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Calcium in plants and soil – management of nutrients

MOBILITY AND UPTAKE OF CALCIUM BY PLANTS

Calcium uptake by plants is passive and does not require energy input. Calcium mobility in the plant takes place mainly in the xylem, together with water. Therefore calcium uptake is directly related to the plant transpiration rate.

Conditions of high humidity, low temperatures and a low transpiration rate may result in calcium deficiency. Salinity buildup might also cause calcium deficiency because it decreases the water uptake by the plant.

Since calcium mobility in plants is limited, calcium deficiency will appear in younger leaves (die back or burns) and in fruits (blossom end rot, bitter pit), because they have a very low transpiration rate. Therefore, it is necessary to have a constant supply of calcium for continued growth.

ROLES OF CALCIUM IN PLANTS

Calcium is an essential plant nutrient. It has many roles:

  • Participates in the metabolic processes of other nutrient uptakes.
  • Promotes proper plant cell elongation.
  • Strengthens cell wall structure – calcium is an essential part of plant cell wall. It forms calcium pectate compounds which give stability to cell walls and bind cells together.
  • Participates in enzymatic and hormonal processes.
  • Helps in protecting the plant against heat stress – calcium improves stomata function and participates in induction of heat shock proteins.
  • Helps in protecting the plant against diseases – numerous fungi and bacteria secret enzymes which impair the plant cell wall. Stronger cell walls, induced by calcium, can avoid the invasion.
  • Affects fruit quality.
  • Has a role in the regulation of the stomata.

FACTORS AFFECTING THE AVAILABILITY OF CALCIUM TO PLANTS

Calcium forms insoluble compounds with other elements in soil, such as phosphorous. Calcium that is in the form of an insoluble compound is not available to plants.

Since calcium is a positively charged ion, it is absorbed in the soil to the surface of clay and organic particles which are negatively charged.

Positively charged ions adsorbed to soil particles are termed “exchangeable ions” because they can be exchanged by other ions present in the soil solution. Soil analysis determines the level of exchangeable calcium ions, and not the total calcium in soil, because the exchangeable calcium is the form which is available to the plant.

Several factors in the soil analysis can help in assessing the availability of calcium to plants:

  • Soil pH – usually soils with a higher pH level contain more available calcium.
  • CEC – this is a soil characteristic that describes the total amount of positively charged exchangeable ions that the soil can hold. A higher CEC indicates a higher capacity of the soil to absorb and hold calcium, and therefore higher calcium availability.
  • Presence of competing ions – calcium competes with other positively charged ions, such as sodium (Na+), potassium (K+), and magnesium (Mg+2). Applying too much of these positively charged ions might decrease calcium uptake by plants. Sodium ions can replace the absorbed calcium, damage soil structure and decrease calcium availability.

When you upload your soil test to SMART FERTILIZER our software gives you an instant evaluation of your soil specifications and of the eventual deficiencies. The deficiencies could be of macroelements such as NPK, but also could be of microlements. This soil test upload is very helpful in understanding the nutritional status of your crop, and therefore in creating the perfect fertilization plan.

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OTHER REACTIONS OF CALCIUM IN SOIL

Calcium-phosphorous precipitation – when free calcium accumulates in the soil solution (e.g. when soil pH is high) it tends to form insoluble compounds with phosphorous. Consequently, phosphorous availability is also significantly decreased.

Calcium stabilizes soil structure – the calcium that is absorbed to soil particles helps to stabilize the soil structure. Absorbed sodium might cause the soil to crack when dry and swell up when wet. Calcium replaces the absorbed sodium and prevents damage to soil structure.

CALCIUM DEFICIENCY

Calcium deficiency is usually caused due to low calcium availability or due to water stress, which results in low transpiration rates. The symptoms of calcium deficiency include curling of young leaves or shoots, scorching or spotting on young leaves, poor growth, leaf tip burns, stunted roots, and damage to fruit.

                                                

 

SOURCES OF CALCIUM FOR PLANTS

The most common calcium sources are calcium nitrate, calcium chloride, lime, gypsum, calcium chelates and some organic sources.