Potassium availability can differ based on the soil type and environmental conditions.
Unavailable potassiumâ€¯â€“ It is found in the crystalline part of the soil such as in feldspars, clay minerals, and micas. Potassium in this form is insoluble and hence plants cannot use it. However, as time passes, eventually they these minerals break down. As a result, small amounts of potassium get liberated into the soil.
Fixed potassiumâ€¯â€“ Potassium, which is available very slowly to plants throughout their growing season, is known as fixed potassium. Clay minerals can fix potassium. When the soil gets wet or dry, in between these periods, potassium accumulates in between the mineral layers, which are the clay minerals with a layer structure. When soil becomes wet, some amount of the accumulated potassium ions are set free into the soil. As a result, the potassium that gets slowly available cannot be measured through regular soil testing.
Exchangeable potassiumâ€¯is the potassium that is available readily and plants can easily absorb this type of potassium. This layer of potassium is present in between in the soil on the surface of particles of clay and organic matter. As the exchangeable potassium is balanced with the soil solution, it gets easily released when plants take up potassium from the soil. In soil testing, exchangeable potassium is significantly measured.
Soil Solution Potassium:
The potassium that remains dissolved in the soil solution and that is available to plants very quickly is known as soil solution potassium.â€¯Soil solution potassium is the smallest proportion of potassium that is available to plants. Hence, when one tests only potassium in the soil solution, it does not show the entire quantity of potassium that is available to the plants.
Although nitrogen and phosphorus are considered as the common components of the organic matter in the soil, potassium is not. This is mainly because of the less requirement of potassium by soil organisms than the requirement by plants. Accordingly, as organic residues decompose, the majority of the potassium gets released quickly in the soil environment. The fate of potassium in the soil is decided more by physical processes than by chemical or biological processes.
Two processes restrict the potassium leaching from the soil. One mechanism is that as the potassium ion is smaller in size, hence, it can tend to get trapped inside gaps within clay particles and get held together by crystalline forces. This same trapping within clay particles also happens to ammonium ions. As both are trapped, they become unavailable. They get liberated very slowly only when the amount in solution gets reduced. Potassium that gets held due to such a physical mechanism is sometimes called fixed or it is also known as the non-exchangeable potassium.
The second mechanism is the cation exchange for conserving potassium. Cation exchange happens as small particles of clay and humus particles form a negative electrical charge. The negatively charged particles have an affinity for positively charged ions, or cations, which include potassium. The potassium that is exchangeable with cation exchange is generally much significant than the quantity that is dissolved in the soil water. The only exceptions to these are soils that have a lower percentage of clay and organic content.
With the help of bacteria, some plants can form such an environment where they can extract potassium directly from the rock powders. This mechanism is also enabled where roots create a local acid environment. According to studies, plants such as tobacco, oat, rye, alfalfa, clover, sweet clover, and tomatoes are excellent at undertaking this mechanism, whereas soybeans, cowpeas, corn, and buckwheat are not that abled to take this mechanism.
The primary sources of potassium in the soil are minerals like feldspars (specifical orthoclase) and micas. These two minerals release potassium owing to their weathering. As a result of this process, potassium is readily available to plants. Although when in some cases the mechanism of weathering tends to get prolonged and extreme, as in the example of ultisols and oxisols, potassium may get leached away. These lead to the soil requiring potassium which can be given in the form of fertilizers.
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