How Amino Acids Promote Plant Growth

Proteins are known as “the building blocks of life”—and amino acids the building blocks of proteins. Plants synthesize their own aminos naturally, but if crops are stressed, they may not have sufficient energy to manufacture these crucial compounds.[1] In this blog post, we’ll unpack what amino acids are, why they’re important for plant development, and why it’s a good idea to feed cannabis with a fertilizer that contains them.

What are amino acids?

Amino acids are chemical compounds that include an amine group (–NH2), an acidic carboxyl group (–COOH), and a variable organic side chain, referred to as the R group.

The R group determines the characteristics of each amino acid. For example, when the R group is a methyl group (–CH₃), the amino acid is alanine, and when the R group is a hydrogen atom (–H), the amino acid is glycine.[2]

Twenty amino acids exist. They are frequently categorized as either essential or non-essential, indicating whether an organism can synthesize them. For example, humans cannot synthesize certain amino acids and must obtain them through their diet; therefore, these amino acids are considered essential because they must be provided by foods. Plants, however, can synthesize all twenty aminos, so none of them are essential per se. Nevertheless, it is still be helpful to provide plants with a source of aminos, such as protein.

Amino acids exist in two isomeric forms, L and D, which are mirror images of each other. Although both forms are found in nature, only L-amino acids are incorporated into proteins synthesized by eukaryotic (i.e., plant) cells.

Benefits of amino acids

The list of plant benefits that amino acids offer is longer than we can include here, but here’s a summary of some of the most important ones.

First, amino acids play several vital roles in plant growth, including protein synthesis, which is directly involved in processes like structurally composing cells and organizing them into tissues, as well as activating phytohormones, which are some of the most important plant growth regulators.[3]

Plants also need amino acids for fertility. They regulate nitrogen metabolism, and it is hypothesized that they influence and mediate the entire photosynthetic process; this is because abundant nitrogen—a key component of aminos—leads to a high rate of photosynthesis. Amino acids also increase uptake of micronutrients and facilitate the absorption and transport of iron, zinc, copper, magnesium and calcium.[4]

Plant immunity also depends on amino acids, which help to increase resistance to pests and pathogens by either forming plant-protective metabolites or modulating phytohormone (i.e., plant hormone) activity.[5] They even increase plant resistance to abiotic stressors such as high temperatures, salt and frost—all of which can harm crops or weaken their metabolisms.

Moreover, amino acids enhance budding and flowering and are a source of a range of flavor-inducing compounds. As amino acids decompose, they produce volatile compounds that impart flavor and color.

Finally, because amino acids contain both acid and alkaline groups, they operate as buffers, assisting plant cells in maintaining suitable pH values.

Why plants may need amino acids in fertilizer

While plants can synthesize their own amino acids, the process consumes a significant amount of energy. When plants are stressed—whether from their growing conditions, diseases or pests, and so forth—they may not have the energy to create sufficient amino acids. If and when this happens, amino deficiencies can hinder plant growth, photosynthesis, and production and storage of vital plant compounds, ultimately reducing yield and quality.

Applying amino acids allows plants to conserve energy and accelerate their development or regeneration, particularly during critical development stages. Plants can absorb aminos through the leaves and the roots, and it is more efficient than absorbing nitrogen (NO3 or NH4+ ions)[6] because the plant doesn’t have to spend energy turning the nitrogen ions into amino acids.

Amino acids are not present in basic NPK fertilizers. However, premium nutrient lines include them, often in their bloom boosters, such Emerald Harvest King Kola.

The Emerald Harvest Team


[2] Dave Farina. “Amino acids.” Uploaded August 26, 2016, YouTube video, 5:03,

[3] Egamberdieva, Dilfuza, Stephan J. Wirth, Abdulaziz A. Alqarawi, Elsayed F. Abd Allah, and Abeer Hashem. 2017. “Phytohormones and Beneficial Microbes: Essential Components for Plants to Balance Stress and Fitness.” Frontiers in Microbiology (8): 2104.

[4] Vernieri P., et al. (2005) Application of biostimulants in the floating system for improving rocket quality. J. Food, Agric. Environ. 3(3-4), pp. 86-88.

[5] Jürgen Zeier. 2013. “New insights into the regulation of plant immunity by amino acid metabolic pathways.” Plant, Cell & Environment 36 (12): 2085-2103.

[6] Amino acids themselves serve as a source of plant-available nitrogen.

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