Plant Nutrition and Soil Fertility

Course content

The course is organized in 3 major themes:

Theme 1: Soil Fertility: The key-parameters controlling plant nutrient availability in soil.

Theme 2: Plant Nutritional Physiology: The key-roles of plant nutrients in plant metabolism

Theme 3: Fertilization: Inorganic fertilizers and quality of organic manures

In the course you will learn about the chemical, physical and biological parameters controlling soil fertility. Focus will be given to the key-parameters controlling plant nutrient availability in soils. You will learn how to optimize soil fertility in order to support plant productivity and you will learn about adverse soils conditions such as soil salinity, acidity, alkalinity and drought. The possibilities to restore soil fertility under adverse conditions will be presented and the impacts of climate change on nurteint uptake will be presented.

You will obtain detailed knowledge on the functionality of all 14 essential mineral plant nutrients and be able to understand their characteristics and behavior at all key-points, viz. release from soil aggregates into the soil solution; ion movement; ion uptake in roots; translocation to the shoot, assimilation in the plant tissue and remobilization during plant development. In addition, you will obtain detailed information about their specific roles in plant metabolism and you will learn how to diagnose and chemically analyse the nutritional status of plants.

The course deals with strategies for sustainable management of inorganic fertilizers, animal manures and green manures in order optimize plant productivity and to reduce nutrient losses to the environment. 

The course is mainly focused on temperate plant production systems, but has an international perspective and will also include minor topics within low-input and warmer climate plant production systems.

The course provides important key-competences for all career paths dealing with soil, water and plants. It is fundamental for jobs providing plant and soil based consultancy services for plant producers (agriculture, horticulture and forestry), in public administration or in international organizations dealing with plant production and sustainability issues, as well as teaching and research at college and university level.


MSc Programme in Agriculture

MSc Programme in Environment and Development

MSc Programme in Environmental Science



Learning outcome

Course Objectives:

  • To obtain advanced and applicable knowledge on the biological and chemical processes affecting plant nutrient availability and losses of nutrients applied in inorganic fertilizers, organic manures and soil amendments commonly used in modern plant production.


  • To obtain detailed knowledge on the functioning of essential plant nutrients in plant metabolism - at all key-steps from the molecular level to the whole plant and ecosystem level.



  • With this knowledge you become capable to evaluate plant and soil nutrient status, to diagnose plant nutrient disorders and to plan fertilization strategies at the crop and system level.
  • Describe the biological and chemical processes affecting soil fertility, with a special focus on processes controlling the availability of essential plant nutrients.


  • Describe key-aspects of plant nutritional physiology and the functionality of nutrients in plants


  • Describe the effects of fertilization and soil fertility management on crop yield and quality


  • Demonstrate an overview on the effects of fertilization on nutrient losses to the environment



  • Evaluate soil fertility and the nutrient status of crops using soil and plant analyses


  • Diagnose nutrient disorders in crops


  • Suggest appropriate remediation strategies to restore/optimize soil fertility and  plant productivity



  • Obtain a thorough understanding of fundamental parameters controlling soil fertility and plant productivity


  • Apply advanced principles to fertilization strategy planning, taking into account soil mineralization and the use of various organic manures (green manures, catch crops and animal manures)


  • Discuss an environmental friendly and sustainable use of the various fertilizer sources

Lectures, Theoretical Exercises and Demonstrations of plants with nutritional disorders in the university greenhouse.

Each module will start with a 5 min. presentation of the learning objectives of the day. It is followed by a couple of lectures (typically 2 x 45 min) followed by student centered activities, ending with a summary lecture and discussion. The lectures will often deviate from the contents presented in the textbook, in order to introduce the subject from several angles. Consequently it will be difficult to meet the learning objectives for each module, if lectures are not followed on-class.

The student centered activities (theoretical and practical exercises) will be conducted in groups and/or individually. There will also be a few guest lecturers from colleagues in the department. On several full days we will also organize “Research Flashes”, where you will meet selected PhD students who will give some short flash presentations about their research work.

Soil Fertility and Fertilizers - an introduction to nutrient management, 8'th edition. Pearson Education. pp. 516.

Marschner’s: Mineral Nutrition of Higher Plants” 3’rd edition, edited by Petra Marschner et al. (2012), Academic Press, pp. 651. available as e-book.

Jensen LS & Husted S (2009) Applied Plant Nutrition, e-Compendium (pp. 477)



It is important that you have passed fundamental courses in inorganic and organic chemistry. We also recommend that you have taken fundamental courses in biochemistry and plant biology. The learning curve of the course is steep and skills in chemistry and plant biology provide you with a much better learning outcome.

For Danish students we recommend the following courses:

LBIB10188 Jord, Vand og Planter
LPLB10306 Grundlæggende Plantebiologi

Academic qualifications equivalent to a BSc degree is recommended.

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Continuous assessment, 2 x 60 min under invigilation
Written assignment, 24 hours exam
The course has continuous assessment within the three major themes (see detailed description of these). Theme 1 and 2 are assessed with 60 min tests without aids and theme 3 is assessed using a 24h exam distributed via Absalon with all aids allowed. The three parts are weighted equally.
Without aids
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
One internal examiner
Criteria for exam assessment

The students will be continuously assessed based on outputs within the topics of the three themes of the course. The assessment includes the following elements:

Theme 1: Soil Fertility

The test consists of 30-40 questions within the curriculum of theme 1 - typically as a mixture between multiple-choice, calculations and questions requiring very short and specific answers. The test is without any aids.

Theme 2: Plant Nutritional Physiology

This test will consist of 30-40 short and specific questions/multiple choice questions within the curriculum of theme 2, combined with an extensive use of images of plants suffering from various stresses to be diagnosed. This test is without any aids.

Theme 3: Fertilization and organic manures

A 24-h test where students will be given some specific questions and/or figures to be described, analyzed and interpreted in a short essay (max. 3 A4 pages). Each student will be given individual combinations of questions. The 24-h test can be placed according to student choice and will be sent out by e-mail at the time point agreed upon. Completed essays should be uploaded on Absalon no later than 24-h after the e-mail has been send out.

Each theme will be marked according to the 7-point ECTS scale (grade values: 12, 10, 7, 4, 02, 00, -3; corresponding to A, B, C, D, E, Fx, F, respectively. The marks from the 3 themes contribute equally to the average final course grade. If one output is not handed in or the test is not completed in time, this will count as -3. If two or more of the outputs are failed or not completed in time, the student will overall fail the course, regardless of the grade in the remaining test. If the average final grade is less than 2, the student will also fail. Illness on the day of examination should be reported to the teacher and a doctors declaration should be requested.

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 60
  • Theory exercises
  • 20
  • Practical exercises
  • 5
  • Preparation
  • 109
  • Exam
  • 12
  • English
  • 206