Question:

What happens when you add too much Miracle grow?

Answer:

Since Miracle grow is an inorganic fertilizer, it can cause salt build up in soil over years of use or excessive use on a regular basis.

More Info:

A mulch is a layer of material applied to the surface of an area of soil. Its purpose is any or all of the following:- A mulch is usually but not exclusively organic in nature. It may be permanent (e.g. bark chips) or temporary (e.g. plastic sheeting). It may be applied to bare soil, or around existing plants. Mulches of manure or compost will be incorporated naturally into the soil by the activity of worms and other organisms. The process is used both in commercial crop production and in gardening, and when applied correctly can dramatically improve soil productivity. Materials used as mulches vary and depend on a number of factors. Use takes into consideration availability, cost, appearance, the effect it has on the soil—including chemical reactions and pH, durability, combustibility, rate of decomposition, how clean it is—some can contain weed seeds or plant pathogens. A variety of materials are used as mulch: Organic mulches decay over time and are temporary. The way a particular organic mulch decomposes and reacts to wetting by rain and dew affects its usefulness. Some mulches such as straw, peat and sawdust may negatively affect plant growth because of their wide carbon to nitrogen ratio, because bacteria and fungi remove nitrogen from the surrounding soil for growth. However, whether this effect has any practical impact on gardens is disputed by researchers and the experience of gardeners. Organic mulches can mat down, forming a barrier that blocks water and air flow between the soil and the atmosphere. Some organic mulches can wick water from the soil to the surface, which can dry out the soil.][ Some organic mulches are colored red, brown, black, and other colors. Isopropanolamine, specifically 1-Amino-2-propanol or DOW™ monoisopropanolamine, may be used as a pigment dispersant and color fastener in these mulches. Commonly available organic mulches include:
Colored mulch is mulch used for landscaping which is dyed in various colors, such as: red, black, gold, and shades of brown. Types of mulch which can be dyed include: wood chips, bark chips (barkdust) and pine straw.
Colored mulch is made by dyeing the mulch in a water-based solution of colorant and chemical binder. When colored mulch first entered the market, most formulas were suspected to contain toxic, heavy metals and other contaminates. Today, “current investigations indicate that mulch colorants pose no threat to people, pets or the environment. The dyes currently used by the mulch and soil industry are similar to those used in the cosmetic and other manufacturing industries (i.e., iron oxide),” as stated by the Mulch and Soil Council.
Colored mulch can be applied anywhere non-colored mulch is used (such as large bedded areas or around plants) and features many of the same gardening benefits as traditional mulch, such as improving soil productivity and retaining moisture.
As mulch decomposes, just as with non-colored mulch, more mulch may need to be added to continue providing benefits to the soil and plants. However, if mulch is faded, spraying dye to previously spread mulch in order to restore color is an option. Mulch is usually applied towards the beginning of the growing season, and is often reapplied as necessary. It serves initially to warm the soil by helping it retain heat which is lost during the night. This allows early seeding and transplanting of certain crops, and encourages faster growth. As the season progresses, mulch stabilizes the soil temperature and moisture, and prevents sunlight from germinating weed seeds. In temperate climates, the effect of mulch is dependent upon the time of year at which it is applied as it tends to slow changes in soil temperature and moisture content. Mulch, when applied to the soil in late winter/early spring, will slow the warming of the soil by acting as an insulator, and will hold in moisture by preventing evaporation. Mulch, when applied at the time of peak soil temperatures in mid-summer, will maintain high soil temperatures further into the autumn (fall). The effect of mulch upon soil moisture content in mid-summer is complex however. Mulch prevents sunlight from reaching the soil surface, thus reducing evaporation. However, mulch can absorb much of the rainfall provided during light rainfall, which will later quickly evaporate when exposed to sunlight, thus preventing absorption into the soil, while heavy rainfall is able to saturate the mulch layer, and reach the soil below. In order to maximise the benefits of mulch, while minimizing its negative influences, it is often applied in late spring/early summer when soil temperatures have risen sufficiently, but soil moisture content is still relatively high. Furthermore, at this point in the growing season, plants should be well enough established to be able to cope with the increase in the numbers of slugs and snails owing to the habitat provided for them by the mulch. However, permanent mulch is also widely used and valued for its simplicity, as popularized by author Ruth Stout, who said, "My way is simply to keep a thick mulch of any vegetable matter that rots on both sides of my vegetable and flower garden all year long. As it decays and enriches the soils, I add more." Plastic mulch used in large-scale commercial production is laid down with a tractor-drawn or standalone layer of plastic mulch. This is usually part of a sophisticated mechanical process, where raised beds are formed, plastic is rolled out on top, and seedlings are transplanted through it. Drip irrigation is often required, with drip tape laid under the plastic, as plastic mulch is impermeable to water. In home gardens and smaller farming operations, organic mulch is usually spread by hand around emerged plants. (On plots with existing mulch, the mulch is pulled away from the seedbed before planting, and restored after the seedlings have emerged.) For materials like straw and hay, a shredder may be used to chop up the material. Organic mulches are usually piled quite high, six inches (152 mm) or more, and settle over the season. In some areas of the United States, such as central Pennsylvania and northern California, mulch is often referred to as "tanbark", even by manufacturers and distributors. In these areas, the word "mulch" is used specifically to refer to very fine tanbark or peat moss. Mulch made with wood can contain or feed termites, so care must be taken about not placing mulch too close to houses or building that can be damaged by those insects. Some mulch manufacturers recommend putting mulch several inches away from buildings. Mulch normally smells like freshly cut wood, but sometimes develops a toxicity that causes it to smell like vinegar, ammonia, sulfur or silage. This happens when material with ample nitrogen content is not rotated often enough and it forms pockets of increased decomposition. When this occurs, the process may become anaerobic and produce these phytotoxic materials in small quantities. Once exposed to the air, the process quickly reverts to an aerobic process, but these toxic materials may be present for a period of time. If the mulch is placed around plants before the toxicity has had a chance to dissipate, then the plants could very likely be damaged or killed depending on their hardiness. Plants that are predominantly low to the ground or freshly planted are the most susceptible, and the phytotoxicity may prevent germination of some seeds. If sour mulch is applied and there is plant kill, the best thing to do is to water the mulch heavily. Water dissipates the chemicals faster and refreshes the plants. Removing the offending mulch may have little effect, because by the time plant kill is noticed, most of the toxicity is already dissipated. While testing after plant kill will not likely turn up anything, a simple pH check may reveal high acidity, in the range of 3.8 to 5.6 instead of the normal range of 6.0 to 7.2. Finally, placing a bit of the offending mulch around another plant to check for plant kill will verify if the toxicity has departed. If the new plant is also killed, then sour mulch is probably not the problem. Groundcovers are plants which grow close to the ground, under the main crop, to slow the development of weeds and provide other benefits of mulch. They are usually fast-growing plants that continue growing with the main crops. By contrast, cover crops are incorporated into the soil or killed with herbicides. However, live mulches also may need to be mechanically or chemically killed eventually to prevent competition with the main crop. Some groundcovers can perform additional roles in the garden such as nitrogen fixation in the case of clovers, dynamic accumulation of nutrients from the subsoil in the case of creeping comfrey (Symphytum ibericum), and even food production in the case of Rubus Tricolor. Owing to the great bulk of mulch which is often required on a site, it is often impractical and expensive to source and import sufficient mulch materials. An alternative to importing mulch materials is to grow them on site in a "mulch garden" - an area of the site dedicated entirely to the production of mulch which is then transferred to the growing area. Mulch gardens should be sited as close as possible to the growing area so as to facilitate transfer of mulch materials. Sufficient mulch over plants will destroy them, and may be more advantageous than using herbicide, cutting, mowing, pulling, raking, or tilling. The higher the temperature that this "mulch" is composted, the quicker the reduction of undesirable materials. "Undesirable materials" may include living seed, plant "trash", as well as pathogens such as from animal feces, urine (e.g. hantavirus), fleas, lice, ticks, etc. In some ways this improves the soil by attracting and feeding earthworms, and adding humus. Earthworms "till" the soil, and their feces are among the best fertilizers and soil conditioners. Urine may be toxic to plants if applied to growing areas undiluted. See Compost ingredients: Urine.
Fertile soil has the following properties: In lands used for agriculture and other human activities, fertile soil typically arises from the use of soil conservation practices. Basically the ability of a soil to supply plant nutrients. Bioavailable nitrogen is the element in soil that is most often lacking. Phosphorus and potassium are also needed in substantial amounts. For this reason these three elements are always identified on a commercial fertilizer analysis. For example a 10-10-15 fertilizer has 10 percent nitrogen, 10 percent (P2O5) available phosphorus and 15 percent (K2O) water soluble potassium. Sulfur is the fourth element that may be identified in a commercial analysis—e.g. 21-0-0-24 which would contain 21% nitrogen and 24% sulfate. Inorganic fertilizers are generally less expensive and have higher concentrations of nutrients than organic fertilizers. Some have criticized the use of inorganic fertilizers, claiming that the water-soluble nitrogen doesn't provide for the long-term needs of the plant and creates water pollution. Slow-release fertilizers may reduce leaching loss of nutrients and may make the nutrients that they provide available over a longer period of time. Soil fertility is a complex process that involves the constant cycling of nutrients between organic and inorganic forms. As plant material and animal wastes decompose they release nutrients to the soil solution. Those nutrients may then undergo further transformations which may be aided or enabled by soil micro-organisms. Natural processes such as lightning strikes may fix atmospheric nitrogen by converting it to (NO2). Denitrification may occur under anaerobic conditions (flooding) in the presence of denitrifying bacteria. The cations, primarily phosphate and potash, as well as many micronutrients are held in relatively strong bonds with the negatively charged portions of the soil in a process known as Cation Exchange Capacity In 2008 the cost of phosphorus as fertilizer more than doubled, while the price of rock phosphate as base commodity rose eight-fold. Recently the term peak phosphorus has been coined, due to the limited occurrence of rock phosphate [1] in the world. Photosynthesis is the process whereby plants use light energy to drive chemical reactions which convert CO2 into sugars. As such, all plants require access to both light and carbon dioxide to produce energy, grow and reproduce. While typically limited by nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, low levels of carbon dioxide can also act as a limiting factor on plant growth. Peer-reviewed and published scientific studies have shown that increasing CO2 is highly effective at promoting plant growth up to levels over 300 ppm. Further increases in CO2 can, to a very small degree, continue to increase net photosynthetic output. Since higher levels of CO2 have only a minimal impact on photosynthetic output at present levels (presently around 400 ppm and increasing), we should not consider plant growth to be limited by carbon dioxide. Other biochemical limitations, such as soil organic content, nitrogen in the soil, phosphorus and potassium, are far more often in short supply. As such, neither commercial nor scientific communities look to air fertilization as an effective or economic method of increasing production in agriculture or natural ecosystems. Furthermore, since microbial decomposition occurs faster under warmer temperatures, higher levels of CO2 (which is one of the causes of unusually fast climate change) should be expected to increase the rate at which nutrients are leached out of soils and may have a negative impact on soil fertility. Soil depletion occurs when the components which contribute to fertility are removed and not replaced, and the conditions which support soil's fertility are not maintained. This leads to poor crop yields. In agriculture, depletion can be due to excessively intense cultivation and inadequate [soil management]. One of the most widespread occurrences of soil depletion as of 2008[update] is in tropical zones where nutrient content of soils is low. The combined effects of growing population densities, large-scale industrial logging, slash-and-burn agriculture and ranching, and other factors, have in some places depleted soils through rapid and almost total nutrient removal. Topsoil depletion occurs when the nutrient-rich organic topsoil, which takes hundreds to thousands of years to build up under natural conditions, is eroded or depleted of its original organic material. Historically, many past civilizations' collapses can be attributed to the depletion of the topsoil. Since the beginning of agricultural production in the Great Plains of North America in the 1880s, about one-half of its topsoil has disappeared. Depletion may occur through a variety of other effects, including overtillage (which damages soil structure), underuse of nutrient inputs which leads to mining of the soil nutrient bank, and salinization of soil.
Soil structure is determined by how individual soil granules clump or bind together and aggregate, and therefore, the arrangement of soil pores between them. Soil structure has a major influence on water and air movement, biological activity, root growth and seedling emergence. Soil structure describes the arrangement of the solid parts of the soil and of the pore space located between them (Marshall & Holmes, 1979). The structure depends on what the soil developed from. The practices that influence soil structure will decline under most forms of cultivation—the associated mechanical mixing of the soil compacts and shears aggregates and fills pore spaces; it also exposes organic matter to a greater rate of decay and oxidation (Young & Young, 2001). A further consequence of continued cultivation and traffic is the development of compacted, impermeable layers or pans within the profile. Soil structure decline under irrigation is usually related to the breakdown of aggregates and dispersion of clay material as a result of rapid wetting. This is particularly so if soils are sodic; that is, having a high exchangeable sodium percentage (ESP) of the cations attached to the clays. High sodium levels (compared to high calcium levels) cause particles to repel one another when wet and for the associated aggregates to disaggregate and disperse. The ESP will increase if irrigation causes salty water (even of low concentration) to gain access to the soil. A wide range of practices are undertaken to preserve and improve soil structure. For example, the NSW Department of Land and Water Conservation, (1991) advocates: increasing organic content by incorporating pasture phases into cropping rotations; reducing or eliminating tillage and cultivation in cropping and pasture activities; avoiding soil disturbance during periods of excessive dry or wet when soils may accordingly tend to shatter or smear, and; ensuring sufficient ground cover to protect the soil from raindrop impact. In irrigated agriculture, it may be recommended to: apply gypsum (calcium sulfate) to displace sodium cations with calcium and so reduce ESP or sodicity; avoid rapid wetting, and; avoid disturbing soils when too wet or dry. The benefits of improving soil structure for the growth of plants, particularly in an agricultural setting include: reduced erosion due to greater soil aggregate strength and decreased overland flow; improved root penetration and access to soil moisture and nutrients; improved emergence of seedlings due to reduced crusting of the surface and; greater water infiltration, retention and availability due to improved porosity. It has been estimated that productivity from irrigated perennial horticulture could be increased by two to three times the present level by improving soil structure, because of the resulting access by plants to available soil water and nutrients (Cockroft & Olsson, 2000, cited in Land and Water Australia 2007). The NSW Department of Land and Water Conservation (1991) infers that in cropping systems, for every millimetre of rain that is able to infiltrate, as maximised by good soil structure, wheat yields can be increased by 10 kg/ha.  This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Government document "http://soils.usda.gov/technical/manual/contents/chapter3.html".
Organic fertilizers are fertilizers derived from animal or vegetable matter. (e.g. compost, manure). Naturally occcuring organic fertilizers include manure, slurry, worm castings, peat, seaweed, humic acid, and guano. Sewage sludge use in organic agricultural operations in the U.S. has been extremely limited and rare due to USDA prohibition of the practice (due to toxic metal accumulation, among other factors). Processed organic fertilizers include compost, bloodmeal, bone meal, humic acid, amino acids, and seaweed extracts. Other examples are natural enzyme-digested proteins, fish meal, and feather meal. Decomposing crop residue (green manure) from prior years is another source of fertility. There used to be a distinction between the term "organic" and the term "pesticide-free". Organic simply dealt with the use of fertilizer types. Once the term "organic" became regulated, many other factors were added. "Pesticide-free" is not at all related to fertilization (plant nutrition), but has become a legal inclusion. In scientific terms, organic compounds are any chemical compounds that include carbon, regardless of their source. Likewise, in scientific terms, a fish emulsion can be a good organic fertilizer, but in some jurisdictions{{like Oregon|date=November 2010}} fish emulsion must be certified "dolphin-safe" to be considered "organic".][ Animal sourced urea and urea-formaldehyde from urine are suitable for organic agriculture; however, synthetically produced urea is not.The common thread that can be seen through these examples is that organic agriculture attempts to define itself through minimal processing (e.g., via chemical energy such as petroleum — see Haber process), as well as being naturally occurring or via natural biological processes such as composting. Cover crops are also grown to enrich soil as a green manure through nitrogen fixation from the atmosphere; as well as phosphorus (through nutrient mobilization) content of soils. Powdered limestone, mined rock phosphate, and Chilean saltpeter are inorganic chemicals in the technical (organic chemistry) sense of the word but are considered suitable for organic agriculture in limited amounts. Fertilizer trees aid organic farming by bringing nutrients from the depths of the soil, and by assisting in the regulation of water usage. Although the density of nutrients in organic material is comparatively modest, they have many advantages. The majority of nitrogen-supplying organic fertilizers contain insoluble nitrogen and act as a slow-release fertilizer. By their nature, organic fertilizers increase physical and biological nutrient storage mechanisms in soils, mitigating risks of over-fertilization. Organic fertilizer nutrient content, solubility, and nutrient release rates are typically much lower than mineral (inorganic) fertilizers. A University of North Carolina study found that potential mineralizable nitrogen (PMN) in the soil was 182–285% higher in organic mulched systems than in the synthetics control. Organic fertilizers also re-emphasize the role of humus and other organic components of soil, which are believed to play several important roles: Organic fertilizers also have the advantage of avoiding certain problems associated with the regular heavy use of artificial fertilizers: Organic fertilizers have the following inconveniences: In non-organic farming, a compromise between the use of artificial and organic fertilizers is common][, often using inorganic fertilizers supplemented with the application of organics that are readily available such as the return of crop residues or the application of manure.
Fertilizer (or fertiliser) is any organic or inorganic material of natural or synthetic origin (other than liming materials) that is added to a soil to supply one or more plant nutrients essential to the growth of plants. Conservative estimates report 30 to 50% of crop yields are attributed to natural or synthetic commercial fertilizer. Global market value is likely to rise to more than US$185 billion until 2019. The European fertilizer market will grow to earn revenues of approx. €15.3 billion in 2018. Mined inorganic fertilizers have been used for many centuries, whereas chemically synthesized inorganic fertilizers were only widely developed during the industrial revolution. Increased understanding and use of fertilizers were important parts of the pre-industrial British Agricultural Revolution and the industrial Green Revolution of the 20th century. Inorganic fertilizer use has also significantly supported global population growth — it has been estimated that almost half the people on the Earth are currently fed as a result of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer use. Fertilizers typically provide, in varying proportions: The macronutrients are consumed in larger quantities and are present in plant tissue in quantities from 0.15% to 6.0% on a dry matter (0% moisture) basis (DM). Micronutrients are consumed in smaller quantities and are present in plant tissue on the order of parts per million (ppm), ranging from 0.15 to 400 ppm DM, or less than 0.04% DM. Only three other macronutrients are required by all plants: carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. These nutrients are supplied by water (through rainfall or irrigation) and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In the US and Canada, the labeling scheme presents three numbers separated by dashes (e.g. 10-10-10 or 16-4-8). The first number represents the percentage of Nitrogen in the product; the second number, Phosphorus; and the third, Potassium. The generalized form is N-P-K. A 50-pound bag of fertilizer labeled 16-4-8 contains 8 pounds of nitrogen (16% of the 50 pounds), 2 pounds of phosphorus (4% of 50 pounds), and 4 pounds of potassium (8% of 50 pounds). Australian convention adds a fourth number for Sulphur. Management of soil fertility has been the pre-occupation of farmers for thousands of years. The start of the modern science of plant nutrition dates to the 19th century and the work of German chemist Justus von Liebig, among others. John Bennet Lawes, an English entrepreneur, began to experiment on the effects of various manures on plants growing in pots in 1837, and a year or two later the experiments were extended to crops in the field. One immediate consequence was that in 1842 he patented a manure formed by treating phosphates with sulphuric acid, and thus was the first to create the artificial manure industry. In the succeeding year he enlisted the services of Joseph Henry Gilbert, with whom he carried on for more than half a century on experiments in raising crops at the Rothamsted Experimental Station. The Birkeland–Eyde process was one of the competing industrial processes in the beginning of nitrogen based fertilizer production. It was developed by Norwegian industrialist and scientist Kristian Birkeland along with his business partner Sam Eyde in 1903, based on a method used by Henry Cavendish in 1784. This process was used to fix atmospheric nitrogen (N2) into nitric acid (HNO3), one of several chemical processes generally referred to as nitrogen fixation. The resultant nitric acid was then used as a source of nitrate (NO3-) in the reaction HNO3 → H+ + NO3- which may take place in the presence of water or another proton acceptor. Nitrate is an ion which plants can absorb. A factory based on the process was built in Rjukan and Notodden in Norway, combined with the building of large hydroelectric power facilities. The Birkeland-Eyde process is relatively inefficient in terms of energy consumption. Therefore, in the 1910s and 1920s, it was gradually replaced in Norway by a combination of the Haber process and the Ostwald process. The Haber process produces ammonia (NH3) from methane (CH4) gas and molecular nitrogen (N2). The ammonia from the Haber process is then converted into nitric acid (HNO3) in the Ostwald process. Fertilizers come in various forms. The most typical form is solid fertilizer in granulated or powdered forms. The next most common form is liquid fertilizer; some advantages of liquid fertilizer are its immediate effect and wide coverage. There are also slow-release fertilizers (various forms including fertilizer spikes, tabs, etc.) which reduce the problem of "burning" the plants due to excess nitrogen. Polymer coating of fertilizer ingredients gives tablets and spikes a 'true time-release' or 'staged nutrient release' (SNR) of fertilizer nutrients. More recently, organic fertilizer is on the rise as people are resorting to environmental friendly (or 'green') products. Although organic fertilizers usually contain a lower concentration of nutrients, this lower concentration avoids complication of nitrogen burn harming the plants. In addition, organic fertilizers such as compost and worm castings break down slowly into complex organic structures (humus) which build the soil's structure and moisture- and nutrient-retaining capabilities.][ Fertilizers are broadly divided into organic fertilizers (composed of organic plant or animal matter), or inorganic or commercial fertilizers. Plants can only absorb their required nutrients if they are present in easily dissolved chemical compounds. Both organic and inorganic fertilizers provide the same needed chemical compounds. Organic fertilizers provided other macro and micro plant nutrients and are released as the organic matter decays—this may take months or years. Organic fertilizers nearly always have much lower concentrations of plant nutrients and have the usual problems of economical collection, treatment, transportation and distribution. Inorganic fertilizers nearly always are readily dissolved and unless added have few other macro and micro plant nutrients nor added any 'bulk' to the soil. Nearly all nitrogen that plants use is in the form of NH3 or NO3 compounds. The usable phosphorus compounds are usually in the form of phosphoric acid (H3PO4) and the potassium (K) is typically in the form of potassium chloride (KCl). In organic fertilizers nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium compounds are released from the complex organic compounds as the animal or plant matter decays. In commercial fertilizers the same required compounds are available in easily dissolved compounds that require no decay—they can be used almost immediately after water is applied. Inorganic fertilizers are usually much more concentrated with up to 64% (18-46-0) of their weight being a given plant nutrient, compared to organic fertilizers that only provide 0.4% or less of their weight as a given plant nutrient. Nitrogen fertilizers are often made using the Haber-Bosch process (invented about 1915) which uses natural gas (CH4+) for the hydrogen and nitrogen gas (N2) from the air at an elevated temperature and pressure in the presence of a catalyst to form ammonia (NH3) as the end product. This ammonia is used as a feedstock for other nitrogen fertilizers, such as anhydrous ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3) and urea (CO(NH2)2). These concentrated products may be diluted with water to form a concentrated liquid fertilizer (e.g. UAN). Deposits of sodium nitrate (NaNO3) (saltpeter) are also found the Atacama desert in Chile and was one of the original (1830) nitrogen rich inorganic fertilizers used. It is still mined for fertilizer.][ In the Nitrophosphate process or Odda Process (invented in 1927), phosphate rock with up to a 20% phosphorus (P) content is dissolved with nitric acid (HNO3) to produce a mixture of phosphoric acid (H3PO4) and calcium nitrate (Ca(NO3)2). This can be combined with a potassium fertilizer to produce a compound fertilizer with all three N:P:K: plant nutrients in easily dissolved form. Phosphate rock can also be processed into water-soluble phosphate (P2O5) with the addition of sulfuric acid (H2SO4) to make the phosphoric acid in phosphate fertilizers. Phosphate can also be reduced in an electric furnace to make high purity phosphorus; however, this is more expensive than the acid process. Potash can be used to make potassium (K) fertilizers. All commercial potash deposits come originally from marine deposits and are often buried deep in the earth. Potash ores are typically rich in potassium chloride (KCl) and sodium chloride (NaCl) and are obtained by conventional shaft mining with the extracted ore ground into a powder. For deep potash deposits hot water is injected into the potash which is dissolved and then pumped to the surface where it is concentrated by solar induced evaporation. Amine reagents are then added to either the mined or evaporated solutions. The amine coats the KCl but not NaCl. Air bubbles cling to the amine + KCl and float it to the surface while the NaCl and clay sink to the bottom. The surface is skimmed for the amine + KCl which is then dried and packaged for use as a K rich fertilizer—KCl dissolves readily in water and is available quickly for plant nutrition. Compound fertilizers often combine N, P and K fertilizers into easily dissolved pellets. The N:P:K ratios quoted on fertilizers give the weight percent of the fertilizer in nitrogen (N), phosphate (P2O5) and potash (K2O equivalent) The use of commercial inorganic fertilizers has increased steadily in the last 50 years, rising almost 20-fold to the current rate of 100 million tonnes of nitrogen per year. Without commercial fertilizers it is estimated that about one-third of the food produced now could not be produced. The use of phosphate fertilizers has also increased from 9 million tonnes per year in 1960 to 40 million tonnes per year in 2000. A maize crop yielding 6–9 tonnes of grain per hectare requires 31–50 kg of phosphate fertilizer to be applied, soybean requires 20–25 kg per hectare. Yara International is the world's largest producer of nitrogen based fertilizers. Urea and formaldehyde, reacted together to produce sparingly soluble polymers of various molecular weights, is one of the oldest controlled-nitrogen-release technologies, having been first produced in 1936 and commercialized in 1955. The early product had 60 percent of the total nitrogen cold-water-insoluble, and the unreacted (quick release) less than 15%. Methylene ureas were commercialized in the 1960s and 1970s, having 25 and 60% of the nitrogen cold-water-insoluble, and unreacted urea nitrogen in the range of 15 to 30%. Isobutylidene diurea, unlike the methylurea polymers, is a single crystalline solid of relatively uniform properties, with about 90% of the nitrogen water-insoluble. In the 1960s, the National Fertilizer Development Center began developing Sulfur-coated urea; sulfur was used as the principle coating material because of its low cost and its value as a secondary nutrient. Usually there is another wax or polymer which seals the sulfur; the slow release properties depend on the degradation of the secondary sealant by soil microbes as well as mechanical imperfections (cracks, etc.) in the sulfur. They typically provide 6 to 16 weeks of delayed release in turf applications. When a hard polymer is used as the secondary coating, the properties are a cross between diffusion-controlled particles and traditional sulfur-coated. Other coated products use thermoplastics (and sometimes ethylene-vinyl acetate and surfactants, etc.) to produce diffusion-controlled release of urea or soluble inorganic fertilizers. "Reactive Layer Coating" can produce thinner, hence cheaper, membrane coatings by applying reactive monomers simultaneously to the soluble particles. "Multicote" is a process applying layers of low-cost fatty acid salts with a paraffin topcoat. Besides being more efficient in the utilization of the applied nutrients, slow-release technologies also reduce the impact on the environment and the contamination of the subsurface water. (Mt pa) (Mt pa) Synthetic fertilizers are commonly used for growing all crops, with application rates depending on the soil fertility, usually as measured by a soil test and according to the particular crop. Legumes, for example, fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and generally do not require nitrogen fertilizer. Studies have shown that application of nitrogen fertilizer on off-season cover crops can increase the biomass (and subsequent green manure value) of these crops, while having a beneficial effect on soil nitrogen levels for the main crop planted during the summer season. Nutrients in soil can be thrown out of balance with high concentrations of fertilizers. The interconnectedness and complexity of this soil ‘food web’ means any appraisal of soil function must necessarily take into account interactions with the living communities that exist within the soil. Stability of the system is reduced by the use of nitrogen-containing fertilizers, which cause soil acidification. Applying excessive amounts of fertilizer has negative environmental effects, and wastes the growers' time and money. To avoid over-application, the nutrient status of crops should be assessed. Nutrient deficiency can be detected by visually assessing the physical symptoms of the crop. Nitrogen deficiency, for example has a distinctive presentation in some species. However, quantitative tests are more reliable for detecting nutrient deficiency before it has significantly affected the crop. Both soil tests and Plant Tissue Tests are used in agriculture to fine-tune nutrient management to the crops needs. See also Negative environmental effects The nutrients, especially nitrates, in fertilizers can cause problems for natural habitats and for human health if they are washed off soil into watercourses or leached through soil into groundwater. In Europe these problems are being addressed by the European Union's Nitrates Directive. Within Britain farmers are encouraged to manage their land more sustainably in 'catchment-sensitive farming'. In the US, excess fertilizer runoff is classified as non-point source pollutants due to the inability to quantify the amount entering bodies of water and shallow aquifers. Common agricultural grade phosphate fertilizers usually contain impurities such as fluorides, cadmium and uranium, although concentrations of the latter two heavy metals are dependent on the source of the phosphate and the production process. These potentially harmful impurities can be removed; however, this significantly increases cost. Highly pure fertilizers are widely available and perhaps best known as the highly water soluble fertilizers containing blue dyes used around households. These highly water soluble fertilizers are used in the plant nursery business and are available in larger packages at significantly less cost than retail quantities. There are also some inexpensive retail granular garden fertilizers made with high purity ingredients. Oregon and Washington in U. S. have fertilizer registration programs with on-line databases listing chemical analyses of fertilizers. The most widely used inorganic fertilizer is super-phosphate and its double and triple strengthed derivatives double super and triple super. Super phosphate was first developed by Lawes at the Rothamstead Agricultural Research Institute in England in the early 19th century. Lawes added sulfuric acid to conventional rock phosphate containing the mineral apatite, a calcium fluoro-phosphate. The resulting water soluble phosphorus was able to significantly improve yields on a variety of crops at the Rothamstead Centre and the Superphosphate industry was born. Unfortunately over decades of subsequent usage - it became clear that the solubilisation of fluorine also occurred in the process and this had the same effect as the other halogen sterilants(chlorine, bromine, iodine) over time - soil sterilization. Effectively farmers unknowingly became 100% dependent on 'bought in' water soluble, inorganic fertilizers since the sterilization of soil microflora including its mycorrhiza, reduced the availability of other natural and trace minerals within the soil. This to some extent explains the resurgence of interest in organic and particularly 'biodynamic' farming systems since these systems replace the essential soil organisms so essential to converting soil minerals into plant available (but rarely water soluble) nutrients. They do this by a variety of processes including chelation whereby essential minerals become plant available - as measured by weak citric acid extraction techniques. Hence the citric acid solubility of phosphate rocks has emerged as a measure of plant availability and enabled so-called 'reactive' phosphate rocks to be used as fertilizer minerals. These should not be confused with high fluorine apatite rocks in which the fluoride content performs a similar function to its role in hardening teeth enamel, i.e. immobilizing phosphorus. This explains the oceanic origins of many of these high fluorine rocks (Christmas Island, Ocean Island) since the fluorine absorbed from the sea has prevented what were originally massive deposits of bird guano - from being leached from the coral based limestone rocks on which they were originally deposited. Also regular use of acidulated fertilizers generally contribute to the accumulation of soil acidity in soils which progressively increases aluminium availability and hence toxicity. The use of such acidulated fertilizers in the tropical and semi-tropical regions of Indonesia and Malaysia has contributed to soil degradation on a large scale from aluminium toxicity, which can only be countered by applications of limestone or preferably magnesian dolomite, which neutralises acid soil pH and also provides essential magnesium. Many inorganic fertilizers, particularly those based on superphosphate, may not replace trace mineral elements in the soil which become gradually depleted by crops. This depletion has been linked to studies which have shown a marked fall (up to 75%) in the quantities of such minerals present in fruit and vegetables. Explanations for this include the early encouragement of so-called "luxury consumption" of trace elements as a result of their acidulation and subsequent dissolution in soil water, by free sulphuric acid sourced from superphosphate. This mechanism has also been identified as a possible causal agent for take-up of the heavy metal cadmium from superphosphate based fertilizers. In Western Australia deficiencies of zinc, copper, manganese, iron and molybdenum were identified as limiting the growth of broad-acre crops and pastures in the 1940s and 1950s. Such nutrients are described as 'rate limiting' nutrients. Soils in Western Australia are very old, highly weathered and deficient in many of the major nutrients and trace elements. Since this time these trace elements are routinely added to inorganic fertilizers used in agriculture in this state. Many soils around the world are deficient in zinc, leading to deficiency in plants and humans. Over-fertilization of a vital nutrient can be as detrimental as underfertilization. "Fertilizer burn" can occur when too much fertilizer is applied, resulting in drying out of the leaves and damage or even death of the plant. Fertilizers vary in their tendency to burn roughly in accordance with their salt index. In the USA in 2004, 317 billion cubic feet of natural gas was consumed in the industrial production of ammonia, less than 1.5% of total U.S. annual consumption of natural gas. A 2002 report suggested that the production of ammonia consumes about 5% of global natural gas consumption, which is somewhat under 2% of world energy production. Ammonia is overwhelmingly produced from natural gas, but other energy sources, together with a hydrogen source such as water (via water splitting or electrolysis), can be used for the production of nitrogen compounds suitable for fertilizers. The cost of natural gas makes up about 90% of the cost of producing ammonia. The increase in price of natural gases over the past decade, along with other factors such as increasing demand, have contributed to an increase in fertilizer price. Nitrogen fertilizer can be converted by soil bacteria to nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas which also causes acid rain. High levels of fertilizer may cause the breakdown of the symbiotic relationships between plant roots and mycorrhizal fungi. Inorganic fertilizers are now produced in ways which theoretically cannot be continued indefinitely by definition as the resources used in their production are non-renewable. Potassium and phosphorus come from mines (or saline lakes such as the Dead Sea) and such resources are limited. However, more effective fertilizer utilization practices may decrease present usage from mines. Improved knowledge of crop production practices can potentially decrease fertilizer usage of P and K without reducing the critical need to improve and increase crop yields. Atmospheric (unfixed) nitrogen is effectively unlimited (forming over 70% of the atmospheric gases), but this is not in a form useful to plants. To make nitrogen accessible to plants requires nitrogen fixation (conversion of atmospheric nitrogen to a plant-accessible form). Artificial nitrogen fertilizers are typically synthesized using fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal, which are limited resources. In lieu of converting natural gas to syngas for use in the Haber process, it is also possible to convert renewable biomass to syngas (or wood gas) to supply the necessary energy for the process, though the amount of land and resources (ironically often including fertilizer) necessary for such a project may be prohibitive. Organic fertilizers include naturally occurring organic materials, (e.g. chicken litter, manure, worm castings, compost, seaweed, guano, bone meal) or naturally occurring mineral deposits (e.g. saltpeter). Poultry litter and cattle manure often create environmental and disposal problems, making their use as fertilizer beneficial. Bones can be processed into phosphate-rich bone meal; however, most are simply buried in landfills. Even if all bones, human, animal and plant wastes were recovered to the extent practical and used for fertilizer, mineral fertilizers and synthetic nitrogen would still be required to make for losses to leaching, to the atmosphere, runoff and the losses impractical to recover.][ Organic fertilizers have been known to improve biodiversity (soil life) and long-term productivity of soil, and may prove a large depository for excess carbon dioxide. Organic nutrients increase the abundance of soil organisms by providing organic matter and micronutrients for organisms such as fungal mycorrhiza, (which aid plants in absorbing nutrients), and can drastically reduce external inputs of pesticides, energy and fertilizer, at the cost of decreased yield. Organic fertilizer nutrient content, solubility, and nutrient release rates are typically all lower than inorganic fertilizers. One study][ found that over a 140-day period, after 7 leachings: In general, the nutrients in organic fertilizer are both more dilute and also much less readily available to plants. According to the University of California's integrated pest management program, all organic fertilizers are classified as 'slow-release' fertilizers, and therefore cannot cause nitrogen burn. Organic fertilizers from composts and other sources can be quite variable from one batch to the next. Without batch testing, amounts of applied nutrient cannot be precisely known. Nevertheless, one or more studies have shown they are at least as effective as chemical fertilizers over longer periods of use. Chicken litter, which consists of chicken manure mixed with sawdust, is an organic fertilizer that has been shown to better condition soil for harvest than synthesized fertilizer. Researchers at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) studied the effects of using chicken litter, an organic fertilizer, versus synthetic fertilizers on cotton fields, and found that fields fertilized with chicken litter had a 12% increase in cotton yields over fields fertilized with synthetic fertilizer. In addition to higher yields, researchers valued commercially sold chicken litter at a $17/ton premium (to a total valuation of $78/ton) over the traditional valuations of $61/ton due to value added as a soil conditioner. Other ARS studies have found that algae used to capture nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from agricultural fields can not only prevent water contamination of these nutrients, but also can be used as an organic fertilizer. ARS scientists originally developed the "algal turf scrubber" to reduce nutrient runoff and increase quality of water flowing into streams, rivers, and lakes. They found that this nutrient-rich algae, once dried, can be applied to cucumber and corn seedlings and result in growth comparable to that seen using synthetic fertilizers. Examples Animal-sourced and human urea are suitable for application organic agriculture, while pure synthetic forms of urea are not. The common thread that can be seen through these examples is that organic agriculture attempts to define itself through minimal processing (in contrast to the man-made Haber process), as well as being naturally occurring or via natural biological processes such as composting.][ Besides immediate application of urea to the soil, urine can also be improved by converting it to struvite already done with human urine by a Dutch firm. The conversion is performed by adding magnesium to the urine. An added economical advantage of using urine as fertilizer is that it contains a large amount of phosphorus. Recycled sewage sludge (aka biosolids) as soil amendment is only available to less than 1% of US agricultural land. Industrial pollutants in sewage sludge prevents recycling it as fertilizer. The USDA prohibits use of sewage sludge in organic agricultural operations in the U.S. due to industrial pollution, pharmaceuticals, hormones, heavy metals, and other factors. The USDA now requires 3rd-party certification of high-nitrogen liquid organic fertilizers sold in the U.S. Leguminous cover crops are also grown to enrich soil as a green manure through nitrogen fixation from the atmosphere; as well as phosphorus (through nutrient mobilization) content of soils. Mined powdered limestone, rock phosphate and sodium nitrate, are inorganic (not of biologic origins) compounds which are energetically intensive to harvest and are approved for usage in organic agriculture in minimal amounts. The nitrogen-rich compounds found in fertilizer runoff are the primary cause of serious oxygen depletion in many parts of the ocean, especially in coastal zones. The resulting lack of dissolved oxygen is greatly reducing the ability of these areas to sustain oceanic fauna. Visually, water may become cloudy and discolored (green, yellow, brown, or red). About half of all the lakes in the United States are now eutrophic, while the number of oceanic dead zones near inhabited coastlines are increasing. As of 2006, the application of nitrogen fertilizer is being increasingly controlled in Britain and the United States][. If eutrophication can be reversed, it may take decades][ before the accumulated nitrates in groundwater can be broken down by natural processes. High application rates of inorganic nitrogen fertilizers in order to maximize crop yields, combined with the high solubilities of these fertilizers leads to increased runoff into surface water as well as leaching into groundwater. The use of ammonium nitrate in inorganic fertilizers is particularly damaging, as plants absorb ammonium ions preferentially over nitrate ions, while excess nitrate ions which are not absorbed dissolve (by rain or irrigation) into runoff or groundwater. Nitrate levels above 10 mg/L (10 ppm) in groundwater can cause 'blue baby syndrome' (acquired methemoglobinemia), leading to hypoxia (which can lead to coma and death if not treated). Nitrogen-containing inorganic and organic fertilizers can cause soil acidification when added. This may lead to decreases in nutrient availability which may be offset by liming. Toxic persistent organic pollutants ("POPs"), such as Dioxins, polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDDs), and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs) have been detected in agricultural fertilizers and soil amendments The concentration of up to 100 mg/kg of cadmium in phosphate minerals (for example, minerals from Nauru and the Christmas islands) increases the contamination of soil with cadmium, for example in New Zealand. Steel industry wastes, recycled into fertilizers for their high levels of zinc (essential to plant growth), wastes can include the following toxic metals: lead arsenic, cadmium, chromium, and nickel. The most common toxic elements in this type of fertilizer are mercury, lead, and arsenic. Concerns have been raised concerning fish meal mercury content by at least one source in Spain Uranium is another example of a contaminant often found in phosphate fertilizers (at levels from 7 to 100 pCi/g). Eventually these heavy metals can build up to unacceptable levels and build up in vegetable produce. Average annual intake of uranium by adults is estimated to be about 0.5 mg (500 μg) from ingestion of food and water and 0.6 μg from breathing air. Also, highly radioactive Polonium-210 contained in phosphate fertilizers is absorbed by the roots of plants and stored in its tissues; tobacco derived from plants fertilized by rock phosphates contains Polonium-210 which emits alpha radiation estimated to cause about 11,700 lung cancer deaths each year worldwide. For these reasons, it is recommended that nutrient budgeting, through careful observation and monitoring of crops, take place to mitigate the effects of excess fertilizer application. Methane emissions from crop fields (notably rice paddy fields) are increased by the application of ammonium-based fertilizers; these emissions contribute greatly to global climate change as methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Through the increasing use of nitrogen fertilizer, which is added at a rate of 1 billion tons per year presently to the already existing amount of reactive nitrogen, nitrous oxide (N2O) has become the third most important greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide and methane. It has a global warming potential 296 times larger than an equal mass of carbon dioxide and it also contributes to stratospheric ozone depletion. The use of fertilizers on a global scale emits significant quantities of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere (citation needed). Emissions come about through the use of: By changing processes and procedures, it is possible to mitigate some, but not all, of these effects on anthropogenic climate change.][ Excessive nitrogen fertilizer applications can also lead to pest problems by increasing the birth rate, longevity and overall fitness of certain agricultural pests, such as aphids (plant lice).
In agriculture, leaching refers to the loss of water-soluble plant nutrients from the soil, due to rain and irrigation. Soil structure, crop planting, type and application rates of fertilizers, and other factors are taken into account to avoid excessive nutrient loss.
Leaching may also refer to the practice of applying a small amount of excess irrigation where the water has a high salt content to avoid salts from building up in the soil (salinity control). Where this is practiced, drainage must also usually be employed, to carry away the excess water. Leaching is an environmental concern when it contributes to groundwater contamination. As water from rain, flooding, or other sources seeps into the ground, it can dissolve chemicals and carry them into the underground water supply. Of particular concern are hazardous waste dumps and landfills, and, in agriculture, excess fertilizer, improperly stored animal manure, and biocides (e.g. pesticides, fungicides, insecticides and herbicides). Nitrogen is a common element in nature and an essential plant nutrient. Approximately 78% of Earth's atmosphere is nitrogen (N2). The strong bond between the atoms of N2 makes this gas quite inert and not directly usable by plants and animals. As nitrogen naturally cycles through the air, water and soil it undergoes various chemical and biological transformations. Nitrogen promotes plant root growth. Livestock then eat the crops producing manure, which is returned to the soil, adding organic and mineral forms of nitrogen. The cycle is complete when the next crop uses the amended soil. To increase food production, fertilizers, such as nitrate (NO3) and ammonium (NH4), which are easily absorbed by plants, are introduced to the plant root zone. However, soils do not absorb the excess NO3 ions, which then move downward freely with drainage water, and are leached into groundwater, streams and oceans. The degree of leaching is affected by: The level of N2O in the Atmosphere of Earth is increasing at a rate of 0.2 to 0.3% annually. Anthropogenic sources of nitrogen are 50% greater than from natural sources, such as, soils and oceans. Leached agricultural inputs, i.e. fertilizers and manures, accounts for 75% of the anthropogenic source of nitrogen. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates world demand for nitrogen fertilizers will increase by 1.7% annually between 2011 and 2015. An increase of 7.5 million tonnes. Regional increases of nitrogen fertilizer use are expected to be 67% by Asia, 18% by the Americas, 10% by Europe, 3% by Africa,and 1% by Oceania. High levels of NO3 in water can adversely affect oxygen levels for both humans and aquatic systems. Human health issues include methemoglobinemia and anoxia, commonly referred to as blue baby syndrome. As a result of these toxic effects, regulatory agencies limit the amount of NO3 permissible in drinking water to 45–50 mg1-1. Eutrophication, a decline in oxygen content of water, of aquatic systems can cause the death of fish and other marine species. Finally, leaching of NO3 from acidic sources can increase the loss of calcium and other soil nutrients, thereby reducing an ecosystem's productivity.
Plant Nutrition is the study of the chemical elements and compounds that are necessary for plant growth, and also of their external supply and internal metabolism. In 1972, E. Epstein defined two criteria for an element to be essential for plant growth: This is in accordance with Liebig's law of the minimum. There are 17 essential plant nutrients. Carbon and oxygen are absorbed from the air, while other nutrients including water are obtained from the soil. Plants must obtain the following mineral nutrients from the growing media: The macronutrients are consumed in larger quantities and are present in plant tissue in quantities from 0.2% to 4.0% (on a dry matter weight basis). Micro nutrients are present in plant tissue in quantities measured in parts per million, ranging from 5 to 200 ppm, or less than 0.02% dry weight. Most soil conditions across the world can provide plants with adequate nutrition and do not require fertilizer for a complete life cycle. However, man can artificially modify soil through the addition of fertilizer to promote vigorous growth and increase yield. The plants are able to obtain their required nutrients from the fertilizer added to the soil. A colloidal carbonaceous residue, known as humus, can serve as a nutrient reservoir. Besides lack of water and sunshine, nutrient deficiency is a major growth limiting factor. Nutrient uptake in the soil is achieved by cation exchange, where root hairs pump hydrogen ions (H+) into the soil through proton pumps. These hydrogen ions displace cations attached to negatively charged soil particles so that the cations are available for uptake by the root. Plant nutrition is a difficult subject to understand completely, partially because of the variation between different plants and even between different species or individuals of a given clone. An element present at a low level may cause deficiency symptoms, while the same element at a higher level may cause toxicity. Further, deficiency of one element may present as symptoms of toxicity from another element. An abundance of one nutrient may cause a deficiency of another nutrient. Also a lowered availability of a given nutrient, such as SO24− can affect the uptake of another nutrient, such as NO3–. Also, K+ uptake can be influenced by the amount NH4+ available. The root, especially the root hair, is the most essential organ for the uptake of nutrients. The structure and architecture of the root can alter the rate of nutrient uptake. Nutrient ions are transported to the center of the root, the stele in order for the nutrients to reach the conducting tissues, xylem and phloem. The Casparian strip, a cell wall outside of the stele but within the root, prevents passive flow of water and nutrients to help regulate the uptake of nutrients and water. Xylem moves water and inorganic molecules within the plant and phloem counts organic molecule transportation. Water potential plays a key role in a plants nutrient uptake. If the water potential is more negative within the plant than the surrounding soils, the nutrients will move from the more higher solute (soil) concentration to lower solute concentration (plant). There are three fundamental ways plants uptake nutrients through the root: 1.) simple diffusion, occurs when a nonpolar molecule, such as O2, CO2, and NH3 that follow a concentration gradient, can passively move through the lipid bilayer membrane without the use of transport proteins. 2.) facilitated diffusion, is the rapid movement of solutes or ions following a concentration gradient, facilitated by transport proteins. 3.) Active transport, is the active transport of ions or molecules against a concentration gradient that requires an energy source, usually ATP, to pump the ions or molecules through the membrane. A symbiotic relationship may exist with 1.) Nitrogen-fixing bacteria, such as rhizobia, which are involved with nitrogen fixation, and 2.) mycorrhiza, which help to create a larger root surface area. Both of these mutualistic relationships enhance nutrient uptake. Though nitrogen is plentiful in the Earth's atmosphere, relatively few plants engage in nitrogen fixation (conversion of atmospheric nitrogen to a biologically useful form). Most plants therefore require nitrogen compounds to be present in the soil in which they grow. These can either be supplied by decaying matter, nitrogen fixing bacteria, animal waste, or through the agricultural application of purpose made fertilizers. Hydroponics, is growing plants in a water-nutrient solution without the use of nutrient-rich soil. It allows researchers and home gardeners to grow their plants in a controlled environment. The most common solution, is the Hoagland solution, developed by D. R. Hoagland in 1933, the solution consists of all the essential nutrients in the correct proportions necessary for most plant growth. An aerator is used to prevent an anoxic event or hypoxia. Hypoxia can affect nutrient uptake of a plant because without oxygen present, respiration becomes inhibited within the root cells. The Nutrient film technique is a variation of hydroponic technique. The roots are not fully submerged, which allows for adequate aeration of the roots, while a "film" thin layer of nutrient rich water is pumped through the system to provide nutrients and water to the plant. Plants uptake essential elements from the soil through their roots and from the air (mainly consisting of nitrogen and oxygen) through their leaves. Nutrient uptake in the soil is achieved by cation exchange, wherein root hairs pump hydrogen ions (H+) into the soil through proton pumps. These hydrogen ions displace cations attached to negatively charged soil particles so that the cations are available for uptake by the root. In the leaves, stomata open to take in carbon dioxide and expel oxygen. The carbon dioxide molecules are used as the carbon source in photosynthesis. Although nitrogen is plentiful in the Earth's atmosphere, relatively few plants engage in nitrogen fixation (conversion of atmospheric nitrogen to a biologically useful form). Most plants therefore require nitrogen compounds to be present in the soil in which they grow. Plant nutrition is a difficult subject to understand completely, partially because of the variation between different plants and even between different species or individuals of a given clone. Elements present at low levels may cause deficiency symptoms, and toxicity is possible at levels that are too high. Furthermore, deficiency of one element may present as symptoms of toxicity from another element, and vice versa. Carbon and oxygen are absorbed from the air, while other nutrients are absorbed from the soil. Green plants obtain their carbohydrate supply from the carbon dioxide in the air by the process of photosynthesis. Each of these nutrients is used in a different place for a different essential function. Carbon forms the backbone of many plants biomolecules, including starches and cellulose. Carbon is fixed through photosynthesis from the carbon dioxide in the air and is a part of the carbohydrates that store energy in the plant. Hydrogen also is necessary for building sugars and building the plant. It is obtained almost entirely from water. Hydrogen ions are imperative for a proton gradient to help drive the electron transport chain in photosynthesis and for respiration. Oxygen by itself or in the molecules of H2O or CO2 are necessary for plant cellular respiration. Cellular respiration is the process of generating energy-rich adenosine triphosphate (ATP) via the consumption of sugars made in photosynthesis. Plants produce oxygen gas during photosynthesis to produce glucose but then require oxygen to undergo aerobic photorespiration and break down this glucose and produce ATP. Phosphorus is important in plant bioenergetics. As a component of ATP, phosphorus is needed for the conversion of light energy to chemical energy (ATP) during photosynthesis. Phosphorus can also be used to modify the activity of various enzymes by phosphorylation, and can be used for cell signaling. Since ATP can be used for the biosynthesis of many plant biomolecules, phosphorus is important for plant growth and flower/seed formation. Phosphate esters make up DNA, RNA, and phospholipids. Most common in the form of polyprotic phosphoric acid (H3PO4) in soil, but it is taken up most readily in the form of H2PO4. Phosphorus is limited in most soils because it is released very slowly from insoluble phosphates. Under most environmental conditions it is the limiting element because of its small concentration in soil and high demand by plants and microorganisms. Plants can increase phosphorus uptake by a mutualism with mycorrhiza. A Phosphorus deficiency in plants is characterized by an intense green coloration in leaves. If the plant is experiencing high phosphorus deficiencies the leaves may become denatured and show signs of necrosis. Occasionally the leaves may appear purple from an accumulation of anthocyanin. Because phosphorus is a mobile nutrient, older leaves will show the first signs of deficiency. It is useful to apply a high phosphorus content fertilizer, such as bone meal, to perennials to help with successful root formation. Potassium regulates the opening and closing of the stomata by a potassium ion pump. Since stomata are important in water regulation, potassium reduces water loss from the leaves and increases drought tolerance. Potassium deficiency may cause necrosis or interveinal chlorosis. K+ is highly mobile and can aid in balancing the anion charges within the plant. It also has high solubility in water and leaches out of rocky or sandy soils. This water solubility can result in potassium deficiency. Potassium serves as an activator of enzymes used in photosynthesis and respiration Potassium is used to build cellulose and aids in photosynthesis by the formation of a chlorophyll precursor. Potassium deficiency may result in higher risk of pathogens, wilting, chlorosis, brown spotting, and higher chances of damage from frost and heat. Nitrogen is an essential component of all proteins. Nitrogen deficiency most often results in stunted growth, slow growth, and chlorosis. Nitrogen deficient plants will also exhibit a purple appearance on the stems, petioles and underside of leaves from an accumulation of anthocyanin pigments. Most of the nitrogen taken up by plants is from the soil in the forms of NO3–, although in acid environments such as boreal forests where nitrification is less likely to occur, ammonium NH4+ is more likely to be the dominating source of nitrogen. Amino acids and proteins can only be built from NH4+ so NO3– must be reduced. Under many agricultural settings, nitrogen is the limiting nutrient of high growth. Some plants require more nitrogen than others, such as corn (Zea mays). Because nitrogen is mobile, the older leaves exhibit chlorosis and necrosis earlier than the younger leaves. Soluble forms of nitrogen are transported as amines and amides. Sulphur is a structural component of some amino acids and vitamins, and is essential in the manufacturing of chloroplasts. Sulphur is also found in the Iron Sulphur complexes of the electron transport chains in photosynthesis. It is immobile and deficiency therefore affects younger tissues first. Symptoms of deficiency include yellowing of leaves and stunted growth. Calcium regulates transport of other nutrients into the plant and is also involved in the activation of certain plant enzymes. Calcium deficiency results in stunting. This nutrient is involved in photosynthesis and plant structure. Blossom end rot is also a result of inadequate calcium. Magnesium is an important part of chlorophyll, a critical plant pigment important in photosynthesis. It is important in the production of ATP through its role as an enzyme cofactor. Magnesium deficiency can result in interveinal chlorosis. In plants, silicon strengthens cell walls, improving plant strength, health, and productivity. Other benefits of silicon to plants include improved drought and frost resistance, decreased lodging potential and boosting the plant's natural pest and disease fighting systems. Silicon has also been shown to improve plant vigor and physiology by improving root mass and density, and increasing above ground plant biomass and crop yields. Although not considered an essential element for plant growth and development (except for specific plant species - sugarcane and members of the horsetail family), silicon is considered a beneficial element in many countries throughout the world due to its many benefits to numerous plant species when under abiotic or biotic stresses. Silicon is currently under consideration by the Association of American Plant Food Control Officials (AAPFCO) for elevation to the status of a "plant beneficial substance". Silicon is the second most abundant element in earth's crust. Higher plants differ characteristically in their capacity to take up silicon. Depending on their SiO2 content they can be divided into three major groups: Si can stimulate growth and yield by several indirect actions. These include decreasing mutual shading by improving leaf erectness, decreasing susceptibility to lodging, preventing Mn and Fe toxicity. Some elements are directly involved in plant metabolism (Arnon and Stout, 1939).][ However, this principle does not account for the so-called beneficial elements, whose presence, while not required, has clear positive effects on plant growth. Mineral elements that either stimulate growth but are not essential, or that are essential only for certain plant species, or under given conditions, are usually defined as beneficial elements. Iron is necessary for photosynthesis and is present as an enzyme cofactor in plants. Iron deficiency can result in interveinal chlorosis and necrosis. Iron is not the structural part of chlorophyll but very much essential for its synthesis. Copper deficiency can be responsible for promoting an iron deficiency. Molybdenum is a cofactor to enzymes important in building amino acids. Involved in Nitrogen metabolism. Mo is part of Nitrate reductase enzyme. Boron is important for binding of pectins in the RGII region of the primary cell wall, secondary roles may be in sugar transport, cell division, and synthesizing certain enzymes. Boron deficiency causes necrosis in young leaves and stunting. Copper is important for photosynthesis. Symptoms for copper deficiency include chlorosis. Involved in many enzyme processes. Necessary for proper photosythesis. Involved in the manufacture of lignin (cell walls). Involved in grain production. It is also hard to find in some conditions. Manganese is necessary for photosynthesis, including the building of chloroplasts. Manganese deficiency may result in coloration abnormalities, such as discolored spots on the foliage. Sodium is involved in the regeneration of phosphoenolpyruvate in CAM and C4 plants. It can also substitute for potassium in some circumstances. Zinc is required in a large number of enzymes and plays an essential role in DNA transcription. A typical symptom of zinc deficiency is the stunted growth of leaves, commonly known as "little leaf" and is caused by the oxidative degradation of the growth hormone auxin. In higher plants, Nickel is absorbed by plants in the form of Ni2+ ion. Nickel is essential for activation of urease, an enzyme involved with nitrogen metabolism that is required to process urea. Without Nickel, toxic levels of urea accumulate, leading to the formation of necrotic lesions. In lower plants, Nickel activates several enzymes involved in a variety of processes, and can substitute for Zinc and Iron as a cofactor in some enzymes. Chlorine, as compounded chloride, is necessary for osmosis and ionic balance; it also plays a role in photosynthesis. Cobalt has proven to be beneficial to at least some plants, but is essential in others, such as legumes where it is required for nitrogen fixation for the symbiotic relationship it has with nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Vanadium may be required by some plants, but at very low concentrations. It may also be substituting for molybdenum. Selenium and sodium may also be beneficial. Sodium can replace potassium's regulation of stomatal opening and closing.
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