Mineral particles in foliar fertilizer formulations can improve the rate of foliar uptake


The application of foliar sprays of suspensions of relatively insoluble essential element salts is gradually becoming common, chiefly with the introduction of nano-technology approaches in agriculture. However, there is controversy about the effectiveness of such sparingly soluble nutrient sources as foliar fertilizers. In this work, we focussed on analysing the effect of adding Ca-carbonate (calcite, CaCO3) micro- and nano-particles as model sparingly soluble mineral compounds to foliar fertilizer formulations in terms of increasing the rate of foliar absorption. For these purposes, we carried out short-term foliar application experiments by treating leaves of species with variable surface features and wettability rates. The leaf absorption efficacy of foliar formulations containing a surfactant and model soluble nutrient sources, namely Ca-chloride (CaCl2), magnesium sulphate (MgSO4), potassium nitrate (KNO3), or zinc sulphate (ZnSO4), was evaluated alone or after addition of calcite particles. In general, the combination of the Ca-carbonate particles with an essential element salt had a synergistic effect and improved the absorption of Ca and the nutrient element provided. In light of the positive effects of using calcite particles as foliar formulation adjuvants, dolomite nano- and micro-particles were also tested as foliar formulation additives, and the results were also positive in terms of increasing foliar uptake. The observed nutrient element foliar absorption efficacy can be partially explained by geochemical modelling, which enabled us to predict how these formulations will perform at least in chemical terms. Our results show the major potential of adding mineral particles as foliar formulation additives, but the associated mechanisms of action and possible additional benefits to plants should be characterised in future investigations.