Phosphorus is the second most critical plant nutrient. The soil mineral apatite is the most common mineral source of phosphorus. While there is on average 1000 lb of phosphorus per acre in the soil, it is generally in unavailable forms. The available portion of phosphorus is low as it is in the form of phosphates of low solubility. Total phosphorus is about 0.1 percent by weight of the soil, but only one percent of that is available. Of the part available, more than half comes from the mineralisation of organic matter. Agricultural fields may need to be fertilised to make up for the phosphorus that has been removed in the crop.
When phosphorus does form solubilised ions of H2PO4–, they rapidly form insoluble phosphates of calcium or hydrous oxides of iron and aluminum. Phosphorus is largely immobile in the soil and is not leached but actually builds up in the surface layer if not cropped. The application of soluble fertilisers to soils may result in zinc deficiencies as zinc phosphates form. Conversely, the application of zinc to soils may immobilise phosphorus as zinc phosphate. Lack of phosphorus may interfere with the normal opening of the plant leaf stomata, resulting in plant temperatures 10 percent higher than normal. Phosphorus is most available when soil pH is 6.5 in mineral soils and 5.5 in organic soils.