Phosphorus is a vital nutrient for plants. Phosphorus in cultivation is becoming more and more popular as it acts as a catalyst for the conversion of several key biochemical reactions in the growth of plants.
The nutrient is also essential as it’s a part of a number of key compounds in the structure of plants. It’s especially important for plants because it plays a role in the capture and conversion of the sunlight’s energy into compounds which the plants need.
What is Phosphorus?
Phosphorus is a kind of macronutrient which plants need in large amounts for them to grow and to thrive. It’s an essential part of DNA and it’s an important part of photosynthesis. Phosphorus provides the plant cells with energy transfer. In fertilizers, phosphorus comes in the form of phosphates or phosphoric acid.
How Phosphorus Interacts with Other Nutrients
You can broadly classify the interaction of phosphorus with other nutrients into two main groups namely antagonistic and synergistic. For instance, research shows that phosphorus and nitrogen have a synergistic reaction in terms of how they affect the biomass and growth rate of plants. This interaction seems to be primarily driven by the nitrogen-induced phosphorus uptake.
Apart from nitrogen, magnesium also seems to have a synergistic interaction with phosphorus. When a plant has high levels of magnesium, this increases the phosphorus uptake rate. This happens because magnesium is an important part of the plant’s system.
Of course, there are some nutrients which may have an antagonistic interaction with phosphorus too. For one, zinc has the tendency to have an antagonistic interaction when plants contain high amounts of phosphorus. The main effects of this interaction are leaf characteristics which mimic a deficiency in zinc.
Signs of Phosphorous Excess or Deficiency
We’ve established that phosphorus is an essential element for the growth of plants. In terms of excess, plants might experience phosphorus toxicity. However, this condition is extremely rare since plants, especially the fast-growing ones, need high amounts of this nutrient.
But if it does occur, phosphorus toxicity starts interfering with the ability of a plant to absorb all of the trace elements and micronutrients it needs. Therefore, this leads to deficiencies in copper, zinc, calcium, iron, and magnesium.
If you want to treat your plant which got affected by this condition, you need to stabilize the pH level of the plant’s growing reservoir and medium. To do this, use a mild nutrient solution or a clearing solution. This helps remove any excess salts both from the plant and from the medium.
Phosphorus deficiency in the garden
As aforementioned, plants need large quantities of phosphorus to grow and stay healthy. Without enough of this nutrient, plants start developing a phosphorus deficiency which stunts their growth. You’ll notice small leaves which are blue-green in color and may even have a blotchy appearance.
Plants which suffer from a phosphorus deficiency may also have veins and stems which turn purple starting from the leaves at the bottom of the plant. The tips of the leaves curl downwards and turn dark. For flowering plants, they produce fewer flowers or buds. Fruits won’t grow on time either and if they do, these will be relatively small.
To treat this deficiency, you must also stabilize the pH levels of the growing reservoir or medium. You must prevent the soil from getting too acidic as this promotes the accumulation of iron and zinc. This, in turn, hinders the plant from absorbing the phosphorus it needs.
After making adjustments to the pH level, keep on watering your plants and using a balanced fertilizer. If the condition doesn’t improve, you may try phosphorus supplements to boost the health of your plants.
One thing to keep in mind is that plants don’t uptake elemental phosphorus. Rather, they prefer specific species of phosphate. This is a type of molecule which is both negatively charged and highly reactive. Depending on the condition of the plant’s environment, phosphate may bind chemically with other types of fertilizer components.
This is why it’s so important for plant growers to know the proper application of phosphorus nutrition. You must apply this in such a way where it’s separate from specific fertilizer components. Also, you must make sure that the plant grows in appropriate pH conditions.
Sources of Phosphorus
You can always find phosphorus in the list of ingredients in plant fertilizers. All fertilizer labels contain the letters “N-P-K,” one of which is phosphorus (P). It’s considered a mobile element which has the ability to translocate throughout a plants entire body.
Organic sources of phosphorus for your plants
Apart from fertilizers, you can also supplement your plants with phosphorus using the following organic sources:
This is an excellent source of organic and soluble phosphorus that’s readily available for plants. In its natural form, bat guano has a strong odor but you may purchase the liquid variety which is fairly odorless.
Bone or fish bone meal
These are great sources of organic phosphorus too. But the phosphorus levels may depend on the types of bones, their age, and whether you cook them, steam them, or give them to the plants raw.
This is the raw material manufacturers use to derive fertilizer phosphate and phosphoric acid. Unfortunately, this isn’t an ideal source because the phosphorus takes some time to break down meaning it’s not readily available.
Different kinds of manure are great sources of organic phosphorus. The levels of phosphorus depend on the age and type of manure. Of course, since this is animal waste, it’s not ideal to use it for your indoor plants mainly because of the strong smell.
When to use phosphorus
Phosphorus is most beneficial during the flowering phase of plants. Fast-growing annual plants need huge quantities of phosphorus to produce large fruits and flowers. This is why you would see high amounts of this nutrients on bloom booster supplements and on flowering fertilizers.
Seeds also need phosphorus to germinate while clones need it to root since it’s a crucial component of root growth. For this stage, most plant fertilizers and nutrient supplements also contain high amounts of phosphorus.
As you can see, phosphorus is an essential component in the physiology of plants. Therefore, if you plan to grow plants for your home or for a larger scale, make sure that you supply them with enough of this nutrient.