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Micro vs Macronutrients

Macro and micronutrients are essential for healthy plant growth. Learn the differences between them and how to get the most out of your plants.

Micro vs Macronutrients


Urban farming is kind of a big deal these days because more and more people want to take charge over what they eat and the quality of their food. Growing your own gives you the opportunity to be in control of what you consume in terms of nutritional value and health benefits. Serious gardeners are on the lookout for the best macro- and micronutrients they can provide their plants with to ensure faster growth and maximum yields. This isn't just limited to edibles, growers interested in bigger and better flowers and herbs can use micro- and macronutrients to their advantage as well. This article will focus on educating gardening enthusiasts on the differences between micro- and macronutrients and how they influence your grow.


Macronutrients are basically the type of nutrients that plants require in large quantities. There are three main macronutrients (primary macronutrients) required by plants, namely: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. These are the big three that are most prominently listed on fertilizer packages in the form of N-P-K numbers.


N-P-K refers to nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium percentages by weight. In the above examples, the first product features 3 nitrogen, 12 phosphorus, and 6 potassium while the second example features 12 nitrogen and no phosphorus or potassium.

  • Nitrogen stimulates faster growth and protein synthesis in plants. Nitrogen deficient plants usually develop yellowish leaves, a weak stem and have stunted growth.

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  • Phosphorus plays a vital role during photosynthesis and optimum distribution of energy. Phosphorus deficient plants are easy to note because they lack the strong green present in healthy plants.

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  • Potassium plays a vital role in plant productivity and reduces loss of water. It also increases the rate at which water is absorbed from the roots to the leaves. Additionally, it encourages drought resistance and allows plants to adapt easily to their environment.

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Other essential macronutrients are: calcium, magnesium and sulfur. While this are required for healthy plant growth they are not needed in as large of quantities as the big three above. Calcium, magnesium and sulfur are commonly referred to as secondary macronutrients and play a key role in plant growth and development. Without them, plants tend to experience stunted growth, and abnormal growing characteristics.


  • Calcium is essential in stem strengthening as well as root development.

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  • Magnesium plays a key role in formation of the green pigment in plants which, alongside light, is required for photosynthesis. In simple terms, plants need magnesium to make food. Magnesium deficiency causes a yellowish tinge on the leaves and immature withering.

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  • Sulfur is essential for chlorophyll formation. Sulfur deficient plants tend to be less productive and show stunted growth.

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Unlike macronutrients which are required by plants in large quantities, micronutrients are only required in small quantities. They are usually found in small traces in soil and in case your soil is not fertile enough, some micronutrients will be completely missing. The key micronutrients are: iron, manganese, zinc, copper, boron and molybdenum.


Click to enlarge. Click to enlarge.

One very important thing that most growers tend to forget when it comes to nutrients is with respect to balance. Plants react negatively when they are under or over fed nutrients. Overfeeding of nutrients is very common. It can lead to necrosis and is just as harmful to plants as underfeeding. Too much of something eventually turns out to be harmful. For instance, too much nitrogen can lead to accelerated growth at the expense of plant strength and flowering. Nutrients form a balanced web of interaction and an imbalance or excess in one area can lead to a deficiency or toxicity in another. Mulder's chart shows the relationship between key plant nutrients.

» Learn about nutrient deficiencies and treatment.




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