NPK | What is it?
by Graham . on Jul 14, 2017
If you have been using Elite, by now you have seen the three numbers on the front of all Elite bottles. These numbers are crucial to you as a grower, so we wanted to break down the science behind them and explain why they are important to you and your plants.
All nutrients in Elite bottles are important as they work together to make your plant as healthy as it can be, but it is nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium that do the bulk of the work and demand extra attention. This is why you will find these three numbers on the front of all Elite bottles. All other nutrient concentrations can be found on the back of the bottle.
Nitrogen plays a key role in the formation of carbohydrates, nucleic acids, and amino acids – the building blocks of proteins that build stronger, healthier plants. For this reason, nitrogen is particularly critical to your plant during the early (vegetative) stage when your plant is growing at its fastest rate. While nitrogen is still important during the later flowering stage, too much can negatively affect the aroma, flavor and quality of your final product, so it is important to find the right balance.
Nitrogen is also directly responsible for the production of chlorophyll. During photosynthesis, chlorophyll transforms light energy into chemical energy in the form of carbohydrates (sugars). Chlorophyll absorbs much of the light spectrum, with the notable exception of green, which it reflects back, thus giving leaves their familiar green color. When your plant is healthy and receiving the nitrogen it needs, you will notice a vigorous green color on the leaves.
Nitrogen is a mobile nutrient, meaning the plant can move nitrogen to where it is needed most. When your plant is nitrogen deficient, you will notice that the lower (older) leaves start to turn yellow. This is frequently due to the plant directing its nitrogen (and the chlorophyll it produces) to new growth on top of your plant.
Phosphorus provides your plant the energy it needs to grow big and healthy. Your plant uses light energy absorbed by chlorophyll and creates “high-energy” molecules called ADP (adenosine diphosphate) and ATP (adenosine triphosphate). These molecules, as their name implies, are entirely dependent on phosphorus and they are the workhorses for energy transfer within your plant.
ADP and ATP essentially power all necessary biochemical reactions within your plant, including nutrient uptake (eating) and cell division (growing). For this reason, your plant growth will stall without enough phosphorus. Conversely, if your plant has a good supply of phosphorus, you should see more “everything” – roots, stems, leaves, buds, and yields. You will also observe robust leaves and stems that look and feel strong and healthy. Phosphorus is needed throughout the entire life of the plant, but is most required in the vegetative and early flowering stages.
Phosphorus is also necessary for maintaining genetic integrity from generation to generation. Phosphorus is an important bonding component of DNA, which holds a plant’s genetic blueprint. Phosphorus is also a bonding component of RNA, which reads DNA’s code and assigns instructions to the plant to build according to that blueprint. From genetic viability to energy, phosphorus is an essential component to growing healthy plants
Unlike Nitrogen and Phosphorus, which work mostly to add mass to your plant, potassium is critical for various internal functions. Potassium plays a key role in transporting water and nutrients throughout your plant, allowing it to satisfy its own needs quickly. When potassium is deficient, your plant will be less able to move its mobile nutrients to the parts of the plant that need it.
Potassium also regulates respiration activity and allows the plant to cool itself when needed. It does this by controlling the opening and closing of the stomata (typically found on the underside of leaves), which regulates the intake of carbon dioxide and release of water and oxygen. Stomata regulation is essential for proper functioning of the photosynthesis process. In potassium deficient plants, the opening and closing of the stomata may take hours (instead of just a few minutes), which leads to severely stunted growth.
Potassium also plays a key role in the activation of enzymes that are necessary for the so-called ADP/ATP cycle – the engine that drives metabolism.
Potassium is critical throughout the entirety of your plant’s life, but has its most celebrated effect during late flowering when it aids in the production of potency-increasing essential oils. Potassium enhances crop quality in all flowering plants, improving physical quality and decreasing pest and disease susceptibility. Lack of potassium will reduce quality and yield.
Your plant is always talking to you, sending you signals and clues. Understanding the key nutrients your plant is receiving will help you better tend to your plant if signs of trouble appear.