Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.

If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.



Periodic Graphics: The elements of fertilizers

Chemical educator and Compound Interest blogger Andy Brunning digs into how plant fertilizers make use of the periodic table.

by Andy Brunning
March 22, 2020 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 98, ISSUE 11


Andy Brunning/C&EN
Andy Brunning/C&EN

To download a pdf of this article, visit

References used to create this graphic:

“A Crash Course in Fertilizers: NPK Ratios, Synthetic vs. Organic, and More.” Sunset, Sept. 3, 2004.

Dimech, Adam. “The Potassium Myth.” The Story of Flowers. Updated Feb. 10, 2013.

Scherer, H. W. “Fertilizers and Fertilization.” In Encyclopedia of Soils in the Environment, edited by Daniel Hillel, 20–26. Elsevier, 2005.

Solution Center for Nutrient Management. “Crop Nutrient Requirements.” Accessed March 5, 2020.

A collaboration between C&EN and Andy Brunning, author of the popular graphics blog Compound Interest

To see more of Brunning’s work, go to To see all of C&EN’s Periodic Graphics, visit




This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chris Underwood, Ph.D. (March 25, 2020 10:28 AM)
As a research chemist who works in the agriculture industry, I can appreciate the graphic that Mr. Brunning has constructed. It gives an idea of the importance of fertilizers that agronomists can use at the grower level.

However, this is missing one key element: silicon. Silicon is used by plants (in the silicate form) to strengthen their cell wall, in conjuction with potassium and calcium. It is an important and rarely mentioned essential element that should be mentioned more often. I would direct you to the work of Dr. Lawrence Datnoff at Louisiana State University for more information. Prof. Datnoff is considered the foremost expert on the function of silicon in plants.
Dan Casagrande Ph.D. (March 25, 2020 2:12 PM)
I am in the 50+ year ACS membership category...I find these articles timely, focused, well written, and filled with practical, easy to understand information.

Thanks for stepping up to the plate and not only hitting a homerun, but you continue to hit the ball out of the park!!!

Proud to be an ACS member!
Bob Buntrock (April 13, 2020 4:16 PM)
Phosphorus is on of the big three essential elements but for the last decade or so, for most lawns at least, P is not a problem and lawn fertilizers tended to over fertilize leading to unwanted runoff into water systems and groundwater promoting algal blooms and other pollution. Most lawn fertilizers or now low or no P.
Bob Buntrock (April 13, 2020 4:23 PM)
50 years ago, my neighbor, a chemical technician at the lab where I worked, had found out the secret to growing good tomatoes was to use MiracleGro fertilizer with boron, a trace element. It promotes better fruit and fruit set. When growing tomatoes I've used it ever since also with good results.

Leave A Comment

*Required to comment