CAHNRS and WSU Extension

Wheat and Small Grains

Essential Nutrients

Three Criteria for Essentiality of Nutrients:

  1. A plant cannot complete its life-cycle in the absence of the element
  2. The action of the element must be specific, with no other element being able to completely substitute for it
  3. The element must be shown to be directly involved in the nutrition of the plant. It must be a constituent of a metabolic pathway or at least be required for the activity of an essential enzyme.

Eighteen Essential Nutrients for Plant Growth

There are 18 essential nutrients for plant growth: 9 macronutrients and 9 micronutrients


Plants need large amounts of micronutrients relative to other essential nutrients.

  • Three macronutrients are from air: Carbon (C), Hydrogen (H), Oxygen (O)
  • Six macronutrients are from soil: Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), Potassium (K), Magnesium (Mg), Calcium (Ca), Sulfur (S)


Compared with the macronutrients, the concentrations of the eight (8) micronutrients in plants are very small. This does not mean they are not important. Deficiency or excesses of the micronutrients can cause yield loss just as macronutrient deficiency or toxicity does.

  • All micronutrients are from soil
  • Six micronutrients are cations: Copper (Cu), Manganese (Mn), Iron (Fe), Zinc (Zn), Nickel (Ni), Cobalt (Co)
  • Three micronutrients are anions: Chloride (C1), Borbon (B), Molybdenum (Mo).




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