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10 Neat Things About Minerals in the Garden
by Dorothy Dobbie
by Dorothy Dobbie

The Local Gardener magazines, Ontario Gardener, Manitoba Gardener and Alberta Gardener, are published by Pegasus Publications Inc.

Drawing on her 30 years' experience as a senior executive in the magazine publishing industry, Dorothy launched Manitoba Gardener in 1998, initially running the business out of her home. Two years later, Dorothy's daughter Shauna, living in Ontario, jumped into the fray with Ontario Gardener. And two years after that, they started Alberta Gardener. Visit us at and register for our "Ten Neat things" newsletter. Watch Shaw TV for garden tips and Listen to CJOB for the Gardener Sundays at 9:08

March 14, 2017

1. The big cheese.

Plants use more nitrogen than any other mineral. It is part of the amino acids that make up the building blocks of proteins. It also has a major presence in the chlorophyll molecule. If there is not enough nitrogen in the soil, plants may display yellow leaves and poor growth. Use too much and it can delay maturity - preventing flowers from forming.

2. Help me breathe or I might turn purple!

Phosphorus helps regulate plant respiration and growth. It is involved in the transfer of energy during metabolism. It helps roots grow, helps safeguard the plant against drought and cold, promotes seedling vigour and helps flowers and fruit form. Some plants develop a purplish cast on their leaves if deprived of phosphorus. Phosphorus is a component of DNA.

3. Just call me "K"!

Potassium is the second most prevalent mineral used by plants. In the NPK formula, it is known as K, from the word kalium, the medieval Latin word for potash, derived from an Arabic word for alkali. It is a very important nutrient in that it activates enzymes critical to photosynthesis, protein production and carbohydrate metabolism. It also helps the plant breathe through its role in regulating stomata (the little pores on the underside of leaves that help plants breathe). It encourages water retention in plants and improves the quality of taste in edible plants.

4. Oh no, K is missing!

When there is not enough potassium in the soil, leaves may brown at the tips and margins. The stems may become weak and unable to hold the plant's head up. And harmful types of nitrogen may build up. Not only all that, but flowers and hence seeds may not form due to a lack of potassium.

5. The big green machine.

Magnesium is a critical constituent of photosynthesis. It is magnesium that puts the green in chlorophyll. In its absence, leaves turn yellow. Its sound-alike, manganese, has a hand in making chlorophyll, too. Iron is also implicated, and if there is not enough iron in the soil, not only will leaves turn chlorotic (white or yellowish areas around veins), they may even turn completely white. Manganese and iron can be absorbed through plant leaves.

6. It's a blue, blue day.

Without copper, it would indeed be a blue day for plants. Copper also helps in chlorophyll formation and without it, upper leaves wilt and begin to get a blue-green cast. Copper is also implicated in chlorophyll formation, as is zinc and chloride. Lack of zinc will retard shoot growth and cause resetting of leaves.

7. Reproductive health.

Boron is necessary for the transference of sugars across membranes. More importantly, it helps the production of pollen and the growth of pollen tubes, which transfer fertilized pollen to the plant ovaries.

8. Fixing "N".

Molybdenum is used in the tiniest of amounts but its role is vital to the fixation of nitrogen in the root nodules of legumes.

9. Last but not least.

(Molybdenum is least.) Chloride helps in photosynthesis and without it roots have a hard time growing. Cobalt, vanadium, sodium and silicon are the remaining minerals in plants, all contributing to one thing or another.

10. How plants "eat".

Minerals are not taken into the plant by osmosis or through diffusion. Instead, it's a more physical experience wherein the root hairs in plants pick up minerals by attaching them to carrier cells and move them into the cells against the "concentration gradient" (movement of an area with a higher number of particles to an area with a lower number of particles). To get the trace minerals not included with the big three, water with a seaweed mixture or with a well-balanced compost tea.

Dorothy Dobbie Copyright© Pegasus Publications Inc

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