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Soil Solution
Soil Solution:
Soil solution is the liquid phase of soil retained by soil
micro pores.
Water in exists in the soil partly as combined and bound
water (water of constitution and hygroscopic water) and partly as free water
in the form of films surrounding the soil particles(capillary water). The
soluble products that are liberated as a result of the processes of weathering
and soil formation are dissolved in the free water. The free water also
contains a part of organic matter that is soluble in water. Some of the soil
gases like oxygen and carbon dioxide are also dissolved in this water. In a
cultivated soil, some of the products of excretion and secretion of plant roots
and of the activities of microorganisms are also dissolved in soil moisture.
The free water carrying these various substances and gases in solution is
known as soil solution. By definition,
‘Water is the soil containing soluble salts and hence
whenever this aspect of soil water is relevant it is usually known as the soil
According to Brady (1984),
‘The aqueous liquid phase of the soil and its solutes
consisting of ions dissociated from the surfaces of the soil particles and of
other soluble materials are known as soil solution’.
Characteristics of soil solution:
1. Soil solution exists in dynamic equilibrium condition with
the solid phase in which numerous chemical reaction occur
2. Soil solution can be neutral, acidic or alkaline in nature.
3. In soil solution, various amounts of cations & and anions are
found freely moving from one place to another.
4. Soil solution contains dissolved & suspended colloidal
5. The composition of soil solution is not constant. The
composition of a particular volume of soil solution depends
not only on materials present that might possibly be included
in the water but on many other factors such as dissolved
gases, solutes, and suspended materials. Infact, it various
continuously only from soil to soil but also for one and the
same soil.

6. The concentration of soil solution is also not uniform. It also

varies continuously, from soil to soil, time to time and
season to season.
7. It contains some dissolved gases such as O2, CO2, NH3 etc
and some other gases that do not interact appreciably with
soil-water, such as N2.
8. It contains a part of organic matter that is soluble in water.
9. The soil solution exists in a liquid state in the water films
around the soil particles and in soil micropores.
10. Soil solution differs in its characteristics in response to pH,
temperature, rainfall etc.
Dynamic aspect of soil solution
Dynamic equilibrium in soil:
The soil solution provides the chemical environment of
roots and comprises the soil-water and its dissolved electrolytes plus small
quantities of dissolved gases and water soluble compounds. The main
function of soil solution is to supply mineral nutrients to the growing plant.
There are three possible sources from which plants can extract nutrients: the
soil solution, the exchangeable ions, and the readily decomposable minerals.
If the soil solution is in equilibrium with the
exchangeable cations and adsorbed anions, and if any nutrient (except nitrate
whose supply is principally from mineralized organic matter) is removed
from the solution, at least a part of this loss will be made good from the
nutrient reserves of the solids. I.e. the solid phase begins to dissolve. Again,
whenever the activity of a nutrient ion in the soil solution exceeds the
equilibrium concentration of a mineral, that mineral begins to precipitate. In
this way, the solid materials of the soil keep the solution well buffered both
for pH and all nutrients (except nitrate).
The manner in which various constituents of the soil
interact is depicted diagrammatically in the following figure. The soil
solution is the focal point in this diagram and is the liquid phase that
completely envelops the solid phase.
Nutrients in plant shoots 3
1. Function;
2. Retranslocation

Transport in Transport in
Xylem phloem

Nutrients in plant roots

Adsorption Efflux, exchange

Soil solution Soil amendments

Gaseous Nutrients

Mineralization dissolution desorption upward Leaching

Immobilization precipitation
Nutrients Leaching &
Nutrients adsorbed upward
Nutrients held precipitated
in organic on movement of
as surfaces ions.
matter inorganic

Fig: Diagrammatic representation of the dynamic equilibrium

occurring in soil. (Broken line indicates that the process is not neutral).
1. Nutrients in plant roots:
“Adsorption & efflux, exchange”.
Plant roots absorb nutrients from the soil solution, and
the concentration of nutrients in the soil solution is a factor determining their
rate of uptake by roots. Adsorption occurs in ionic form through the semi
permeable plasma membrane of roots. It may also occur in other forms, but
that isn’t common.
Since roots are in direct contact with only a small part of
the nutrients in solution or of available nutrients absorbed by the soil solids,

nutrients must move to the root surface. The stages involved in moving a
nutrient from a point in the soil into the plant shoot are:
First, movement of the nutrient from the bulk to the root
surface through absorption;
Second, movement form the root surface into the root;
Third, translocation of the nutrients from the root to the
The concentration of free ions in the soil solution is
generally low, and many of the cations are adsorbed with varying degrees of
firmness on negatively charged clay particles and organic matter in the soil.
Nutrients anions such as nitrate and sulfate mostly occur in the soil solution
and are relatively mobile except phosphate, which is firmly bound to the soil
matrix. Mobile ions such as nitrate and potassium can be utilized from the
entire root zone, but immobile ions such as phosphate are available only
from soil in the immediate vicinity of the roots.
However, mobile ions in the soil solution are presumably
available to roots from greater distances since water moves to roots from
distances of several centimeters. The nutrient requirements of plants are
related to the amount supplied in the soil solution absorbed to replace water
lost by transpiration.
On the other hand, when plant roots uptake excess
amount of any nutrient, or produce some ions in, they may also be released
back into the soil solution by exchange reaction or efflux through phloem
2. Nutrients in plant shoots:
“Transport in xylem and transport in phloem”
Water uptake in plant occurs through xylem tissue. Ions
which reach the xylem sap of the roots are usually carried to the shoots in
the transpiration stream. Here in leaves, some function, i.e. some synthesis
and retranslocation of some synthesized products out of the leaves occur. In
case of excess production, small quantities of plant constituents may also be
releases back into the soil solution, through roots by transpiration in phloem.
Substances released by roots are synthesized products
such as carbohydrate, nucleotide, etc and are designated root exudates. Root
exudates are not always same; they depend on the initial chemicals up taken.
For legumes having much protein, amino acids will be found as root

3. Nutrients held in organic matter:

“Mineralization & immobilization”
Organic matter and microorganisms also affect the
equilibrium relationships in soils. Nutrients are held in organic matter and
are released during the decomposition of organic matter or upon the death of
organisms. By mineralization the constituents of organic matter are
decomposed into ionic or molecular (which also turn into ionic forms)
forms. Thus, all these nutrients in ionic form are in soil solution.
Similarly liming organisms remove constituents from the
soil solution and incorporate then into their body tissues. Thus, from soil
solution the mobile inorganic nutrients are converted to organic form by
immobilization, a microbial process, in which organic forms are unavailable
to plants. But they release nutrients into soil solution after completing their
life cycle through decomposition.
[There are 17 elements for microbial activity. If those
elements are present in soil the process of immobilization occurs. The higher
the CN ratio, the more is the growth of microorganisms & the less is the
plant growth of microorganisms & less is the plant growth. There also
occurs the immobilization process. Organic source can be decreased by
carbon neutralization and then immobilization will also be decreased].
Understanding of the upward movement of ions is
complicated by the fact that not all the transport of salt occurs as inorganic
ions. In many species, most or all of the nitrogen is probably transported as
organic compounds such as amides, amino acids, and ureides. There is also
limited evidence fro the transport of at least small amounts of sulfur &
phosphorus as organic compounds in the xylem.
[The activity of micro-organisms results in an increase in
the nitrate content of the soil, (as typically, the nitrate and bicarbonate
concentrations are dependent on microbial and root activity), with little
change in the concentration of the other anions, and in neutral or weakly
acid soils the calcium ion concentration increases to balance the nitrate ions
O4. Nutrients precipitated as inorganic solids:
“Dissolution and precipitation”
Soil contains numerous minerals, some of which are
crystalline, others are amorphous. These minerals impose limits on the
chemical composition of the soil solution. If the soil solution becomes
supersaturated with respect to any mineral (i.e. when water can’t dissolve the

ions) that mineral can precipitate until equilibrium is attained. Under

supersaturated condition nutrient ions in solution can be precipitated.
For the precipitation of nutrient ions there should be
chemical affinity between the two constituents, and favorable reaction
conditions. And, this precipitation is concentration dependent. Certain
compound is precipitated at certain condition/ agreement. For example, for
the precipitation of Al (PO4), there must be Al³+ & PO4³ˉ ions.
Similarly if the soil solution becomes under saturated
with respect to any mineral present in the soil, that mineral can dissolve until
equilibrium is attained. That is, when plants uptake certain nutrient from the
solution, there appears a deficient of that particular nutrient ion in the soil
solution and it causes crystalline minerals and other precipitates to dissolve
the soil solution and resaturate the depleted soil exchange sites.
05. Nutrients adsorbed on surfaces:
“Desorption & adsorption”.
Ions in the soil solution are buffered by these adsorbed
onto soil surfaces or held by exchange sites. When the concentration of a
particular element in the soil solution is increased, soil colloids adsorb some
of the ions to maintain equilibrium. Similarly, removal of ions from the soil
solution causes partial desorption of similar ions from the exchange complex
(until the equilibrium is maintained). By desorption process, mostly cations
are released/ plants get mostly cations.
06. Leaching & upward movement of ions:
“Leaching & upward movement”
Excess water may drain from the soil profile & carry with
its salts and other dissolved constituents. Nutrients that dissolved in soil
water go onward by leaching (washing out) even to ground water.
The leaching of Clˉ & NO3ˉ ions is much higher than the
leaching of PO4³ˉ.
On the other hand, nutrient elements may move upward
during evaporation, loss of water from the soil.
07. Gaseous phase:
Gases in the soil air also tend to attain equilibrium with
the soil solution because of partial pressure of individual gases.
Gases may either be released to the soil air or dissolved
in the soil solution. In soils plants & microorganisms generally utilize O2 as
an electron acceptor and give off CO2 from metabolic processes.

Diffusion gradients are, therefore, established between

the gas phases in the finer pore spaces of soil and the atmosphere above. In
water-logged soils the exchange of O2(g) CO2(g) is greatly restricted because
diffusion rates in water are approximately 10ˉ4 those in air. As O2 in the soil
is depleted the soil becomes reduced. Even in unsaturated soils there often
zones of fine-textured materials where reducing conditions may prevail.
Higher plants synthesize their tissues from simple
substances which they take from the atmosphere and the soil. They absorb
carbon dioxide and oxygen from the air for photosynthesis and respiration,
respectively, and take up water and mineral nutrients from the soil.
There are some exception to these general statements; for
example, most plants need to have some oxygen supplied to their roots from
the soil; second, nitrogen used in the metabolism of leguminous plants (and
some others) can be obtained from the atmosphere through biological
fixation of dinitrogen gas in their root nodules; and third, plants can absorb
mineral nutrients through their leaves, with the absorption of sulfur as sulfur
08. Soil amendments:
Soil amendments is any substance other than fertilizers,
such as lime, sulfur, gypsum, and sawdust, used to alter the chemical or
physical properties of a soil, generally to make it more productive.
Soil amendments and fertilizers play an important role in
the equilibrium of soil solution. Soil amendments contain different nutrient
elements. Fertilizers of various kinds are frequently added to soil. These may
dissolve, form new reaction products, or be distributed in other ways in soil
This reaction in the equilibrium diagram connected with
a broken line to indicate that true equilibrium relationship is generally not
achieved but is modified by the addition of soil amendments that mediate
this reaction.
The soil solution is affected by all of the reactions
depicted in the figure, but its composition is ultimately controlled by the
mineral phases of the soil. Often the rates of dissociation and precipitation of
soil minerals are so slow that true equilibrium is not attained; consequently
both kinetic & thermodynamic factors must be considered. Diffusive and
connective gradients are both established in soils, and these gradients must
also be considered where transport processes are involved.
*Composition & concentration:

Soil solution contains a number of salts in solution. The

salts are present in both ionic and molecular forms. When the solution is
dilute as is often the case in cultivated soils, a greater proportion of the salts
is present in ionic state. Molecules appear only when the solution gets
concentrated, e.g. during dry spell, in dry season, or in arid regions.
The common elements and the ionic from in which they are present in soil
solution are listed below:

Elements Ionic form

Sodium Na+
Potassium K+
Calcium Ca++
Magnesium Mg++
Iron Fe²+, Fe³+
Aluminum Al³+
Hydrogen H+
Manganese Mn²+, Mn4+
Copper Cu+, Cu²+
Zinc Zn²+
Nitrogen NH4+, NO2ˉ,NO3ˉ
Chlorine Clˉ
Sulfur SO3²ˉ, SO4ˉ
Carbon (HCO3)ˉ, CO3²ˉ
Phosphorus PO4³ˉ, HPO4²ˉ, H2PO4²ˉ
Silica SiO3²ˉ, SiO4ˉ
Hydroxyl OHˉ
Boron BO3³ˉ, HB4O7ˉ
Molybdenum HMoO4ˉ

Of all the cations, calcium, magnesium, sodium and

potassium are present to the greatest extent.
Ca++ content
In mineral soils, calcium forms the predominant cation.
Calcium ion is in higher exchange condition than K+ calcium ion varies
considerably not only to form soil but also in the same soil at different times.

Na+ & K+ content:


In saline soils sodium constituents the largest quantity.

The content of Na+ & K+ ions vary with moisture content with the increase
of moisture content the amount of Na+, attached to the surface of colloids,
decreases potassium ion vary considerably not only from soil to soil but also
in the same soil at different times.
H+ Content:
In acid soils, the soil solution usually contains a
predominance of hydrogen ions.


Among the anions, bicarbonate, sulfate and chloride ions are commonly
present in soil solution in large quantities.

(HCO3)ˉ content:
The bicarbonate ions are usually present in greater
quantities than sulfate & chloride ions, except in saline soils.
SO4 content:
In saline soils, a sulfate ion is in preponderance. SO4²ˉ
content varies less than expected. SO4²ˉ content doesn’t change in that level
in which NO3ˉ & Clˉ content changes. That is, somehow soil holds/ captures
sulfate ions and that’s why, the amount of SO4²ˉion is less in soil solution.
Clˉ content:
In saline soils, chloride ion is also in preponderance. The
total Clˉions remain in soil solution, while the content of PO4³ˉ & SO4²ˉ ions
is low.
Of the major plant nutrients, the phosphate content of the
soil solution is the lowest & least variable. P is present in the soil solution as
H2PO4ˉ & HPO4²ˉions, and is generally believed to be taken up by plants
mainly as H2PO4ˉ.
The amount of nitrates in soil solution is also very
variable. Usually it is the highest just after a crop is sown and lowest after it
is harvested. (Leaching of NO3ˉ is maximum in soil).

In the case of alkaline soils, hydroxyl ions are generally present
in large quantities.

## The composition and concentration of soil solution are not

constant. They vary continuously, not constant. They vary continuously, not
only from soil to soil but also for one and the same soil.
The factors that are mainly responsible for this variation are:
i. moisture content
ii. soil reaction
iii. activity of soil microorganisms
iv. nature of parent material
v. growth stages of plant
vi. plant types
vii. types of soil
viii. adsorption by colloidal complex
ix. leaching effect
x. season
xi. cultivation
xii. fertilizer application
xiii. irrigation
xiv. temperature
# Moisture content:
The greater the amount of moisture in a soil, the more
dilute is the soil solution. The rate of evaporation which governs the amount
of soil moisture, therefore, controls the concentration of soil solution.
In arid and semi-arid regions where evaporation is high,
the soil solution is usually more concentrated than in temperature & cool
humid regions. Even in a given soil, soil solution is more dilute soon after
rainfall or irrigation than a few days later. Its concentration is gradually
increased as the soil moisture content is reduced.
#Soil reaction:
Soil reaction is the degree of acidity or & alkalinity of a
soil. Concentration of ion is differently in high pH & low pH.
Metals (e.g. Pb, Co, etc) are soluble in acid. So, in low
pH they remain in soil solution. But, if the pH is above7, they are precipitate
as well.
If pH is above 6, then NO3ˉconcentration is high. When
pH is near about 4, then nitrification occurs, thus decreasing the
concentration of NO3ˉ
#Activity of soil microorganisms:
Soil microorganisms help to increase concentration of
soil solution. Then activities lead to an increase of certain ions, chiefly the
anions, in solution. The anions bring equivalent amount cations in solution.

The anions so produced are nitrates, sulphates and bicarbonates like calcium
and magnesium.
The microorganisms utilize some of the salts from soil
solution for their own nitrification some of which are liberated again later on
and brought into solution when the microorganisms die and decompose.
Water content, pH, moisture, O2 supply, temperature,
supply of organic matter or the important factors for the activity of
1-5% organic-nitrogen is mineralized in soil. If there are
thiobacillus bacteria in soil, they oxidize sulfur and then SO4²ˉ can be found
in that soil, and H2SO4 may also form.
We can know about the composition & concentration of
certain soil solution by knowing which microorganisms are active in soil
detecting by the environmental factors.
# Nature of plant material:
The minerals primarily present in certain parent material,
release their components into soil solution by the weathering of that parent
So, if orthoclase is present in a parent material by the
weathering of it, more K+ will be found in soil solution. In this case, pH of
the medium will be increased.
KAlSi3O8 + H-OH HAlSi3O8 + K+ + OHˉ
Likewise, in case of albite, Na+ will be high in soil
There are acidic, basic, organic parent materials. Natural
parent material detects composition & concentration of soil solution.
Growth stages of plant:
The growing plant which absorbs nutrients from the soil
changes the concentration as well as the composition of soil solution. The
nutrient requirements in vegetative & reproductive stage are not the same.
Plant needs more nutrients in its vegetative stage of growth.
For example, in a crop field nitrogen fertilizer is given in
three steps, because excess nitrogen is removed by leaching. Fertilizer is
added to soil at the beginning, because more nutrients needed for tiller
formation. An analysis showed that, a green rice plant contains 2% N,
whereas there is less than 1% N in straw. It means that, the plant utilizes N,
by storing in grains. After flowering, nutrients accumulate in soil, as plants
do not need them in that stage.
Plants exert considerable selection in the adsorption of
nutrients. While some ions like nitrates are adsorbed almost completely in

preference to others, some ions are not adsorbed at all or to a much lesser
extent. This selective absorption of ions changes the composition of soil
solution considerably.
On the other hand, the action of carbon dioxide and other
acidic substances exerted by plant roots brings some of the insoluble soil
constituents into solution thereby changing its concentration & composition.
Even plant transpiration affects its concentration.
On all these accounts, the concentration of the soil
solution is always lower in cropped soil than in the same soil that is not
cropped. It is usually higher in the beginning of the growing season than at
its end.
#Plant types:
There are wide differences among plants of different
species in their ability to absorb various ions from the same soil or culture
solution. For instance, sugarcane absorbs more K+ & Ca++ ions, whereas
calcifillus plants growing in high pH soil like to absorb Ca++ ion.
Because roots are selective in their uptake of some ions
the relative ionic composition of the shoot system is often very different
from that of the soil solution. Plants typically contain more phosphate,
potassium and nitrogen relative to calcium than does the soil solution.
The degree of selectivity depends on the plant species.
The ionic composition of the growing leaves of a crop differs between
species and depends also on the ionic composition of the soil solution.
Thus, some species such as Lucerne typically have higher
calcium: potassium ratio in their leaves than do grasses. These differences
between plant species become very noticeable if an ion is in excess of its
normal value in the soil solution, for then plants can often be classified into
accumulators or rejecters of that ion.
Some plants (for example, tea) growing in acid soils high
in aluminum will accumulate high concentration of aluminum in their leaves
without their growth being affected. Some plants growing in salt marshes
will accumulate very high concentrations of sodium in their leaves; yet other
plant species, growing in these same soils, will have compositions little
affected by these high concentrations.
A classic example is the study made by Colander (1941)
of cation adsorption by 21 species of plants from various families and
habitats when grown in the same nutrient medium.
The genus Astragalus is well known as an accumulator of
selenium, but A. mussouriensis accumulated by 3.1 ppm from a soil
containing 2.1 ppm, while A. bislactus accumulated 1250 ppm.

In another study, the ash of Andropogan contained 65.4%

of silica, while the ash of Prunus pumila growing on the same soil contained
only 1.5%; but Prunus accumulated three or four times as much as
In some substances, the differences in uptake of specific
ions by different plants growing in the same environment are known to be
controlled genetically. The control may be either on the uptake mechanism
directly or on the roots and vascular system.
# Type of soil:
No two soil types have the same composition and
concentration of soil solution. Saline soils differ markedly from non-saline
soils in both composition & concentration of their soil solution.
Soils formed in arid and semi-arid regions, or under
restricted drainage usually have a more concentrated soil solution than those
formed in temperate and moist tropical regions or those having free
The soil solution of the former soil types is usually more
rich in monovalent cations while that of the latter in divalent cations. The
former is also richer in sulfate and chloride anions than the latter.
# Adsorption by colloidal complexes:
The rate at which the colloidal complex adsorbs ions
from soil solution changes its concentration as well as composition. Most of
the ions present in soil solution, except those which are adsorbed by
colloids, e.g. nitrate & chloride, are in equilibrium with those present in the
adsorbed form, i.e. the exchangeable cations and anions. Anything that
disturbs this equilibrium brings about a change in the character of soil
# Leaching effect:
The continuous removal, through leaching, of certain
ions that are not adsorbed by colloids or those that are in excess of what can
be adsorbed and retained in soil, also affects the nature of soil solution.
For instance, nitrate & chloride ions, if they are not
utilized by the growing crop, are continuously lost in drainage water. So,
also calcium, magnesium and sodium ions which are present in excess of the
adsorbing capacity of the colloidal complex or the requirement of the
growing crop are removed through leaching.
Seasonal variations, especially temperature & rainfall, also
bring about a change in the concentration of soil solution.

The rate of chemical reactions doubles with every rise of

10ºC in temperature. Soil temperature has a pronounced effect upon the
decomposition of organic & mineral components of the soil. Thus, a rise in
temperature brings some of the soil constituents into solution, thereby
increasing its concentration.
Rainfall, on the other hand, tries to dilute it. The
composition of soil solution is also changed by seasonal variations due to the
adjustments in equilibrium taking place.
Cultural operations, i.e. cultivation helps to increase the
solubility of soil constituents, thereby increasing the concentration of soil
At the time tillage, the underlying soils appear in the
contact of the atmosphere and then weathering of those soils increases, thus
releasing the mineral constituents to the soil solution.
#Fertilizer application:
The addition of manures, fertilizers and soil amendments
changes the concentration & composition of soil solution. Nutrient
composition of soil solution depends on the nutrient elements present in the
added fertilizer (multi nutrient fertilizer, mixed fertilizer, urea for only N,
gypsum for Ca++ & So4²ˉ, etc.). Infact, the concentration and composition of
soil solution are influenced by the solubility & composition of the
Irrigation may also affect the concentration &
composition of soil solution. The water used for irrigation dilutes the soil
solution and if salt is present in that water; it influences the concentration as
The salts present in irrigated water deposited in the soil
after several years and problems, e.g. arsenic problem occur. So, irrigated
water should be free from salt and there should be certain level for a nutrient
in the irrigated water.
Moreover, irrigation must be followed by drainage.
Because, irrigated water accumulates below the soil, thus increasing the
water layer upto root zone and then plant growth stunted. This problem can
be solved by drainage.
These considerations go to slow that soil solution as it
exists in the soil is a highly reactive and dynamic medium, always
undergoing changes which add further to the dynamic character of the soil.

Growing plants have, therefore, to adjust themselves to frequent fluctuations

and variations in the nature of soil solution.
Importance of soil solution:
1. Soil solution is the medium in which most of the
chemical & biochemical reactions occur.
2. Soil solution serves as a source of available nutrients
(except O2 & C) essential for plant growth.
3. Soil solution also serves as a nutrient source for soil
4. Dissolved oxygen present in soil water is vital for the
growth of many organisms such as aerobic bacteria.
5. Carbon dioxide present in soil solution may react with
water to form carbonic acid which may
(conditionally) affect soil pH.
6. Soil solution acts as a transporting agent for nutrient
elements & waste products in soil.
7. Concentration of soil solution affects the water
availability to plants.
8. Soil solution makes mineral elements soluble through
its solvent energy.
9. Concentration of soil solution controls water
absorption by plants.
10. A more concentrated soil solution makes the soil more
fertile and they increase the crop production capacity
of soil.
11.The nature of proportion of the various ions
constituting the salts present in the soil solution also
influences crop production.
12. The soil solution in most fertile soils is and adequate
source of supply for the phosphate (PO4³ˉ)
requirement of plant.
13. The soil solution increases the osmotic pressure due to
the presence of high soluble salts and helps in
diffusion of nutrients.
14.Soil solution affects on the viscosity and swelling of
soil colloids.
15.Soil solution controls the soil air and soil temperature.
16.Soil solution controls the leaching effect of the plant
The movement of salt in soil:

Movement of ions in soil solution to the surface of roots

is an important factor to satisfy the nutrient requirements of plants. Salt
movement related to temperature and moisture content. There are three ways
in which nutrient ions in soil may rich to the root surface:
1. Diffusion
2. Mass flow
3. Root interception.
[If we do not consider nutrient uptake by plants then only diffusion & mass
flow are of concern].
These are described below:
Diffusion can be defined as the movement of substance
from an area of its own high chemical potential to another area of its lower
chemical potential, which is due to the straight, random (no particular
direction) transitional kinetic motion of molecules, ions or atoms of a gas or
of a liquid.
Diffusion occurs when ions move along a concentration
gradient established between the root surface and the body of the soil; ions
diffuse towards the root if they are taken up faster than they are carried to
the surface by mass flow and away from the root if the converse proteins.
Net movement of gases or solutes by diffusion occurs when the partial
pressures of individual gases or solutes in two neighboring systems are
different, but the total presence is the same in both. The tendency of
diffusion flow is greater between field capacity water content & wilting
There are three principle factors responsible for the
movement of salt by diffusion:
1. Diffusion coefficient:
It exerts the most important role. Each ion has a specific
rate of diffusion and it moves certain distance per second. The diffusion rate
of nitrogen is much lower.
For diffusion in the soil’s liquid phase, the effective
diffusion coefficient is generally less than the diffusion coefficient in bulk
water. Volumetric water content & tortuosity are the factors affecting the
diffusion coefficient.
2. Concentration of the nutrient in the soil solution:
It is diffusion related. More is the concentration, less is the
3. Buffer capacity of the solid phase of the soil for the nutrient in the soil
solution phase:

Buffer capacity is the capacity to hold nutrients. The higher

the exchange capacity of a soil, the greater is the buffer capacity. A soil
having high contents of clay & organic matter is of more buffer capacity.
The diffusion process can be described by Fick’s law:
De = Dw θ f 1/b
Effective diffusion coefficient, De= for the diffusion of an ion
soil it is influenced by three principal factors-
a. Volumetric water percentage, (θ)
b. Tortuosity factor which expresses the irregular and indirect
pathway of the diffusion in the pores of the soil, (f)
c. Buffer capacity, (b)
& The relationship of parameter and diffusion coefficient, Dw= is the
diffusion coefficient for the particular nutrient in the water.
For plants growing in soil, the concentration of a nutrient at the
root surface depends on the relative rates of uptake by the root and of
transport to the root surface from the bulk soil solution. In control to flowing
nutrient solutions, this introduces the requirement for diffusion of the
nutrient, (or mass flow of the soil solution), to carry the nutrient to the root
An example: typical average distances for diffusion to the roots
Nitrogen 1 cm
Phosphorus 0.02 cm
Potassium 0.2 cm
Here, the movement of ‘P’ is difficult, because of low content
of ‘P’ in soil; special affinity of Fe & Al to ‘P’ in acid soil and of Ca to ‘P’ in
alkaline soil; and unavailability of ‘P’ (not in available form).
Mass flow:
It is a massive process by which ions and all other substances
dissolved in soil-water move together with the flow of water in soil. Mass
flow occurs when the soil has high moisture content, above field capacity
which is called super flows. Mass flow depends on two things:
i. Rate of flow &
ii. Rate of uptake by plant.
Besides these, it also depends on the gravitational pull of
upward & downward movement due to evaporation.
Mass flow occurs through three processes:
1. Leaching or downward movement:

The downward movement of water is due to gravitational pull,

and as water moves downward the dissolved substances present in soil
solution also move with it. The downward movement depends on water
transpiration through soil which is regulated by the soil properties.
If there are capillary pores more in soil, then water translocation
will be low. But, in coarse soil having large pores, downward movement is
high. Downward and upward movement of the ions that are independently
remaining in soil solution (e.g. NO3ˉ) will be high.
2. Upward movement:
By evaporation water is released from the surface of the soil and
water within the soil moves upward to establish an equilibrium state and the
mass or ions present in the soil-water also move upward with the water.
3. Transpirational pull:
Plants uptake water by roots, utilizes 1% of it for biochemical
reactions, and removes the rest 99% (to balance heat) by transpiration. For
this uptake, water has to reach to the roots. By transpirational pull water near
the root surface moves upward into plant and then the neighboring water
molecules also move toward the roots to replenish that space, of course with
the salts & nutrient ions present in it. Thus, transpirational pull causes mass
Mass flow supplies an over abundance of calcium & magnesium in
many soils, and most of the mobile nutrients such as nitrogen and sulfur, if
concentrations is in the soil are sufficient.
The rate of mass flow can be calculated with the help of the
following equation:
MF= C × WU.
MF= the concentration to ion uptake by mass flow.
C = is the solution concentration of any given ion.
WU= is the total water uptake, which is the water content in the plant
+ the water transpired.
Root interception:
In case of salt movement, if any ion comes into direct contact
with the roots, that is called root interception.
Factors affecting salt movement:
As roots are in direct contact with only a small part of the
nutrients in solution or of available nutrients absorbed by the soil solids, so
nutrients must move to the root surface from bulk of soil solution. Salt
accumulation in root cells and transport to shoots are affected by four (4)
factors. This are-

1. Climatic condition
2. Soil properties
3. Solubility of nutrients &
4. Plant species.
1. Climatic condition:
Climatic conditions such as rainfall & temperature controls the
salt movement in soil solution.
• Rainfall
Water uptake by plants depends on moisture content.
Because of rainfall moisture content in soil increases. When water content in
soil is high above field capacity which is called superflows, plant uptake
more water and mass flow of water including salts in it increases.
It also controls the gravitational pull. Moreover rate of
reaction increases with the increase of rainfall.
• Temperature:
When temperature is high, the rate of evaporation increases
and then the water in soil moves upward into the soil surface, and thus
movement of water increases.
2. Soil properties:
• Soil texture:
Buffer capacity in sandy soil is low whereas in clayey
soil is high.
• Organic matter content:
Buffer capacity increases with the increase of organic
matter in a soil.
3. Solubility of nutrients
4. Plant species

Nutrient Amount of Percentage Percentage Percentage

nutrient for supplied by supplied by supplied by
150 bu/A of Root Mass flow Diffusion
corn(lb/A) interception
N 170 01 99 0

P 35 03 06 94
K 175 02 20 78
Ca 35 171 429 0
Mg 40 38 250 0
S 20 05 95 0
Cu 0.1 10 400 0
Zn 0.3 33 33 33
B 0.2 10 350 0
Fe 1.9 11 53 37
Mn 0.3 33 133 0
Mo 0.01 10 200 0

Labile nutrients:
For plants growing in soil, the concentration of a nutrient at the
root surface depends on the relative rates of uptake by the root and of
transport to the root surface from the bulk soil solution. This introduces a
requirement to replenish the soil solution because the concentrations of
many of the nutrients in the solution are low.
Replacement occurs by desorption from the surfaces of the
mineral & organic components of soil and by mineralization of soil organic
matter. The amount of nutrient