Macronutrients & Micronutrients in Plants

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  • 0:00 The Importance of…
  • 1:04 What Are Macronutrients?
  • 3:27 What Are Micronutrients?
  • 4:02 Plant Deficiency Disorders
  • 5:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Danielle Reid

Danielle has taught middle school science and has a doctorate degree in Environmental Health

Expert Contributor
Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 20 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

Did you know that plants have to balance their nutrition with a healthy dose of macronutrients and micronutrients? Continue reading to learn about these two different types of nutrients. Discover what happens if plants are lacking some of these nutrients.

The Importance of Plant Nutrition

You've certainly heard the phrase 'an apple a day keeps the doctor away.' And perhaps you've been told to make sure your plate looks colorful with veggies. Essential nutrients in our diet contribute to a properly functioning and healthy body. Plants follow a similar approach. In addition to needing light and water to survive, they rely on a balance of essential elements to sustain their growth.

Does the word 'element' sound familiar? In chemistry, an element is a substance that can't be broken down any further using chemical methods. Plants use elements for three primary purposes:

  • to complete their life cycle
  • to help perform specific functions
  • for structural support and cell growth

There are 20 essential elements that are classified as essential nutrients. Scientists have grouped these elements into two categories: macronutrients and micronutrients. Let's take a closer look at each.

What Are Macronutrients?

Macronutrients are nutrients that are required in larger amounts by plants and other living organisms. The following elements are categorized as macronutrients: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous, potassium, calcium, sulfur, and magnesium. Let's take a look at a few of these macronutrients in further detail.

You might be familiar with the first element on the list: carbon. Carbon is the essential element for all organic compounds. If you dried a plant, you would find that roughly 40-50% of its mass would be made of carbon. Carbon is also required to make compounds called macromolecules. Macromolecules, including carbohydrates, nucleic acids, lipids, and proteins, are very large molecules that are important for different biological processes. Plants use each type of macromolecule for a specific function. Take, for example, carbohydrates; plant cells use carbohydrates for energy storage and structural support.

Next up is oxygen. It's well known that plants produce oxygen. Did you know they also need it to survive? When plants perform cellular respiration, they rely on this essential nutrient to get the job done. Oxygen also can be used to help plants store energy in the form of ATP.

Now to phosphorous. Photosynthesis is a process used by plants to convert light energy into usable chemical compounds. Plants use phosphorus to help carry out photosynthesis, which produces macromolecules and other plant compounds. Phosphorus is also used to create ATP, the energy unit of plants, during photosynthesis.

Don't forget potassium! Plants need a water regulator to control the amount of water that enters plant cells. They rely on the presence of potassium to help control both the uptake and loss of water in a plant.

The last macronutrients we'll cover are nitrogen and magnesium. If you look at chlorophyll, you'll find both these elements in its structure. Chlorophyll is light-absorbing pigment that plays a vital role in supplying plant energy through photosynthesis. You can thank chlorophyll for the green color you see in plants. Nitrogen also plays a role in vitamin and protein synthesis.

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Additional Activities

Infographic Related to Macronutrients and Micronutrients

In this activity students will create an infographic (visual informational document) to show what they have learned about macro- and micronutrients in plants.

Infographics use images as the primary source of information and give general information about a topic in an eye-catching way. They contain some words, but the words should not overpower the images. If a student does not understand the concept of an infographic, they should review some examples of them. These are easily found with a quick internet search. Many informative advertising posters are also examples of infographics, such as posters explaining the dangers of smoking.


  • Poster paper (regular paper is an appropriate alternative)
  • Art supplies (colored pencils, markers, etc.)
  • Magazines from which to take pictures (optional)
  • Photo editing software (optional alternative)


To create their own infographic, students should:

  • Identify what information should appear on the infographic poster.
  • Determine what information can be expressed pictorially and what must be given in word form.
  • Decide the method of creating the infographic. Some methods are:
    • Drawing everything by hand.
    • Using cut and pasted pictures from magazines to create the images.
    • Using photo editing software and images found online to create a digital infographic.

Students should create their infographic with pertinent information, such as:

  • Definitions of macronutrients, micronutrients, chlorosis and deficiency
  • The elements that are categorized as macronutrients and how each is beneficial to plants
  • The elements that are categorized as micronutrients and how each is beneficial to plants
  • The difference between macro- and micronutrients
  • Some ways to identify nutrient deficiencies and what to do about them

Infographic Assessment

To determine how well they have expressed the information required in their infographic, students could allow friends, family or peers to review their work and then ask them questions based on the infographic.

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