How do plants get nutrients from the soil?
Plants make their food through photosynthesis, and this essential process is dependent on a steady supply of air, water, and nutrients.
How do plants get nutrients they need to photosynthesize?
As with water, plants get nutrients such as nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), through their root systems.
These root systems are more than just long, winding veins in the soil. They are covered in tiny hairs, much like in the lining of intestines, to allow for maximum nutrient (and water) absorption.
Indeed, plants cannot absorb nutrients directly from the soil without water. The soluble nutrients must dissolve in water as ions before they can be taken up by the roots.
How exactly does this process work though? How do plants get nutrients using their roots?
The electrically charged water particles carrying nutrients are absorbed by roots either passively or actively. If there is a high concentration of potassium ions in the surrounding soil relative to inside the roots, they will become absorbed through a process known as diffusion.
Often though, the concentration of nutrients is much higher inside the root than in the soil. Under these conditions, a process called active transport is used. Active transport requires the plant to expend energy and makes use of the ion's electric charge to move the nutrients against the concentration gradient into the root.
How do plants get nutrients in hydroponics?
So, this is how root systems work in soils, but how do plants get nutrients in hydroponic systems?
The process is much the same, but the root systems of the plant are suspended in a nutrient-enriched solution instead of soil. The nutrient solution is typically adjusted with different minerals and varying concentrations according to the needs of a specific plant species or variety.
Compared to growing plants in soil, using hydroponics, therefore, allows for a greater degree of control. However, given that it is a closed system, it is even more crucial to monitor nutrient and pH levels to ensure the plant grows healthily.
There is no microbial or fungal activity involved to support the plant's growth, or decomposing matter ready to supply more nutrients. That said, there are also no soil-borne diseases, pests, or extreme weather events to hinder the plant's development.
How do plants get nutrients from the roots to the rest of the plant?
So, this is how plants get nutrients from the soil and nutrient solutions, but how do plants get nutrients to the rest of the plant?
After the root hairs absorb nutrients from the soil or mineral solution, they are then transported from the roots throughout the plant, including the leaves, by its vascular system.
Nutrients, or mineral ions, travel along the same route as water through the xylem which are long tubes passing through the plant's stem up the leaves.
How do the water and mineral ions travel against the force of gravity though? When a plant contains more water than it needs, it loses some through a process known as transpiration. This, in turn, encourages the roots to absorb more water to maintain a balance. This creates a 'root pressure' which pushes the water molecules, along with the nutrients, up the xylem where they can be used by the rest of the plant.
How do plants get nutrients? An overview
- Plants absorb nutrients through their roots, alongside water, whether in soil or a hydroponic system.
- This happens passively through diffusion or actively against the concentration gradient using the plant's energy stores.
- The nutrients are then transported around the plant with the water with the help of transpiration, which encourages the roots to absorb water.
- The building pressure pushes the nutrients and water up the plant through the xylem where it can be used to help with the plant's growth.
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