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Macronutrients vs. Micronutrients in Plants

Fertile and healthy garden soil is vital for optimal growth and productivity in vegetable and flower gardens. Plants rely on varying amounts of seventeen essential nutrients to thrive.

Ideally, everyone’s garden soil would deliver all the nutrients, both macro and micronutrients, that help plants grow strong. The reality is that soil balance is perpetually fluctuating, depending on what is being produced and the soil nutrients individual plants use.

Building healthy soil full of macronutrients and micronutrients is the number one thing you can do to bolster and enhance your garden. Macronutrients are the elements that plants require in large quantities, while micronutrients are the elements plants need in much smaller amounts.

Amending your soil with organic fertilizers, organic soil amendments, and feeding soil with rich organic matter can help you on your journey to healthy soil that is infused with macronutrients and micronutrients.

Learn more about macronutrients vs. micronutrients in plants so you can fill your present soil with the vast array of essential nutrients that plants crave.

Florist planting flowers outdoors.

Macronutrients vs. Micronutrients

The terms macronutrients and micronutrients refer to the quantity of each nutrient that the plants in your garden need. Macronutrients are used and necessary in larger quantities than micronutrients and are more prominently displayed on fertilizer packages. Beneficial microbes and mycorrhizae process both to deliver them efficiently to plants, and both are necessary for plant health.


The primary macronutrients are Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K), and you may be familiar with the term N-P-K on the fertilizer packaging. Nitrogen encourages foliage growth, and potassium is essential for overall flower and fruit development.

Phosphorous promotes healthy root development and bolsters flower and fruit formation. If you find that your soil is deficient in this nutrient, bone meal is a great soil amendment that is sure to give your summer fruiting plants and root vegetables a boost.

Plants that are heavy feeders of Phosphorus include:

  • Legumes
  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Melons

Other, more secondary macronutrients that are essential to plant growth are Calcium (Ca), Magnesium (Mg), and Sulfur(S).

Calcium helps strengthen plants’ roots and stems as well as bolster new growth. All plants require calcium in order to thrive. Amending your soil bonemeal, limestone, gypsum, or rock phosphate can help increase the content of this key nutrient in your soil.

These plants may be more sensitive to a calcium deficiency: 

  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Celery
  • Fruit Trees
  • Potatoes
  • Tomaotes

Magnesium is an essential nutrient for many high-yielding plants because it helps encourage new fruit-setting flowers and increases the plants’ ability to uptake other key soil nutrients. One of the most popular ways to replenish Magnesium in the soil is by amending it with Epsom salt.

Below are some plants that may require some extra Magnesium:

  • Broccoli
  • Cucumbers
  • Leafy Greens
  • Eggplants
  • Squash
  • Tomatoes


Micronutrients in plants are used in smaller amounts, but they are just as vital to the overall health of plants and microbial life. Plants’ root systems absorb these micronutrients from the soil just like they do macronutrients, the absence of any of which can cause nutrient deficiencies. Micronutrients in plants include elements like Boron, Iron, Chlorine, Manganese, Copper, Molybdenum, Nickel, and Zinc.

women making compost from leftovers.

How to Amend for and Retain Macronutrients vs. Micronutrients In Plants?

Great gardens start with good, healthy soil packed with macronutrients and micronutrients. Every fruitful garden requires a consistent schedule of amending the soil to keep it alive and healthy.

Here are some easy ways to keep soil thriving:

  • Fertilize with a quality organic fertilizer, which will trace elements and micronutrients in addition to the main macronutrients (N-P-K).
  • Start a compost pile, so you will have a continued source of fertile soil to amend with. Compost organic matter like tree leaves and grass clippings and used the well-decomposed material in your garden.
  • Use a no-till method of gardening. Add organic soil amendments in layers so as not to disrupt microbial life below.  Earthworms, ants, and other beneficial microbes will naturally move these amendments into the soil and make nutrients available to plants.
  • Mulch your garden with organic mulches. Not only will they enrich your soil with nutrients over time, but they also help combat soil erosion which can wash away soil and nutrients from your garden.
  • Rotating your crops can also help eliminate nutrient depletion from the soil.

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