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The Function of Potassium in Lawn Fertilizers


Close-Up Of Green Grass Growing On Field

Lawn fertility is one of the most important aspects of lawn care, so it is important to know what is in a bag of lawn fertilizer and how it affects your lawn. All lawn fertilizer should be labeled clearly to indicate the quantities of elemental nutrients found in the product. The standard convention for designating these quantities is by a percentage ratio. The three main numbers in fertilizer labeling represent the percentage of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), respectively. For example, if a 50-pound bag of fertilizer is labeled 20-20-20, it means there are 10 pounds each of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (20 percent of 50 pounds).

Choosing the appropriate fertilizer blend should be based on soil type, soil test results, and other factors, such as including personal preference (organic or non-organic) or legislation (are there any restrictions or bans on fertilizer use).

When you obtain a soil test from a university extension service or a professional testing lab, the results will give specific recommendations for how to amend or fertilize the soil to create optimal growing conditions. Among this information will be a recommendation for how much potassium your soil requires for good grass growth.

Potassium in Nature

Potassium (chemical symbol K) is one of the three major elements most necessary for plant nutrition, along with nitrogen (chemical symbol N) and phosphorus (chemical symbol P). Potassium is mined and manufactured in the form of potash which refers to salts that contain potassium in water-soluble form. It is most commonly used for fertilizer in its inorganic versions—muriate of potash (potassium chloride) and sulfate of potash (potassium sulfate).

Potash is abundant in many different soils, but not all of it is available for uptake by the plant. Soils with high clay content provide hiding places for potassium to bind making it unavailable. Potassium also occurs naturally in organic fertilizer and compost sources, such as seaweed products, wood ash, and animal feeds and bedding materials.

 How Grass Uses Potassium

Along with nitrogen and phosphorus, potassium is one of the essential macro-nutrients required in the largest quantities by plants for growth and vigor. Potassium is important in the synthesis of some plant components and the regulation of processes, including the more efficient use of nitrogen by the plant. Adding soluble potash (K2O) to the soil helps grass withstand stress, drought, and disease. Specifically, potassium helps maintain turgor pressure in the cells of the plant, resulting in a positive influence on drought tolerance, cold hardiness, and disease resistance. As a result, potassium deficiencies in turf may cause increased susceptibility to drought, winter injury, and disease.

 Potassium is mobile in plants and can be taken up in quantities greater than needed for optimal growth. It can be difficult to identify if overconsumption is a problem because little is known about the optimal concentration of potassium in the turf. Although soil tests are the best way to determine the nutrient requirements of the lawn, in some cases it can be difficult to determine anything more than a potassium deficiency. Plant-available potassium is constantly changing in the soil and is dependent on many factors that are interconnected. An overall healthy soil should be the goal, aiming for potassium levels that fall in line naturally—or with the addition of fertilizers.
 Fertilizer blends which are high in K (potassium) are often sold as a winterizing fertilizer due to the effect of potassium on the cold hardiness of grass. Consumers need to be aware that terms like winterizer or summer fertilizer are more marketing terms than actual statements of a fertilizer's benefits.
 Run-Off Danger

Because potassium salts are water-soluble, they are readily leached into groundwater and can be also present in the rainwater run-off if they are over-used. However, potash is not a known pollutant and it is rarely present in concentrations toxic to humans or wildlife. Potassium does not deplete the water of available oxygen as do some of the other elements contained in fertilizers.

 Excess potassium is relatively harmless to the lawn and the environment, but too much potassium likely also means an excess of nitrogen and/or phosphorus, both of which can be harmful. And over-applying nitrogen fertilizer can be detrimental to the lawn itself—either through creating too much top growth or possibly burning the grass plants.


The Function of Potassium in Lawn Fertilizers


Potassium has a significant role to play in terms of pest pressure

According to the Potash Development Association (PDA), the role of potassium in mitigating crop damage due to pest pressure is complex.

Barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV) is the most economically important virus in UK and Irish cereal crops, with severe infections causing losses of up to 60% in winter wheat and 50% in winter barley.

Although this is rare, significant economic damage can occur from small populations of aphids carrying the virus.

The effects of BYDV can also be exacerbated by the presence of additional stress factors, including adverse weather, soil acidity and other pests or diseases.

Impact of viruses on crops

Turnip yellows virus (TuYV) is the most important viral disease of oilseed rape in the UK, decreasing yields by up to 26%, while also knocking oil production.

Virus yellows (VY), including beet mild yellowing virus (BMYV), beet chlorosis virus (BChV) and beet yellows virus (BYV) are a complex of particularly damaging viruses that can cause yield losses of up to 50 % when infection occurs early in the season.

Infection reduces the photosynthetic area of leaves reducing both yield and sugar content.

All of these viral diseases are transmitted by aphids. As well as potentially transmitting viruses, aphids can also cause wilting, distortion, or stunting of plant shoots.

Importance of potassium

Potassium (K) plays an important physiological role including build-up of resistance to insect pests. Adequate amounts of K have been reported to decrease the incidence of insect damage considerably.

Plants well supplied with nitrogen (N) and insufficient potassium have soft tissue with little resistance to sucking and chewing pests.

Adequate levels of potassium in plants leads to a reduction in carbohydrate accumulation, lowering the likelihood of attracting insect pests, while the tissue yellowing symptoms of potassium deficiency act as a signal to attract aphids.

A sufficient potassium supply tends to harden plant structures, strengthening cell walls, leading to thicker and harder stems and leaves.

This hardening of plant structures improves mechanical resistance to feeding of insects, especially sucking insects such as aphids.

Potassium and pest growth

Potassium also has a negative impact on the growth and development of sucking pests. Higher plant potassium levels resulted in a decline in occurrence, population levels, rate of population increase and net reproductive rate of aphids.

The area of winter cereals planned for this back end is predicted to be much higher than normal.

The autumn-sowing window came on the back of an exceptional harvest and strong grain prices.

However, there is already high aphid pressure being reported on many tillage farms, so BYDV could potentially be an issue this year.

Anything that can help lessen the impact, to reduce the pressure on chemical control has to be worth considering – not just now but into the future.

Potassium has a significant role to play in terms of pest pressure


Mars Had Liquid Water On Its Surface. Here's Why Scientists Think It Vanished

Mars Had Liquid Water On Its Surface. Here's Why Scientists Think It Vanished


Crop establishment

September 2021

Establishment is the most critical period in any annual crops life-cycle, as it is the time when the yield potential is set. All challenges the crop faces during the season serves to reduce the final yield from this potential. Therefore, conversely, any management decisions taken from this point onwards only helps limit the reduction in this yield potential.

When seen in this light, it is clear that great attention needs to be paid at this point to set the crop up as well as possible. The first area of focus should be the soil. Soils should be well structured, with any compaction issues caused over the previous 12 months, or created during harvest of the previous crop, rectified. This will allow unimpeded root growth and maximum soil exploration for roots to capture nutrients and water. Alongside this, the soil chemistry should be optimal for growth – soils at a neutral pH, and soil indices at the target levels for the crops being grown, P index 2 and K index 2- for combinable crops. The aim of this is to ensure there is sufficient availability of nutrition for the establishing crops and their small root systems as well as providing the required amounts of nutrients at the appropriate times for the crop through the full season.


When it comes to establishment and nutrition, phosphate is one of the first nutrients that comes to mind. Its lack of mobility in the soil, combined with the small root systems of emerging seedlings, means soils need to be at the target index to ensure sufficient quantities can be obtained by plants.

Phosphate at this timing is involved in root growth and development. Phosphate deficiency will lead to a reduction in the formation of lateral roots and an inhibition of root elongation. Sufficient quantities are therefore required to improve rooting, which will enable access to more nutrients and water.


Image 1. Sulphur deficiency (left) in wheat with typical pale chlorosis on newer leaves and stunted growth
(Ref: Yara UK)

Sulphur is an essential nutrient for all plants, with some crops more vulnerable to deficiency than others. Historically, in the UK sulphur was deposited on land from the atmosphere in adequate quantities for optimal growth and development. However, as the burning of UK coal (high S) in power stations was switched to imported coal (low S) and natural gas, aerial deposition declined dramatically. This continued when emissions regulations forced flue gas desulphurisation units to be fitted, and now very little lands on our fields. As recently as 30 years ago there was as much as 130kg/ha of sulphur deposited in the UK, however it is now estimated that this figure could be as low as 1-3kg/ha over the year. As a result of this reduction, soils are now showing critical signs of sulphur deficiency and applications of sulphur to crops has become an essential part of Nutrient Management Planning on farms.

Sulphur is a nutrient that gets the greatest attention in the spring, particularly stem extension, however, applications in the autumn have been shown to improve the uptake of residual soil nitrogen, improving root and shoot biomass in the autumn and potentially leading to a reduction in losses as a result.

Figure 1. Annual emissions of sulphur dioxide in the UK (Ref: Ricardo Energy & Environment)
Figure 1. Annual emissions of sulphur dioxide in the UK
(Ref: Ricardo Energy & Environment)

Sulphur in the Soil

Sulphur in the soil acts in a similar way to nitrogen. It becomes plant-available from the breakdown of organic matter, and to some extent from soil minerals. Soils which are organic, or heavy textured are more able to supply sulphur than light and inorganic soils.

Plants take up sulphur in the form of the sulphate anion (SO42-). These sulphate ions reside in soil solution which means they are at risk of leaching, depending on the soil texture and rainfall, just like nitrates. This risk must be taken into account when nutrient planning.

Figure 2. UK soil sulphur deficiency (Ref: Lancrop Laboratories)Figure 2. UK soil sulphur deficiency
(Ref: Lancrop Laboratories)

Immediately available sulphur in the soil can be measured by lab analysis, but its variability both down the soil profile and over time, means that the normal 4 yearly soil analysis (for pH, P, K & Mg) is not appropriate. Both the organic processes and the leaching potential cause levels to vary by month, and by year.

Improvement in overwinter nitrogen uptake in winter barley from sulphur applied in the autumn as PolysulphateFigure 3. Improvement in overwinter nitrogen uptake in winter barley from sulphur applied in the autumn as Polysulphate (Ref: ICL)

Trial Results

Trials carried out by ICL on winter barley in 2020/21 on 6 sites demonstrated the improvement in nitrogen uptake and root biomass discussed earlier, through an application of 48kg/ha SO3 alongside potassium, magnesium and calcium in the form of Polysulphate® in the autumn. Sampled after winter, the plots which received the sulphur dressing had a 28% increase in nitrogen uptake compared with those that had not. There was also a 16% increase in carbon uptake as a result of increased above and below ground biomass.

Impact of Potassium on Cold Tolerance

Rooting in the autumn is important for improved nutrient and water uptake through the season, with every centimetre of root touching an extra 130 tonnes of soil over a hectare. A plant with a good root mass going into winter will be much healthier and better protected against cold weather overwinter and drought stress in the spring.

Potassium is also required by plants in the autumn to improve their cold tolerance and the survival of plants exposed to various biotic and abiotic stresses. Cold stress can destroy photosynthetic processes, inhibiting plant growth and development, resulting in lower crop productivity. At the extreme it can lead to the failure of cell membranes and cell death when the water inside the cell freezes. Plants improve their cold hardiness by increasing their resistance to intra-cellar freezing.

High potassium concentrations in plants help to protect against freezing by lowering the cell solution’s freezing point. This leads to reduced cold damage and increased cold resistance, ultimately increasing yield production.

Frost damage in potassium deficient plants can also be related to water deficiency from the chilling-induced inhibition of water uptake and freezing-induced cellular dehydration.

Trials in oilseed rape (table 1) have shown how frost damage was inversely related to K concentration in the plant and was significantly reduced by potassium fertilization.

Impact of Potassium on Biotic Stresses

Increased evidence has shown that crop production is significantly restricted by biotic stresses. Previous estimates have calculated that weeds produce the highest potential productivity loss (32%), followed by animal pests (18%), fungi and bacteria (15%) and viruses (3%). Potassium nutrition has been widely reported to decrease insect infestation and disease incidence in many host plants. From 2,500 references it was found that the application of potassium significantly decreased the incidence of fungal diseases by 70%, bacteria by 69%, insects and mites by 63%, viruses by 41% and nematodes by 33%.

Impact of Potassium on Waterlogging Stress

Waterlogging has been a significant problem in the UK, especially over the last two winters. Yield losses due to waterlogging may vary between 15% and 80%, depending on the crop species and growth stage, soil type and duration of the stress, resulting in severe economic penalties.

Waterlogging is known to block the oxygen supply to the roots, inhibiting root respiration, resulting in a severe decline in energy status of root cells. This can affect some important metabolic processes of plants including stomatal conductance, rate of photosynthesis and root hydraulic conductivity, decreasing its ability to take up most essential cations (K+, NH4+ or Mg2+).

Soils with a good potassium status have been shown to effectively reduce the adverse effects of waterlogging on plants. Plants show not only increased growth and photosynthetic rate, but also improved nutrient uptake.

Crop establishment


Swapping some sodium for potassium in table salt could prevent millions of deaths, flags study

30 Aug 2021 --- Nutrition groups worldwide are urging the F&B industry to replace table salt with a reduced-sodium, added-potassium substitute. The call follows a large-scale dietary intervention study, which concluded that millions of deaths could be prevented each year with the “simple swap.” 

“This study provides further ‘strong evidence’ that such interventions can work in real life,” Sonia Pombo, campaign manager at Action on Salt, tells NutritionInsight.


"The food and nutrition industry should make this switch immediately for the benefit of public health.” 

This recommendation is echoed by lead investigator of the latest study, Professor Bruce Neal of The George Institute for Global Health: “Switching table salt to salt substitute is a highly feasible and low-cost opportunity to have a massive global health benefit.”

The study of 21,000 adults found that for those who used salt substitutes, there was a 14 percent risk reduction in stroke, 13 percent risk reduction in cardiovascular events (stroke and heart attack combined) and 12 percent risk reduction in premature death. 

Action on Salt notes that many foods can be reduced by 20 percent without noticeable changes.

Building on previous findings
It is well-established that a reduction in sodium intake and an increase in potassium consumption lowers blood pressure, which in turn reduces the risk of strokes and heart diseases, explains Pombo. 

Using a salt substitute – where part of the sodium chloride is replaced with potassium chloride – addresses both problems at once. Salt substitutes are known to lower blood pressure, but their effects on heart disease, stroke and death were unclear prior to the latest study.

Reducing risks 
The Salt Substitute and Stroke Study enrolled 21,000 adults with either a history of stroke or poorly controlled blood pressure from 600 villages in rural areas of five provinces in China – Hebei, Liaoning, Ningxia, Shanxi and Shaanxi between April 2014 and January 2015.

Participants in intervention villages were provided enough salt substitute to cover all household cooking and food preservation requirements – about 20 g per person per day – free of charge. Those in the other villages continued using regular salt. 

During an average follow-up of almost five years, more than 3,000 people had a stroke. For those using the salt substitute, researchers found that stroke risk was reduced by 14 percent, total cardiovascular events (strokes and heart attacks combined) by 13 percent and premature death by 12 percent. 

Easier said than done? 
Sodium and potassium are not one-to-one replacements for each other, but a combination of both enables sodium reduction overall. 

“Most salt substitutes used by the food industry contain 25 to 30 percent potassium chloride and 70 to 75 percent sodium chloride,” details Pombo. 

“Potassium-based salt replacers are also widely available in the UK for the general public. These typically have around 60 percent less sodium than standard table salt.”

Building on industry salt reduction
Pombo further explains that salt reduction is often possible without salt substitutes at all. She notes that reductions of up to 20 percent often go unnoticed by the consumer. 

The benefit of salt substitutes is that they can help companies to reduce the sodium content of their food further, especially those categories that have struggled to make reductions to date.

This is particularly relevant for foods with technological or safety requirements for salt, such as bacon and meat products, points out Pombo. 

Salt substitutes are relatively inexpensive.

Cost of replacement 
When it comes to implementation barriers, Pombo adds that price is most likely a key factor, as salt itself is such a cheap commodity. 

“Despite this, many potassium salts are still affordable by all households in almost all countries.”

Neal chimes in that salt substitutes are “a bit more expensive” than regular salt. However, they’re still very low-cost – just a few dollars a year for households to make the switch.

Other risks
The study also revealed there were no harmful effects from the salt substitute.

However, Neal points out that patients with serious kidney disease should not use salt substitutes, adding that they also need to keep away from regular salt. 

Overall the benefits of salt substitutes outweigh the potential risks, according to the UK’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), in collaboration with the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT). 

SACN and COT carried out a comprehensive review and concluded the benefits of salt replacements would have a large impact at the population level. 

“These organizations recommend that the government encourage the food industry to consider the use of salt substitutes to reduce the salt content of food,” Pombo says. 

The advice is in line with The George Institute for Global Health’s recommendations. Notably, the World Health Organization also recently set global benchmarks across food categories to limit salt intake to 5 g per day.

Potassium chloride is just one ingredient of several that can aid in sodium reduction. This is according to Klaus Brockhausen, sales director business unit food at mineral salt supplier Dr. Paul Lohmann. He names potassium acetate, citrate, carbonate and tartrate as other ingredients to consider in replacement solutions. 

By Missy Green 


Swapping some sodium for potassium in table salt could prevent millions of deaths, flags study


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