How Do You Know If Your Soil Is Nutrient Deficient?

Your lawn and garden soil is the lifeblood of your plants. Lack of proper nutrients in your soil does lead to the poor development of your plants and flowers. Soils that have the right nutrition do produce the desired and bountiful yields.

Every plant and flower has the desired amount of nutrients that they need. Understanding your soil’s nutrient deficiencies will prevent any guesswork in applying fertilizers to enhance and replace the missing ingredient. Soil testing and soil color will assist you in identifying the plant nutrient your soil is missing. 

Below, we will go in-depth on recognizing your soil nutrient levels before planting your flower and plants. Early identification of your soil composition will assist you in knowing how to provide the proper nutrients to your soil

What Are Nutrients?

Plant nutrients are not plant food – plants manufacture their food through photosynthesis. Nutrients can become components of the food manufactured by plants. For example, plants use carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and sulfur in building proteins.

The chemicals or elements needed for plant growth are called essential plant nutrients. Plants use other nutrients as catalysts in life processes.

There are 17 essential nutrients needed for normal plant growth. Three essential nutrients – carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen – comprise 95 percent of plant solids.

They are obtained from the air and water and are generally not limited to plant growth.

The remaining 14 essential plant nutrients are obtained from the soil and may need to be supplemented with fertilizers or organic nutrient sources like compost.

Nitrogen – which comprises 78 percent of the atmosphere – is unavailable to plants in the form. However, certain bacteria in the soil convert gaseous nitrogen into a form available to plants.

Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are primary macronutrients because plants use more than other nutrients.

Calcium, magnesium, and sulfur are secondary macronutrients 

PrimaryBoron – B
Nitrogen – NCopper – Cu
Phosphorus – PIron – Fe
Potassium – KMangenese – Mn
SecondaryMolybdenum – Mo
Calcium – CaNickel – Ni
Magnesium – MgZinc – Zn
Sulfur – SChlorine – Cl

Plants can only utilize nutrients when they are in a specific form.

Each of these forms is considered to ions. The ions have an electrical charge. Positive ions are called cations, and negative ions are called anions.

Nutrients in forms other than those listed in the table above must be converted to usable forms by chemical or biological processes. For example, rock phosphate and bone meal contain phosphorus, but not in a form available to plants. It must first be converted to one of the orthophosphate ions- a conversion that occurs very slowly.

Likewise, manure, sewage sludge, and compost have compounds that must be converted to either the nitrate ion or the ammonium ion before plants can utilize them.

Check out this blog post on how to test your soil. The post shows you how to test your soil at a commercial facility and or build your own in home test kit.

Plant Nutrient Sources:

 Nutrients become available to plants through many sources, including

  1. Fertilizer supplements, both organic and mineral: Understanding the fertilizer label is essential for adequately applying fertilizers.

Primary nutrients are always listed on the label as 

  • Nitrogen – % of nitrogen
  • Phosphorus – % of phos[phorous oxide(phosphate)
  • Potassium – % of potassium oxide

Nitrogen is expressed as a percent of an element Nitrogen, and phosphorus and potassium are expressed as a percent of oxides. A consuming aspect of this terminology is that elemental nitrogen and oxides of phosphorus and potassium do not exist in the fertilizer. 

They are simply used as a convenient way of comparing the nutrient values of one fertilizer to another.

For example, a 100lbs bag of fertilizer labeled 10-10-10 contains 10 lbs each of  Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium. A 100lbs bag of 20-20-20 contains 20 lbs each of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium or twice the nutrient content of 10-10-10.

Fertilizer labels may also contain the designations W.S.N. ( Water soluble nitrogen) or W.I.N(water insoluble nitrogen). Water-soluble nitrogen dissolves readily and is in a simple form. 

Water-insoluble nitrogen does not dissolve readily. Soil microorganisms must transform organic forms of W.I.N. into simple ionic forms before plants can use them. Some inorganic forms of W.I.N. are slow-release nitrogen fertilizers.

There are two types of fertilizers: Organic (contains carbon) and inorganic(does not contain carbon). Fertilizers are called organic if the nutrients contained in the product are derived either from the remains of living organisms or from a by-product of them. (e.g., Blood meal, bone meal, and all manures).

Technically, urea is organic is an organic fertilizer because it contains carbon. However, it is a synthetic organic fertilizer manufactured from inorganic materials. Thus, it is not an organic fertilizer and cannot be used for organic crop production.

Because plants absorb nutrients throughout their growth, it is essential to provide them with a balance of nutrients during that period. The most efficient way to achieve this is to apply a slow-release fertilizer. There are three types of slow-release fertilizer:

Slow Dissolving:

Sulfur-coasted urea is an example of a slow-dissolving fertilizer. Varying the sulfur coat’s thickness controls the urea’s release rate. Release rates increase with an increase in temperature and are not affected by weathering.

When applied to the surface, sulfur-coated urea releases nitrogen more slowly than when incorporated into the soil. It also supplies the essential element sulfur. Slow-dissolving fertilizers generally cost less than other slow-release fertilizers.

Membrane-Coated Granular:

Fertilizer granules coated with multiple layers of resin membranes swell upon contact with water. This increases the pore size of the resin and allows fertilizer to move into the soil.

Release rates depend on coating thickness, temperature, and soil water content. A significant release of fertilizers commonly occurs during the first two or three days after application. However, periods of release can range from a few days to six months or years, depending on the coating.

Slow-release fertilizer need not be applied as frequently as other fertilizers, and larger amounts can be applied without the danger of burning. Slow-release fertilizers are generally more expensive than other kinds.

The real benefit, however, is the frequency of application, which is much lower than conventional fertilizers.


Some organic fertilizers have relatively high amounts of one of the three primary nutrients, but they either lack the other two primary nutrients or have only small amounts of them.

Most are relatively low in all three nutrients and may need to be supplemented with nitrogen, phosphorus, or potassium. Most nutrients in organic fertilizers are in chemical forms unavailable to plants.

Soil microorganisms transform them into plant-available forms, releasing nutrients over a long period of time. This transformation is only effective when the soil is moist, and the soil temperature is warm; therefore, nutrients may only sometimes be released rapidly enough for vigorous plant growth in the spring

How Are Nutrients Depleted?

Nutrients can be lost from the soil by

  1. Flowing away in runoff water – carried away on soil particles eroded from the soil surface.
  2. Leaching – water movement that contains dissolved minerals through the soil.

Ginny Orenge

Hi, my name is Ginny, home and garden decor ideas is a family business specializing in inspiring you in getting in making your own craft at home. I have also loved creating my own art at home. I hope to share my tips in creating both home and garden decorations that you can be proud off.

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