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Essential Elements of Soil Nutrition

Updated: Aug 16

Several elements are essential to soil nutrition. All are meant for the health of the soil and a prosperous garden or crop in the field. These three are the primary nutrients: phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium. Only 12 of the 15 are managed by the person growing the gardens. Three groups are broken down into primary, intermediate, and the last is micronutrients. Magnesium, calcium, and sulfur are the intermediate nutrients, and the remaining are considered in the class of micronutrients. The remaining are as follows:

  • Iron

  • Boron

  • Manganese

  • Zinc

  • Molybdenum

  • Copper

The Primary Nutrients


As a grower, you need to know the three primary nutrients and how to manage them. This is for the health of your soil and plants. The first is phosphorus, which can be found in animal manure, bone meal, and commercial fertilizers. You must apply it to the soil surface and work it well before planting. It is needed for solid roots, flowers, and fruits. The second nutrient is nitrogen, which can come from animal manure, compost, or commercial fertilizers. You will want to apply it to the soil surface and work it in before planting time. It helps with plant growth above the ground, such as leaves. Potassium can also be found in animal manure, compost, or commercial fertilizers. This one is different because you want to apply it to the soil after planting. It helps with plant growth, disease resistance, and overall hardiness.


The Intermediate Nutrients


The next group of nutrients is considered the intermediate nutrients. These are magnesium, calcium, and sulfur. Magnesium can be found in dolomitic limestone and some commercial fertilizers. You will want to add it to the soil before planting and work it well. Calcium can also be found in dolomitic limestone and some commercial fertilizers. As with magnesium, you will want to add it to the soil before planting and work it well. Sulfur can be found in gypsum and some commercial fertilizers. You will want to add it to the soil surface and work it well before planting.


Micronutrients


The last group of nutrients is considered micronutrients. These include iron, boron, manganese, zinc, molybdenum, and copper. Iron can be found in animal manure, compost, or commercial fertilizers, and boron can be found in animal manure, compost, or commercial fertilizers and humates. As with iron, you will want to apply it to the soil surface and work it well before planting. Manganese can be found in animal manure, compost, or commercial fertilizers, and zinc can be found in animal manure, compost, or commercial fertilizers. Molybdenum can be found in animal manure, compost, or commercial fertilizers. Copper can be found in animal manure, compost, or commercial fertilizers. You will want to apply all these to the soil surface and work it well before planting. It is done in steps, should be added to the soil, and mixed well by tilling if it is a garden or plowing if it is a field. Adding the proper nutrients promises a good soil pH balance for future crops. Ensure to check it after each harvest and planting season for accuracy.


The chemical and physical properties of soil are constantly changing in response to the addition of water, air, and organic matter. Soil tests are used to measure these changes and to predict how they will affect plant growth.

There are several soil testing methods, but the Mehlich 3 extraction method is the most common. This method is used to test for the presence of 15 essential elements in the soil: aluminum (Al), boron (B), calcium (Ca), chlorine (Cl), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), magnesium (Mg), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo), nickel (Ni), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), sulfur (S), sodium (Na), and zinc (Zn).

Soil tests are essential for two reasons:

  • They help to determine the nutrient needs of plants.

  • They provide information on how well the soil is supplying these nutrients.

A soil test will also indicate the soil's pH and organic matter levels. The pH measures the acidity or alkalinity of the soil and is essential because it affects the availability of nutrients to plants. The organic matter content is a crucial indicator of the health of the soil. Organic matter helps improve the soil's structure, aeration, and water-holding capacity. It also provides a source of food for microorganisms that help to break down crop residues and release nutrients for plant growth.


It is vital to follow the instructions from the soil testing lab carefully to get the most accurate results from Tri-C Organics. The sample should be taken from several locations in the field and mixed thoroughly before being submitted. The soil test results will be used to develop a fertilizer recommendation tailored to the needs of the crop being grown. You will need to purchase the test for the suitable crops you want to grow. Contact us today if you have any questions!


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