Sodium In Plant Production – Good Guy or Bad Guy?

Sodium In Plant Production – Good Guy or Bad Guy?

In animals, Sodium (Na) is an “Essential” element. It plays a central role in electrolyte and ion balance in body fluids and tissues. In plants however, Na is the most predominating problem salt and can cause toxicity. We often consider it a waste product that is pervasive in our soils and waters. While Na may not be necessary to completing the life cycle of a plant; i.e. “Essential” nutrient,” it can increase growth rates, yields and reduce Potassium (K) critical level needs. Scientists have labeled elements like Na as “Functional” nutrients. “Functional” nutrients are those which are crucial to maximizing yield or in reducing critical levels of an “Essential” nutrient like Potassium (K) by partially replacing it.

Na is a “Functional” nutrient.

Typically our mental reference to Na in plant nutrition and culture is toxicity, necrosis, tip burn, chlorosis, scorching, bronzing and even death. It is something we are taught to avoid if at all possible at any level or concentration. Most of us have been taught no Na is the goal, but in fact, this is not the case at all. While plant species vary widely in Na uptake and translocation capabilities, what we usually read or hear about is plants subjected to very high Na concentrations in the root zone. There it is translocated to the tops which reduces growth and can cause death. However at proper levels, Na plays some major beneficial roles in plant metabolism including:

  • Chlorophyll synthesis
  • Turgor pressure, osmotic potential and cell expansion
  • Reducing critical levels of K
  • Stomatal function
  • Nutrient transport
  • Enzyme activation
  • Growth stimulation

The processes listed above are beyond the scope of this blog. Suffice it to say Na function and metabolism in the plant is vast and still largely unresolved. Na is not an “Essential” element, but it is a “Functional” one. In fact, Na is an “Essential” element in some C4 plant species like corn and sugar cane. That is, it is required to complete the life cycle. None the less, much research indicates Na significantly stimulates growth in many plant species, even when K is adequate. Research also indicates K critical levels are reduced in the presence of Na in many crops. Growth rate and nutrient utilization and efficiency are positively affected by Na.

Whether it is increased chlorophyll production in spinach or lettuce, or increased tomato yields, or improved taste in carrots or sweetness in watermelons and citrus, or higher yields in broccoli, cotton, barley, carrots and many other crops, Na is not the bad guy. It is a “Functional” nutrient. It is an element that can increase yield, increase quality and increase disease resistance in some species.

The point of this blog is to help the reader understand there is more to plant nutrition and culture than N, P & K. Plants require a balanced diet of not only the “Essential” nutrients but also the “Functional” ones. These nutrients are required in varying amounts. It is a dynamic system with elements interacting with each other, the water, the soil and the plant species in production. Na can be extremely beneficial to plant quality, characteristics and performance.   Who would have thought Na could be a good guy?

Address your nutritional program needs on a species specific basis. Know your beginning nutrient levels, water quality and characteristics. Use complete plant foods and fertilizers that not only consider the “Essential” nutrients but also the “Functional” ones.

At BGI, species specific complete balanced and available nutrient plant foods is our design. It’s what we do. Why do we do It? We believe that without beauty life would be intolerable. That beauty is as necessary as sunlight and oxygen to our health and survival. We believe beauty is a divine presence and an “Essential” element to human existence. BGI believes in creating or helping to create beauty in all aspects of our lives, be it in the natural landscape or on the harshest edges of our existence. Why? Because beauty is the ultimate food…soul food! I’m starving!

Take care,


P.S. If you don’t agree with this blog, go pound Salt