ALABAMA A&M and AUBURN UNIVERSITIES
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AUBURN, APRIL 4---Plants, whether they be acres of peanuts or two tomato plants growing in the back yard, require certain nutrients to be healthy and productive.
Plants take in nutrients through their root systems and sometimes their leaves. These nutrients come from a variety of sources, including soil, fertilizer or manure added to the soil, compost added to the soil, and residues left on the soil, says Dr. Charles Mitchell, Extension agronomist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.
Plants need nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in large quantities, and other nutrients in small quantities.
Nitrogen is a critical part of proteins, which control the metabolic processes required for plant growth, says Mitchell. It also plays a key role in photosynthesis. An adequate supply of nitrogen is associated with vigorous vegetative growth and dark-green color of the plant.
Too much nitrogen delays and reduces flowering and fruiting of many plants. Excessive surface nitrogen found in surface water or groundwaters is considered an environmental pollutant.
Phosphorus plays a vital role in plant reproduction, Mitchell says. Considered essential to seed formation, this mineral is often found in large quantities in seed and fruit. Adequate phosphorus is characterized by improved crop quality, increased root growth, better flowering and fruit set and earlier crop maturity.
Potassium plays a role in many physiological processes vital to plant growth, from protein synthesis to maintenance of plant water balance. Potassium also helps protect plants from drought and diseases.