Plant nutrition is the study of the chemical elements and compounds necessary for plant growth, plant metabolism and their external supply. In its absence the plant is unable to complete a normal life cycle, or that the element is part of some essential plant constituent or metabolite. This is in accordance with Justus von Liebig's law of the minimum. The total essential plant nutrients include seventeen different elements: carbon, oxygen and hydrogen which are absorbed from the air, whereas other nutrients including nitrogen are typically obtained from the soil (exceptions include some parasitic or carnivorous plants).
Plants must obtain the following mineral nutrients from their growing medium:-
These elements stay beneath soil as salts, so plants absorb these elements as ions. The macronutrients are taken-up in larger quantities; hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and carbon contribute to over 95% of a plant's entire biomass on a dry matter weight basis. Micronutrients are present in plant tissue in quantities measured in parts per million, ranging from 0.1 to 200 ppm, or less than 0.02% dry weight.
Most soil conditions across the world can provide plants adapted to that climate and soil with sufficient nutrition for a complete life cycle, without the addition of nutrients as fertilizer. However, if the soil is cropped it is necessary to artificially modify soil fertility through the addition of fertilizer to promote vigorous growth and increase or sustain yield. This is done because, even with adequate water and light, nutrient deficiency can limit growth and crop yield.