Soil fertility is important to efficient gardening and plant production. Plants like all living creatures need nutrients to survive. Soil fertility refers to the level of nutrients in the soil available for plant use. You have probably noticed that fertilizers typically have three numbers printed on the package. An example is 10-10-10. These are the levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium expressed as a percentage in the fertilizer. Plants need these and other nutrients to survive. Before applying supplemental nutrients to the soil, a soil test is recommended to determine the levels of nutrient already present. A list of common nutrients and their function is presented below.
Nitrogen is responsible for green vegetative growth. It is essential for plant growth and for photosynthesis to take place.
Phosphorus promotes root development and reproductive traits. It helps plants to become established and to bloom.
Potassium is a catalyst that assists with essential plant functions. This is the feel good nutrient for plants that helps everything else work better.
Calcium is responsible for regulating transport of nutrients within plants and with activation of some plant enzymes. It is also used as a soil amendment (in the form of lime) to increase soil pH.
Sulfur is critical to the structure of certain amino acids (proteins) and vitamins. It is also used as a soil amendment (in the form of aluminum sulfate) to decrease soil pH.
Magnesium is an essential component of chlorophyll. Without it photosynthesis could not take place.
Iron is critical for efficient photosynthesis.
Zinc is a component of a number of essential enzymes. It also has a role in DNA transcription.
Copper is involved with effective photosynthesis and also the development of plant cell walls.
Different crops require different levels of nutrients. Again, soil testing will help to match nutrient requirements with the proper level of soil nutrients. This will not only produce better results in the garden; it will also save money and reduce nutrient waste.
Good luck and good gardening!