High P or low P? The mystery of phosphorus in hydroponic culture

Updated: Nov 22, 2019

If you searched for the optimal P concentration for plant growth in hydroponics you will likely find very different results, ranging from low values to very high values. This is inherently contradictory and difficult to understand, why don't we have a smaller range for optimal P conditions? Why has it been so hard to describe what the best P levels are? Today we will talk about P nutrition and why there has been so much confusion regarding optimal P levels in hydroponic culture.

Almost all books about hydroponics and flowering plants will put optimal P concentrations in solution between 20 and 50 ppm, rarely will you find any book recommending P levels outside of these values in general, since these are recognized to be safe and they play well with standard nutrient concentrations used for other elements. However you will find articles for different plants recommending P levels that can be as high as 200 ppm to as low as 10 ppm. Take for example this article on Calendula, which recommend a P application of 10ppm, while this article on Lavender suggests 60ppm. Note that optimal P might also depend on the desired result as this article on Origanum dictamnus shows that there is a movements of essential oils from leaves to bracts at higher P concentrations in these plants.

Not only is there confusion about optimal P levels, but even the effects of P and the interaction of P with micronutrients are not very well understood. There is evidence (see here) that P promotes Mn uptake in tomatoes while it suppresses Fe and Zn uptake, while we have entirely different results in barley, where P is found to actually impede manganese acquisition. The above two articles also give a lot of references to P uptake literature, which I suggest you checkout if you would like to learn more.

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