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How do Plants Absorb Nutrients: The Processes Explained

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There are many ways by which a plant can absorb nutrients. However, the most common way of absorbing nutrients is through roots, stems, leaves, and flowers.

Plants absorb nutrients through three major pathways, which are roots, stems, and leaves. Firstly, nutrients are absorbed from the soil through their roots which are then transported to the leaves via the xylem and the phloem, located within the stems. Nutrients can also be absorbed through the leaves via the stomata.

Plants need to absorb nutrients for their right growth and development. Plants require all the essential micro and macronutrients to survive and thrive.

This article is will explain the process of nutrient absorption by plants, what affects nutrient uptake and how to fix it.

How Do Plants Absorb and Transport Nutrients

How do Plants absorb nutrients

Plants absorb water and nutrients through their roots. This is done through the process of osmosis. Plants take up water from the soil by a process called transpiration (transpiration is when water evaporates from a plant’s leaves, carrying dissolved nutrients with it.

This process is also called transpirational pull, which happens when the plant’s leaves release water vapor into the air.


As this vapor rises, it cools and condenses to form droplets on the underside of leaves, which then drip back down to the ground.

The droplets contain dissolved minerals picked up from the soil as they pass over it, so plants take in nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

Plants can absorb nitrates and phosphates from the soil through their roots. These molecules enter the plant’s cells, where they combine with hydrogen ions, which have been released from water in the plant’s cells. This creates a chemical reaction that releases energy.

A plant can transport nutrients throughout its body by using various methods of movement:

Capillary actionPlants move water and dissolved materials up from their roots, through their stems and leaves to other parts of the plant.
GravityNutrients move down the stem through gravity
Pumping fluidsPlants use a type of cellular pump called a root pressure cell or turgor cell to push fluids up.
Sliding cellsWater flows up or down in plants because of differences in solute concentrations between two areas of the same cell.

So, this is how plants absorb and transport nutrients.

The Three Processes by Which Plants Absorb Nutrients

Nutrients are essential for every organism, whether a living being or a non-living being. The three ways plants uptake nutrients are:

1. Absorption:

root hairs

Plants absorb water and dissolved nutrients from the soil through their root hairs near the very tip of the roots. Root hairs are ultra-fine roots that have a large surface area which gives them the ability to absorb nutrients even when there is limited nutrient availability within the soil.

2. Transport:

Transport of Mineral Ions in Plants

Plants also transport nutrients from the soil to all parts of the plant as they grow, using a process called translocation. A simple definition of translocation is the movement of materials from one area to another.

3. Secretion:

Finally, some plants secrete digestive enzymes into their leaves which break down organic matter to extract nutrients before it is absorbed into the plant’s system.

Stomata Schematic

Does Soil pH Affect the Availability of Plant Nutrients?

Soil pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of the soil. The pH level of soil can affect the availability of plant nutrients.

Soil pH ranges from 0 to 14, with seven being neutral. Soils with a lower pH are more acidic, while soils with a higher pH are more alkaline. Plants grow best in soils that have a neutral or slightly acidic pH.

Soils with a low pH can make some plant nutrients unavailable to plants, while soils with high alkalinity can tie up other nutrients and make them unavailable to plants as well.

pH range for plants

Soil pH affects the availability of plant nutrients in different ways:

  • Nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and magnesium are mobile within the soil and available to plants at all soil pH levels.
  • Soil acidity increases aluminum toxicity in plants.
  • Acidic soils have lower levels of phosphorus available for plant uptake.
  • Plants growing in acidic soils may have stunted growth due to a lack of calcium.

This is how the soil pH affects the availability of plant nutrients. See our detailed article on Acidic water for plants.

How acid water works in soil

How to Know if Your Plant is Nutrient Deficient

There are a few ways to know if your plant is nutrient deficient. One way is to check the color of your plant. For example, if the leaves are yellow, you can consider that it’s lacking nitrogen.

If the leaves are dark green, you can consider that it has enough nitrogen. However, the leaves may also have brown spots, showing a lack of magnesium. If your plant is wilting, it may be because it needs more water and not enough sunlight.

Nutrient Deficiencies in plants

Therefore, if you notice the leaves are wilted, discolored, or have holes in them, then it’s likely that your plant has a nutrient deficiency.

Another way to determine if your plant is deficient in nutrients is by looking at the soil. If you notice that there are white spots on the surface of the soil, then it’s likely that your plants need more fertilizer.

The other way is to check the number of new shoots from the stem and roots. Without many new shoots, your plant may lack phosphorus or potassium.

It can be challenging to know if your plants are getting all their necessary nutrients without consulting an expert or using a testing kit.

Therefore, check on your plants and see if they show signs of nutrient deficiency.

Table Showing Plant Nutrients, Uses, and Deficiency Symptoms

NutrientUse Deficiency Symptom
Nitrogen – NA major component of chlorophyll and is used in photosynthesisStunted Growth, Pale color, Light green yellowish leaves
Prosperous – PEnergy transfer, photosynthesis, the transformation of sugars and starchesStunted growth, darkening of the leaves
Potassium – KEnzyme activation in plants, Increases root growth and improves drought resistance. Brown scorching and curling of leaf tips
Calcium – CaTo provide structural support to cell wallsPlant dark green, Drying starts from the tips, Tender leaves pale
Magnesium – MgUsed in chlorophyll production and enzyme regulationPaleness from leaf edges. Edges have cup shapes folds
Sulfur – SUsed in the formation of amino acids, proteins, and oilsLeaves light green, veins pale green
Boron – BUsed for cell wall formation and plant stabilitydiscoloration of leaf buds. breaking and dropping of buds
Copper – CuPhotosynthetic and respiratory electron transport chainsPale pink between the veins. wilt and Drop.
Chlorine – ClOsmotic and stomatal regulation, disease resistance and toleranceWilting of leaves, especially at the margins
Iron – FeUsed for the synthesis of chlorophyll, and it is essential for chloroplast functionLeaves are pale, No spots, major veins Green
Manganese – MnSustains metabolic roles within different plant cell compartmentsLeaves pale in color, veins dark green
Zinc – ZnFormation of chlorophyll and some carbohydratesLeaves pale, dark spots on leaf edges
* These are the more predominant nutrients found in fertilizers and can vary by brand.

How to Improve Nutrient Uptake in Plants

Replacing soil nutrients with organic fertilizer

The role of plants in the ecosystem is more crucial than ever. With the Earth’s population set to rise, we need to be more aware of how to improve nutrient uptake in plants.

There are many ways to improve nutrient uptake in plants. For a plant to grow and produce fruit, it must take nutrients from the soil and put them into its cells.

These nutrients can come from several sources: minerals, organic fertilizers, composts, or even dead animals and insects.

Some strategies can be used by adding composts or animal manure and using mineral-rich fertilizers such as rock dust or seaweed extracts.

Mixing Potting soil

These strategies should help increase plant nutrient uptake, but there is no one size fits all solution for every type of plant.

The main problem in agriculture is the lack of nutrients. Therefore, the most crucial factor for plant growth is a sufficient supply of nutrients.

One way to increase nutrient uptake is through foliar fertilization, but this can only be done in small quantities, and it also takes time to show any effects.

Another way of increasing nutrient uptake is through soil fertilization, which involves adding nutrients to the soil and then waiting for them to be taken up by the roots. But this method has its own set of problems as well, such as:

  • It can take a long time before plants show signs of taking up more nutrients.
  • Other factors might affect the rate at which plants absorb nutrients from the soil.
  • This method only works for some types of plants.

Always ensure that your plant is getting adequate nutrition. In case you find out that there are some issues, you must resolve them at the earliest. In this section of the article, we discussed how you could improve plant nutrition uptake. 

What Does a Plant Need to Survive

Healthy Plant

The essential things that a plant needs to survive are water, sunlight, and air, specifically carbon dioxide. When it comes to the need for water, plants can either absorb water from the soil or get it from the ground by using their roots.

They also get water from the soil when it rains, or humans water them.

Water is an essential nutrient that plants need to grow and stay alive. Without this nutrient, a plant will die in just a few days.

A plant also needs sunlight to grow and thrive. This is because sunlight provides energy for the plant cells to produce food through photosynthesis.

A plant cannot produce food without sunlight, so it needs at least six hours of direct sun exposure daily. Sunlight is needed for photosynthesis, turning water and carbon dioxide into sugar and oxygen.

Last, plants need air to live as well as grow properly. If a plant does not receive enough air, it will become stunted or even die from suffocation due to the air in its environment.

Carbon dioxide is also crucial because plants need it to produce oxygen. 

The Takeaway

Plants absorb nutrients in various ways. However, in significant terms, nutrient absorption occurs mainly through roots, stems, and leaves. So, first, plants take nutrients through their roots. Next, roots take the nutrients from the soil.

After the roots have taken nutrients from the soil, they transport them to the stems. Finally, through stems, it gets transported to the leaves. Leaves then use sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and sugar.

This is how the process of nutrient absorption takes place in plants. This process is essential for the plants’ healthy growth and development. Therefore, make efforts and provide adequate nutrition to the plants.

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