The 17 Essential Nutrients For Turf Growth

close-up of different nutrients

You know how chemicals interact with your turfgrass, but understanding the nutrients behind turfgrass growth and health is important, too. There are three criteria that make a nutrient essential:

  1. The plant can’t complete its growth cycle without it
  2. It performs a unique function that no other element does, or
  3. The plant can’t complete metabolism without it

As long as the nutrient meets one or more of those criteria, it’s considered essential. We’ll cover all 17 of them in depth below:

Our star players are carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, mainly acquired through photosynthesis and water. We won’t touch on these, since their presence and purpose are pretty well-known and understood.

Macronutrients: The Building Blocks of Turf Health

Let’s start by understanding the foundation—macronutrients. Plants, turf included, rely on macronutrients, meaning they’re required in concentrations of 0.1% to 5%. The three primary macronutrients are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, often referred to together as NPK.

Nitrogen stands out as the powerhouse among these nutrients. Functioning as the “big dog,” nitrogen is key in supporting genetic functions, defense mechanisms, growth, and recovery of turfgrass. Despite the atmosphere being predominantly composed of nitrogen (78%), plants cannot directly utilize atmospheric nitrogen. Rather, nitrogen is made available in the form of ammoniacal and nitrate compounds. Its role in genetic functions ensures proper development, and its contribution to defense mechanisms strengthens the turfgrass against environmental stressors. Moreover, nitrogen plays a pivotal role in promoting growth and aiding in the recovery process, making it a vital component for overall turfgrass vigor.

Phosphorus takes on the role of the builder in supporting turfgrass health. Crucial for the transfer of genetic information and cell wall production, phosphorus actively participates in building, transferring, and storing energy within the plant. This nutrient is particularly essential for the development of young roots as they continue to grow. The significance of phosphorus in cell wall production ensures the structural integrity of the turfgrass, contributing to its overall health and resilience.

Potassium serves as the guardian in the trio of macronutrients. As the third element in the NPK ratio, potassium is essential for maintaining cell turgidity, regulating water within cells, and defending against various stressors. The ability of potassium to regulate water balance in cells is vital for preventing wilting and ensuring proper hydration, contributing to the overall health and appearance of the turfgrass. Additionally, potassium plays a crucial role in stress response mechanisms, helping the turfgrass withstand adverse environmental conditions.

Secondary Macronutrients: The Unsung Heroes

Our next three nutrients are calcium, magnesium, and sulfur. These elements are classified as secondary macronutrients, and while they are required in smaller quantities compared to the primary macronutrients, their significance in supporting plant functions should not be overlooked.

Calcium is essential for cell wall integrity and new growth. Providing structural integrity and stability to plant cells, calcium helps form strong cell walls and contributes to overall plant strength and resilience. Adequate calcium levels also assist in the regulation of cell division and elongation, promoting proper root development and growth.

Magnesium is a central component of chlorophyll, the green pigment responsible for photosynthesis. Like all plants, turfgrass relies on photosynthesis to produce energy from sunlight, and magnesium’s presence in chlorophyll ensures efficient photosynthetic activity. Magnesium deficiency can lead to chlorosis, where turfgrass exhibits yellowing of leaves due to decreased chlorophyll production, negatively impacting the plant’s ability to harness sunlight for energy.

Sulfur plays a crucial role in the synthesis of amino acids, proteins, and enzymes within plants. It is an integral component of certain vitamins and coenzymes, contributing to various metabolic processes. In turfgrass, sulfur is essential for the formation of proteins that are vital for growth and development. Additionally, sulfur aids in nutrient uptake and transport within the plant, facilitating the overall nutrient balance necessary for healthy turfgrass.

Micronutrients: Tiny But Mighty

Moving to micronutrients, we have iron, a key player in chlorophyll production; manganese, influencing color and plant defense; zinc, involved in over 300 enzymes; copper, acting as a catalyst for plant health processes; molybdenum, essential for making nitrate usable in plants; boron, less understood but vital for defense compounds and sugar transport; chlorine, the anion version of potassium, contributing to balance and homeostasis; and nickel, crucial for urea and ammoniacal nitrogen. These elements are required in the amount of 1 to 500 parts per million. Get the full scoop on each nutrient below:

  • Iron, primarily responsible for color and chlorophyll production, comes in plant-available and protected forms and is crucial for optimal utilization.
  • Manganese, associated with color and plant defense, plays a vital role in phenolic compounds that aid in defense against soil-borne diseases.
  • Zinc, considered the “jack of all trades,” is involved in over 300 enzymes, contributing to various physiological processes within the plant.
  • Copper, acting as a catalyst, ensures the health processes of the plant, making it a crucial element for overall plant well-being.
  • Molybdenum, facilitating the utilization of nitrate nitrogen in plants, is essential for nitrogen metabolism.
  • Boron, while less understood, plays a role in defense compounds and sugar transport within the plant.
  • Chlorine, functioning similarly to the anion version of potassium, is involved in maintaining balance and homeostasis within the plant.
  • Nickel, essential for urea conversion to ammoniacal nitrogen, nickel ensures the proper functioning of nitrogen metabolism.

Bonus Nutrients

If you’ve been counting, we’ve already reached 17 nutrients, but these two nutrients are also important to touch on:

Cobalt is involved in many enzymes associated with metabolism, but how essential it is to plant growth is not well understood. The main takeaway when it comes to turfgrass is that cobalt is more likely to cause toxicity than deficiency in practical scenarios.

Silicon acts as a physical barrier and defense against pathogens and also helps with turgidity for traffic and salt stress.

Understanding these essential nutrients is crucial for effective turf management. Proper application methods, nutrient protection, and a balanced approach are paramount for ensuring optimal turf growth and health. Explore our other resources and products and let’s continue the conversation about turf nutrition and growth.

jarrett headshot
About the Author Jarrett Dodson

Jarrett Dodson is the marketing content writer for Xylem Marketing, which serves Advanced Turf Solutions, Foliar-Pak, and other green industry brands.

Read More Posts from Jarrett