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Plant Nutrients and Their Functions

Plants require a varied range of elements to grow, maintain physiological functions and reproduce. Of these elements, carbon, hydrogen and oxygen are absorbed from the air and from water. Some others, such as chloride and nickel, are needed in trace amounts that are usually found in soil. All the rest must be added by fertilization.     
Plant nutrients are classified into three main groups, according to the relative amounts required.


Macro nutrients


Nitrogen (N)

Functions: Nitrogen is a major component of proteins, hormones, chlorophyll, vitamins and enzymes essential for plant life, as well as genetic material (nucleic acids). Nitrogen metabolism is a major factor in stem and leaf growth (vegetative growth).
Typical deficiency symptoms: leaf yellowing, stunted growth.
N deficiency in cucumber
N deficiency in eggplant

Note: During reproductive stages, nitrogen application must be regulated to avoid delay in flowering and fruit production.
Recommended nitrogen fertilizers: CoteN™, Poly-Feed™


Phosphorus (P)

Functions: As a component of ATP, the molecule that stores energy in the living cell, phosphorus is essential for all energy-consuming processes in the plant. It is a major ingredient in amino acids and a component of the cell membrane.  Phosphorus is also related to the genetic material in plants, and necessary for seed germination, photosynthesis, protein formation, flower and fruit formation, and almost all growth and metabolism processes.
Typical deficiency symptoms: stems and leaves turn purple, retarded growth and maturation, poor flowering, premature drop of flowers and fruits.
See examples of P deficiency in some crops.

P deficiency in grape vine
P deficiency in strawberry


Note: Phosphorus features low solubility and undergoes a variety of reactions in the soil that make it unavailable for plant uptake. Therefore, it should be supplied close to the roots and in synchronization with plant needs.
Recommended phosphorus fertilizers: Haifa MAP™, Haifa MKP™, Haifa P™, VitaPhos-K™, GrowClean™


Potassium (K)

Functions: Potassium is necessary for the formation of sugars and starch in the plant. It is involved in protein synthesis and cell division. Being a vital component of the cell wall, potassium enhances plant rigidity and hardiness.
Potassium is responsible for the opening and closing of stomata, hence necessary for adjustment of water balance in the plant.
Potassium also enhances flavor and color on fruit and vegetable crops and increases the oil content of fruits and is important for leafy crops.
Typical deficiency symptoms: leaf yellowing between the veins, mottled, spotted or curled leaves, scorches or burns may be seen on leaves.
Deficiency symptoms appear on older leaves first.
Recommended potassium fertilizers: Multi-K™, Haifa Bonus™, Haifa SOP™

Secondary nutrients

Calcium (Ca)

Functions: Calcium is an important structural component of cell walls. It is necessary for cell growth and division, and influences water movement in cells. In some plants, calcium is required for the uptake of nitrogen. All in all, calcium is a “quality nutrient” that enhances yield quality and prolongs shelf life.
Typical deficiency symptoms: localized rot of tissues, and a consequent growth inhibition, leaf tip burn and root tip burn. Blossom End Rot (BER) is a common physiological disorder in tomato and pepper, associated with calcium deficiency. Eggplant and watermelon are susceptible to a lesser extent.
Note: As the mobility of calcium in the plant is limited, it must be supplied throughout the growth season to keep adequate levels in the plant tissues and to ensure proper development.
Recommended calcium fertilizers: Haifa Cal™


Magnesium (Mg)

Functions: Magnesium is a key component of the chlorophyll molecule, hence essential for photosynthesis and formation of carbohydrates. Magnesium is involved in enzymatic reactions and assists in generation of energy.
Typical deficiency symptoms: yellow bands between leaf veins. The symptoms appear first on older leaves and move towards young leaves as deficiency worsens. In severe cases, necrosis may appear.
Recommended magnesium fertilizers: Haifa Mag™, BitterMag™

Sulfur (S)

Functions: Sulfur is a component of amino acids, proteins, and enzymes. It is also essential for the synthesis of chlorophyll.
Typical deficiency symptoms: leaves turn light green.
Recommended sulfur fertilizers: Haifa SOP™


Iron (Fe)

Functions: Iron is Involved in plays an important role in chlorophyll formation. It is involved in cell division that supports plant growth, and in other vital reactions in the plant.
Typical deficiency symptoms: young leaf yellowing, interveinal chlorosis.
Recommended iron fertilizers: Haifa Micro™ Fe 13, HaiFer™, Haifa Micro™ Top Iron,  HaiFer™ Max


Manganese (Mn)

Functions: Manganese (Mn) is required for photosynthesis and respiration. It improves green color and increases sugar and protein content. Manganese enhances plant tolerance to high light intensity.
Typical deficiency symptoms: primarily appear in young leaves chlorotic mosaic patterns on leaves.
Note: In acidic soils, manganese may be available in excess, and even reach toxic levels.
Recommended manganese fertilizer: Haifa Micro™ Mn 13


Boron (B)

Functions: Boron is necessary for cell wall formation, membrane integrity and calcium uptake. It assists in the translocation of sugars and affects numerous functions in plants, including flowering, pollen germination, fruiting, cell division, water relationships and the transport of hormones.
Typical deficiency symptoms: Impaired growth and broken stems, death of shoot tips, leading to multiple lateral branches (bush-like shape).
Note: Boron deficiency is the most prevailing micronutrients deficiency. However, as the optimal boron level for plants is narrow, it must be supplied very carefully, to avoid toxic excess.

Recommended boron fertilizer: Haifa Micro™ Bor-feed

Zinc (Zn)

Functions: Zinc is a component or functional cofactor in many enzymes, including auxins (plant growth hormones). It is essential for carbohydrate metabolism, protein synthesis and internodal elongation (stem growth)
Typical deficiency symptoms: mottled leaves with irregular chlorotic areas
Note: Zinc deficiency leads to iron deficiency causing similar symptoms
Recommended zinc fertilizer: Haifa Mico™ Zn 15

Copper (Cu)

Functions: Copper is involved in nitrogen and carbohydrates metabolism. It is a component of several enzymes, including enzymes that take part in photosynthesis and respiration. 
Typical deficiency symptoms: brown spots on terminal leaves, shoot tips die back.
Note: Copper has a strong tendency to bind to organic matter, hence may be deficient in highly organic soils.
Recommended copper fertilizer: Haifa Micro™ Cu 15

Molybdenum (Mo)

Functions: Molybdenum is involved in many enzymes and is closely linked with nitrogen metabolism as it is an important component of nitrate-reductase and nitrogenase enzymes.
Typical deficiency symptoms: pale green leaves with rolled or cupped margins

Recommended molybdenum fertilizer: Haifa Micro™ Combi, Haifa Micro™ soilless mix, Haifa Micro™ hydroponic mix