Cation Change Capability – CEC


cation exchange capacity and nutrient availability, hand holding sandy soil, cation exchange capacity, sandy soil

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What’s cation alternate capability?

Cation Change Capability, you will have seen this phrase in your soil check, and even throughout your garden care analysis. Cation Change Capability was first found by two English chemists, Thomas and Means in 1850 once they famous that sure soils had a larger capacity of absorbing ammonia fertilizers than others.

The definition of cation alternate capability within the easiest phrases is the soil’s capacity to alternate cations. On this put up, we’ll discover the fundamentals of Cation Change Capability, also called C.E.C. and why it issues with regards to your soil and your fertilizer program.

Cations and Anions

Cations are positively (+) charged components which have extra protons than electrons. Some positively charged components embrace Calcium, Copper, Hydrogen, Potassium, Magnesium, Iron, Zinc, Sodium, and extra. There are additionally negatively(-) charged ions that comprise extra electrons than protons and these are known as anions.

Many soil particles could have a unfavourable cost, and the quantity of unfavourable cost depends upon the soil sort. Most of these soils embrace sand, silt, clay, and extra. A soil with a low C.E.C. could have much less negatively charged particles than a soil with the next C.E.C. Sandy soils will usually have the bottom variety of anions (unfavourable expenses), whereas sure kinds of clay soils could have the next quantity. The upper the variety of anions, the larger the flexibility for the soil to carry vitamins for plant absorption. Two comparable expenses (+ and +) will repel one another, whereas two reverse expenses (+ and -) will appeal to one another. One of these attraction between cations and anions permits for natural matter or soil to carry vitamins till they can be utilized by the plant.

Since soils are negatively charged and plant vitamins might be each positively and negatively charged, cations can be extra drawn to the soil, or extra accessible since they’re extra sure to the soil by the use of reverse expenses. Anions are extra simply moved by the soil and may simply be drained out by water from extra rains or irrigation.


Within the chart beneath, we evaluation what vitamins are thought of cations or anions and their mobility within the soil.

Chart of Soil borne elements essential for plant growth, form occuring in soils, and their soil mobility.  Somewhat mobile: Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium. Mobile: Nitrogen, Sulfur, Chlorine, Boron, Molybdenum. Immobile: Iron, Manganese, Zinc, Phosphorus.

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Most cell components are anions, and the considerably cell and motionless components principally maintain a optimistic cost. Software of negatively charged components adopted by extreme watering will permit for these components to rapidly transfer by the soil.


Though Phosphorus is an anion, this aspect isn’t water soluble, and subsequently this aspect might be simply leached from soils.


Even though vitamins can have optimistic or unfavourable expenses, the CEC of a soil has a serious impact on fertilization and nutrient absorption. Cation alternate capability and nutrient availability are straight associated. A soil that has a decrease CEC won’t be able to carry as many plant vitamins. This may end up in the loss or leaching of vitamins. A low CEC soil may also be extra prone to nutrient deficiencies.

Can I modify my soil’s cation alternate capability?

Soil pH is essential for CEC as a result of as pH will increase (turns into much less acidic), the variety of unfavourable expenses will increase, thereby rising CEC. With a purpose to work out your cation alternate capability, a lab carried out soil check is required. Cation alternate capability of soil is troublesome to change, however might be improved over time by including natural matter. Natural matter can embrace peat moss, high soil (bought from a backyard heart), compost, and manure. However, as a result of the cation alternate capability is inherently depending on the soil’s texture/construction, it’s troublesome to change considerably with out including different supplies to the soil.



CEC in Millequivalents of Soil Groups Chart:

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Sure kinds of soils have greater or decrease cation alternate capability. Usually, sands have the bottom cation alternate capability, and natural soils will comprise the best variety of cations. The colour of soil can point out fertility potential, with darker soils usually having the next CEC, however this isn’t all the time the case and in addition depends upon the soil texture.

Disadvantages of a Low CEC

There are a number of disadvantages to having a soil with a low cation alternate capability, which are:

  • Elevated nutrient deficiencies
  • Prone to pH extremes
  • Decreased crop yields
  • Tougher to determine turfgrass/vegetation
  • Requires extra frequent fertilizer purposes

Benefits of a Excessive CEC

There are a number of benefits to having a excessive cation alternate capability soil:

  • Elevated nutrient availability
  • Better retention of vitamins
  • Lowered nutrient loss by leaching
  • Soil pH much less more likely to change
  • Requires much less frequent fertilizer purposes
Seed sprouting in dark, fertile soil rich in organic matter.

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A excessive cation alternate capability is desired in soil as a result of the soil will be capable of maintain cations from fertilizers for a time frame earlier than being absorbed by the plant. Having a excessive CEC additionally aids within the buffering of pH, which helps maintain the pH from altering. Having a excessive CEC soil aids in nutrient leaching into groundwaters, subsequently serving to to guard the water high quality. This nutrient holding capability may also assist growers keep away from a extreme nutrient deficiency.


Water conservation can also be an element, and having the next CEC soil will assist you to water much less as a result of soil’s greater water holding capability. Since Hydrogen has a optimistic cost, a soil with a excessive CEC is ready to maintain water higher. Turfgrass or crops grown in sandy soils can be extra prone to droughts as a result of poor water holding capability of sandy soil.


Cation alternate capability is essential for gardeners and agriculturalists to grasp as a way to successfully formulate a nutrient program for turfgrass or crops whereas additionally sustaining accountable software of vitamins as a way to decrease environmental influence and maximize crop success. With out an efficient nutrient program for vegetation, yields will diminish and nutrient deficiency will prevail in soils and present in crops. Overapplying vitamins can occur and it could negatively have an effect on vegetation and soil. In case your garden or backyard is struggling, look to get a soil check to find out what’s going on earlier than taking motion. Be aware of your soil sort, and add natural matter repeatedly.



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Nick E. Christians, Aaron J. Patton, & Quincy D. Regulation “Fundamentals of Turfgrass Administration” 2017, Wiley. (fifth Version)