: nitrogen deficiency causes reduced growth, potassium deficiency causes leaf discoloration, manganese or iron deficiency causes browning of leaves, phosphate deficiency is less common but is most likely to occur in young plants with poor root systems.

The following lines will provide you a short description of each nutrient, its benefits and where it can be found.

nitrogen (N) – is a part of all living cells and a necessary part of all proteins, enzymes and metabolic processes involved in the synthesis and transfer of energy; is also a part of the chlorophyll (the green pigment of the plant that is responsible for photosynthesis); it helps plants with rapid growth, increasing seed and fruit production and improving the quality of leaf and forage crops; it comes from fertilizer application and from the air.
phosphorus (P) – is an essential part of the process of photosynthesis and is involved in the formation of all oils, sugars, starches; it helps with the transformation of solar energy into chemical energy, proper plant maturation, withstanding stress; it effects rapid growth and encourages blooming and root growth; it comes from fertilizer, bone meal, and superphosphate. 
potassium (K) – is absorbed by plants in larger amounts than any other mineral element except nitrogen; it helps in the building of protein, photosynthesis, fruit quality and reduction of diseases; it comes from soil minerals, organic materials and fertilizer.
calcium (Ca) – is an essential part of plant cell wall structure, provides for normal transport and retention of other elements as well as strength in the plant and also thought to counteract the effect of alkali salts and organic acids within a plant; it can be found in dolomitic lime, gypsum and superphosphate.
magnesium (Mg) – is a part of the chlorophyll in all green plants and essential for photosynthesis; it also helps activate many plant enzymes needed for growth; it comes from soil minerals, organic material, fertilizers and dolomitic limestone.
sulfur (S) – is an essential plant food for production of protein; it promotes activity and development of enzymes and vitamins and helps in chlorophyll formation; improves root growth and seed production, helps with vigorous plant growth and resistance to cold; it comes from rainwater but 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) – helps in the use of nutrients and regulates other nutrients; aids production of sugar and carbohydrates; is essential for seed and fruit development; it can be found in organic matter and borax
copper (Cu) – is important for reproductive growth; aids in root metabolism and helps in the utilization of proteins. 
chloride (Cl) – aids plant metabolism and is found in the soil. 
iron (Fe)  – is essential for formation of chlorophyll; it can be found in soil, iron sulfate and iron chelate. 
manganese (Mn) – functions with enzyme systems involved in breakdown of carbohydrates and nitrogen metabolism; it can be found in soil.
molybdenum (Mo) – it helps in the use of nitrogen; it can be found in soil. 
zinc (Zn) – is essential for the transformation of carbohydrates, regulates consumption of sugars and is a part of the enzyme systems which regulate plant growth; it can be found in soil, zinc oxide, zinc sulfate and zinc chelate.

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For a good development plants need water. Most plants grow well in a soil that is described as both moist and well drained. This kind of soil is a well-structured soil where water is held in fine capillary pores, which are usually less than 0.1 mm in diameter, with air in the larger pores. Water is most readily available to plants from pores of he largest diameter. As the pores become smaller, it becomes increasingly difficult for the plants to extract moisture, which means that some soil water always remains unavailable.

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