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Why do plants need minerals?

From the tallest tree to the tiniest blade of grass, plants require minerals for healthy growth.
But why do plants need minerals? For the same reason that all living beings need minerals – they are essential to life!

Every living cell on this planet requires access to a range of minerals in sufficient quantities in order to function. Without them, enzymes in plant cells cannot make certain chemicals like chlorophyll or catalyze the reactions necessary to photosynthesise, fight disease, produce fruits or grow stems and branches.

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Why do plants need minerals: a rundown of the minerals essentia to plant growth

For plant nutrition, a mineral is a chemical element or compound needed for healthy plant growth. While there is of course some variation between plant species, in general, they need sixteen or so different mineral elements to survive and thrive. Three of these – carbon, hydrogen and oxygen – are sourced from the atmosphere or water. The other 13 are derived from soil matter or fertilizer. They are nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, iron, zinc, manganese, copper, boron, molybdenum, and chlorine. Plants require these mineral elements in very different quantities from one another. Those that plants need the most of are known as macronutrients, while those that are only required in small quantities are called micronutrients, or trace minerals. 


There are nine macronutrients taken up by plants in large quantities. They are nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), sulfur (S), magnesium (Mg), carbon (C), oxygen (O), and hydrogen (H). Carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen alone make up more than 95 percent of a plant's biomass by dry weight. These macronutrients can be subdivided into the basic nutrients derived from air and water (C, H, O), the primary macronutrients (N, P, K) and the secondary or tertiary macronutrients (Ca, S, Mg).

Micronutrients (trace minerals)

The other type of minerals essential to healthy plant growth but in smaller amounts are known as micronutrients, or trace minerals. They are iron, zinc, manganese, copper, boron, molybdenum, and chlorine.

Why do plants need minerals at different quantities?

Most plants are capable of sourcing all the trace minerals they need in the surrounding soil. Obtaining certain macronutrients, however, can be more of a challenge especially nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.

This is why the addition of fertilizer is important for healthy plant growth, and why gardeners pay particular attention to the quantities and ratio of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) – the NPK ratio – in fertilizer. 

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Why do plants need minerals to be available in a solution?

The minerals plants need are present in the soil or fertilizer, but for the roots to absorb them the minerals must be available as a salt solution in water. These are known as mineral ions, an electrically charged mineral form.

Why do plants need minerals, ions in particular?

Plants require greater concentrations of minerals than what is found in the surrounding soil or fertilizer, so they cannot be absorbed by diffusion. Instead, they must be absorbed by active transport against the concentration gradient. This process requires energy and the electrical charge of the mineral ions to help move the minerals into the plant's cellular structure where they can then be used for various essential functions. 

The mineral needs of plants vary from species to species and change depending on what stage of the growth cycle they are at. If you're still wondering why do plants need minerals, check out BAC's Knowledge Center and our plant feeding schedule guides.

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