Grow Your Own, Guest Posts

10 Elements That are Crucial to Plant Growth

People who are good at gardening like to say they have a green thumb. While master gardeners may have years of experience working with plants, they also have certain essential elements and supplies, like a well-balanced soil deposit in their backyards or potted plants.

If you’re an agricultural expert, you might already know about Liebig’s law of the minimum, but if you haven’t here’s a quick rundown. Similar to a rate-determining step in chemistry, a plant’s growth isn’t determined by the total of the resources available, but by which one’s the scarcest. So consider this post a bit of a rule of thumb – pumping potassium into your soil won’t automatically create stonking stomata, but if potassium’s lowest on the present-element list then a pinch could change your plant.

If you’d like to learn more about soil alone, check out this post with everything you could want to know about soil.

Adding elements

Unlike fortified cereals, you can’t just shave a nail into your soil in order to add some iron. Or use a magnet to lift it out. They need to be water soluble, which means compounds are on the cards.

The main elements to promote growth – phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium – can be found in certain fertilisers, with different compounds and mixes in different ones. Look out for ammoniums and nitrates for nitrogen, phosphates for phosphorus and potassium compounds like potassium oxide for potassium.

Or you can look out for the phrase ‘NPK‘, which means the fertiliser contains all three (K is potassium for the non-chemists). This Plant Theory one for example contains all three in a 4-2-4 ratio.

With that in mind, here’s a look at 10 elements that are crucial to plant growth. Learn about how they could help your garden thrive and might avoid any more wilted leaves or fungus-infested soil.

The elements

1. Phosphorus

Plants in pots lined up on a wooden table

When children are young, parents often serve glasses of milk to help their bones develop. Phosphorus is essentially a glass of milk for your plants. The element aids cell division, stimulating new tissue development in sprouting seeds and mature plants. Landscaping that lacks phosphorus will experience stunted growth or unnaturally dark-green leaves.

2. Sulfur

Sulfur isn’t just what you smell when boiled eggs start to rot. It’s also an element that encourages amino acid formation in plants. Whether you’re growing flowers or vegetables, your plants will need sulfur to form amino acids that create growth-inducing proteins. Composting organic materials and using them as fertiliser is an excellent way to add more sulfur to a garden naturally.

3. Potassium

A plant’s roots absorb water to further its growth cycle, but it can’t transport that water effectively without potassium. It stimulates the plant’s stomata to open and close like healthy blood vessels in a human being. The movement pushes water through a plant so every cell stays hydrated, which couldn’t happen if a lack of potassium left the stomata at a standstill.

4. Nitrogen

A pretty pile of house plants

Everyone’s heard about chlorophyll. Without the green pigment, plants couldn’t transform sunlight into life-sustaining food. Chlorophyll couldn’t exist without nitrogen, so it’s one of the elements that are crucial to plant growth. Nitrogen test kits will tell if your soil has enough or if you need to add a supplemental form of this element to your lawn care or potting supplies.

5. Copper

When you think of copper, you might picture wires or coins. Plants also need this element, but it isn’t easy to find in soil. It doesn’t occur naturally, so gardeners and homeowners may have to add it to their property. It will help your plants thrive by killing bacteria before they can grow, promoting plant growth and keeping small pests away. Add it through supplemental powders or fertilisers for instant application.

6. Chlorine

You may have heard that watering your plants with indoor tap water is wrong because it contains chlorine (depending on where you live). Although too much chlorine can cause plants to die, the right amount helps them grow. It’s a vital part of the photosynthesis process, so plants can’t eat or grow without it. Test your soil to ensure that chlorine is present and stays at the right amount even after watering.

7. Boron

House plants lined up in a fashion not dissimilar to a police line-up

Wilted plants don’t just need water and sunlight. They might also lack boron in their soil. It’s an element that exists within cell walls so plants can stay rigid and continue their cellular growth cycles. When there isn’t enough boron, plants may lose a few leaves because they’re redirecting energy to parts that are still strong.

8. Zinc

Have you noticed that your plants have discoloured leaves? It might happen because their root system isn’t growing correctly. This occurs when plants don’t have enough zinc to form established root systems that absorb water and nutrients efficiently. Zinc directly supports the enzyme activity that makes that happen, so supply your plants with enough zinc after using a test kit to check for the element.

9. Nickel

Plants need to create seeds to spread across their environment or form fruit. Even if you only grow flowers in your garden, seeds are still part of their growth cycle. You can find them in the centre of each flower and harvest them after they reach maturity.

If your plants aren’t reaching their seed formation stage, it could be because they can’t access enough nickel. Nickel acts quickly to aid the metabolic process that plants use to make seeds, so it should be present in every garden and potted plant.

10. Iron

A wall with covered in tessellated window boxes

Anyone can get more iron in their diet from meat and beans, but plants need to find it in their soil. Plants use this element to gain energy for their metabolisms and stay on track with their growth. Dry soil lacks iron the most, so anyone living in a hot climate should consider giving their plants extra iron in addition to water. They’ll become more robust and thrive even in the most challenging environment.

Learn About Crucial Plant Elements

Anyone can read about these elements that are crucial to plant growth, but you won’t know what your plant needs until you use a soil test kit. The results will reveal which elements your garden requires to change the pH and help it reach its full potential so you don’t have to try all sorts of costly fertilisers without knowing which bags have the nutrients your plants crave.

Rose Morrison Renovated

Rose Morrison is a home living writer with over five years experience writing in the industry. She is the managing editor of and loves to cover home renovations and decor to inspire everyone to live their best DIY life. When she isn’t writing, you’ll find her baking something to satisfy her never-ending sweet tooth.




Header  Photo by Ceyda Çiftci on Unsplash
Potassium Photo by cottonbro from Pexels
Nitrogen Photo by Huy Phan from Pexels
Boron Photo by vadim kaipov on Unsplash
Iron Photo by Brendan Harding on Unsplash