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FACTORS OF PLANT GROWTH The soil can be viewed as a mixture of mineral and organic particles of varying size and composition in regard to plant growth. The particles occupy about 50 percent of the soil's volume. The remaining soil volume, about 50 percent, is pore space, composed of pores of varying shapes and sizes. The pore spaces contain air and water and serve as channels for the movement of air and water. Pore spaces are used as runways for small animals and are avenues for the extension and growth of roots. Roots anchored in soil support plants and roots absorb water and nutrients. For good plant growth, the root-soil environment should be free of inhibitory factors. The three essential things that plants absorb from the soil and use are: (1) water that is mainly evaporated from plant leaves, (2) nutrients for nutrition, and (3) oxygen for root respiration. Support for Plants One of the most obvious functions of soil is to provide support for plants. Roots anchored in soil enable growing plants to remain upright. Plants grown by hydroponics (in liquid nutrient culture) are commonly supported on a wire framework. Plants growing in water are supported by the buoyancy of the water. Some very sandy soils that are droughty and infertile provide plants with little else than support. Such soils, however, produce high-yielding crops when fertilized and frequently irrigated. There are soils in which the impenetrable nature of the subsoil, or the presence of water- saturated soil close to the soil surface, cause shall low rooting. Shallow-rooted trees are easily blown over by wind, resulting in wind throw. Essential Nutrient Elements Plants need certain essential nutrient elements to complete their life cycle. No other element can completely substitute for these elements. At least 16 elements are currently considered essential for the growth of most vascular plants. Carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen are combined in photosynthetic reactions and are obtained from air and water. These three elements compose 90 percent or more of
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the dry matter of plants. The remaining 13 elements are obtained largely from the soil. Nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium Ca), magnesium (Mg), and sulfur (S) are required in relatively large amounts and are referred to as the macronutrients. Elements required in considerably smaller amount are called the micronutrients. They include boron (B), chlorine (Cl), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo), and zinc (Zn). Cobalt (Co) is a micronutrient that is needed by only some plants. Plants deficient in an essential element tend to exhibit symptoms that are unique for that element. More than 40 other elements have been found in plants. Some plants accumulate elements that are not essential but increase growth or quality.