Ol' Buffalo Plant Nutrient Guide

Copyright © 2003, 2017 by Blaine S Nay, Cedar City, Utah, USA
Serving the online community since 1992.

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Nutrients and Plant Growth

The three primary essential nutrients in plant food are nitrogen, phosphorus (as available phosphate) and potassium (as soluble potash). Each plays a role in building healthy plants. Nitrogen encourages growth of leaves and stems while phosphorus and potassium increase flowering and root growth. Many plant foods also have trace elements, small amounts of other nutrients that are needed to grow healthy, beautiful plants.

Plant foods are labeled according to the percentages of each of the ingredients they contain. The label indicates the relative amounts of the three essential nutrients (N, P, K, in that order) with an analysis formula (for example: 15-30-15, 18-24-16, or some other combination).

So-called natural or organic plant foods aren't necessarily better for your plants than synthetic plant foods. Your plants can't tell the difference. The nutrients are exactly the same at the molecular level.

Nutrients and pH must be in balance to ensure all nutrients are available to the plants. Too much acidity or alkalinity can inhibit nutrient absorption. Likewise, too much of one essential nutrient can inhibit the absorption of another essential nutrient. In my experience, using natural fertilizers (manure, compost) and well-formulated complete synthetic fertilizers such as MiracleGro and PowerBlend seems to be the best way to ensure good nutrient balance in the soil.

Adequate amounts of organic matter in the soil helps to buffer the toxic effects of excessive soil nutrients and contaminants such as aluminum, heavy metals, salts, etc. Therefore, adding manure and compost in addition to synthetic fertilizers is very useful for healthy plants. In addition, soil high in organic matter is much easier to work and holds moisture better. The presence of certain soil bacteria, worms, and other life-forms helps to make soil nutrients more available to plants.

There are over 90 different soil-borne nutrients needed for health plants. Nutrient levels in soil naturally vary widely. This is due to depletion by the plants that have grown in that location in the past, leaching by rain and irrigation, and native soil composition. Man usually must intervene if soil is to have all the nutrients needed by the plants he intends to grow. Healthy plant growth can actually accelerate soil depletion -- when plants are given nitrogen, they grow faster, taking up even more of the other nutrients that are in the soil.

In most cases, you should feed plants when they are actively growing. Always read instructions prior to feeding. Synthetic water-soluble plant food is generally applied every 7Ė14 days. A slow-release plant food is usually applied in early spring. Bulbs are fed with a slow-release plant food both at planting time and after flowering.

Foods grown in nutrient-rich soil not only grow better, but tend to taste better and are more nutritional.

Nutrient: Role of this nutrient: Sources: Effects of not enough of this nutrient: Effects of too much of this nutrient:
Nitrogen (N) Synthesis of proteins, chlorophyll, green leaves, rapid vegetative growth. Green, leafy growth and proteins, including the food proteins found in corn, beans and other vegetables, are made possible by nitrogen. Itís one of the main components of chlorophyll. Nitrogen comes from many organic sources, such as plant residues, urea, manure, or it can be man-made.   Fewer flowers, poor root growth; deep-green, breakable, succulent foliage susceptible to disease
Phosphorus (P) Synthesis of enzymes and the storage of energy. Seedling development, flowers, fruit, roots, seed formation, plant maturation, disease resistance. This nutrient promotes root growth and the development of flowers and fruit. It strengthens stems and improves disease resistance. Two common sources of phosphorus are bone meal and rock phosphate. All forms release into the soil slowly.   Extensive roots, fewer shoots
Potassium (K) Disease resistance, stress tolerance, root and bud growth, fruit ripening. Controls uptake water by osmosis. The flow of water in plant cells is regulated by potassium. Itís necessary for flowering, fruiting and disease resistance. It also plays an important role in the formation of chlorophyll. Wood ash, crushed granite or sulfate of potash, a synthetic ash, are all good sources.   Reduced calcium and magnesium uptake
Sulfur (S) Needed for synthesis of some amino acids (the building blocks for proteins), fruit and seed maturity, green leaves.     Plant cells destroyed
Magnesium (Mg) Needed for chlorophyll synthesis, green leaves, vegetative growth, sugar formation.     Very unusual to have too much Mg; inhibits uptake of other nutrients
Calcium (Ca) Cell wall syntheses, enzyme activity. Plant structure and strength, new cells, growth, disease resistance.     Inhibits uptake of other nutrients
Iron (Fe) Green leaf color. Synthesis of chlorophyll, enzyme activity.     Very unusual to have too much Fe; inhibits uptake of other nutrients
Carbon (C) Synthesis of carbohydrates for strengthening and storage. Carbon dioxide in the air.    
Hydrogen (H) Synthesis of carbohydrates for strengthening and storage. Water    
Oxygen (O) Synthesis of carbohydrates for strengthening and storage. Air    
Boron (Bo) Cell division.      
Manganese (Mn) Activation of some enzymes.      
Copper (Cu) Synthesis of some enzymes important in photosynthesis.      
Molybdenum (Mo) Nitrate fixation.      
Zinc (Zn) Some enzymes.      
Cobalt (Co)        
Chlorine (Cl) Photosynthesis.      
Silicon (Si)        
Other micronutrients Growth, leaf color, starch formation.     Unusual, but some micronutrients can kill plants if too heavily applied

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Using Manure In The Garden

Animal manure is not only a good fertilizer, but also helps to condition the soil. Here are some guidelines for using manure in the garden:
  • Don't use dog or cat manure. These manures often carry diseases that can be spread to children.
  • Never use fresh manure, since it contains soluble nitrogen compounds and ammonia that can burn plants and interfere with seed germination. Manure that is well composted or has aged for about six months is best. When added to the compost pile, manure will speed the composting process.
  • Manure tea can be used for periodic feedings or diluted and used every time you water. Do not allow undiluted manure tea to come into direct contact with foliage. To make manure tea, simply place a shovel or two of manure in a large container filled with water, and after a week or so, strain out the manure. To make the straining process a little easier, you can tie the manure in a burlap bag before placing it in the water.
  • Horse manure may contain a good many weed seeds, so compost it in a hot compost pile before adding it to your garden

From GardenGuides.com

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