The Importance of Plant Nutrition

Healthy plants spring from rich soil.  Naturally fertile soils are found in other parts of the United States but most of the soil in SW Florida is made of sand, seasoned with lime rock, and peppered with shells. If it looks like it used to be an ocean floor, you are right. Plant growth and success is greatly influenced by the application of proper nutrients to our soil.

The amount of “data” and advice on plant nutrition is dizzying and often contradictory. This is a summary of various articles by experts on Florida plant nutrition that we hope will be easy to understand and help to provide great results.

The following describes the nutritional needs of plants and how gardeners can provide them.


Palms are among the most important ornamental plants in Florida landscapes. Palms suffer quickly and conspicuously from improper mineral nutrition, whether due to insufficient or incorrect fertilization. They also may exhibit certain nutritional disorders in unique ways compared to other ornamental plants. You can slowly kill large, valuable palms by applying the wrong fertilizer (or no fertilizer at all.)

Sixteen plant food nutrients are essential for proper plant development.  Each is equally important to the plant yet, each is required in vastly different amounts.  These differences have led to the grouping of these essential elements into three categories.


Primary (macro) elements are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.  They are the most frequently required in a plant fertilization program.  They are also needed in the greatest total quantity by plants as fertilizer.  Nitrogen and phosphorus are generally available in ample supply in our soils.






The secondary nutrients are calcium, magnesium, and sulphur.  For most plants, these three are needed in lesser amounts than the primary nutrients.  They are growing in importance in plant fertilization programs due to more stringent clear air standards and efforts to improve the environment.






The micronutrients are Boron, chlorine, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, and zinc.  These plant food elements are used in very small amounts, but they are just as important to plant development as the major nutrients, especially for their “work behind the scenes” as activators of many plant functions.




*IRON (Fe)



*ZINC (Zn)

In addition to the 13 nutrients listed above, plants require carbon(C), hydrogen(H), and oxygen(O), which are extracted from air and water to make up the bulk of plant weight.


Soil pH and Plants:

The Florida Fertilizer Label:

Fertilization of Field-grown and Landscape Palms in Florida:

Palm Nutrition Guids:

South Florida Horticulture:

Palm Nutrition Guide:

Soil pH and the Home Landscape or Garden:

Bob Cook, FNGLA Instructor

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