Nutrient Deficiencies

Before blaming plant problems on nutrient deficiencies, run through a mental checklist of environmental conditions that could affect growing conditions. Is the plant receiving sufficient light and the right amounts of water and air in the soil and atmosphere? Are day and night temperature readings within the required range?

Testing is the only sure way to find out what nutrients are available in garden soils. If you suspect a nutrient deficiency, especially of a trace element, have your soil tested. Plants require only trace amounts of chlorine, boron, zinc, iron, manganese, copper, and molybdenum.

 The chart below describes symptoms of nutrient deficiency.

Nutrient Role in Plant Growth Deficiency Symptoms
Nitrogen (N) Stimulates vegetative growth. Leaves are small, pale; old ones may begin to drop. Growth is thin and spindly. Symptoms appear first on lower leaves and work upward.
Phosphorus (P) Root development. Important to seed germination, seedling development, ripening of fruits and seeds. Color generally dull with tints of bronze and red; may appear scorched. Growth is stunted.
Potassium (K) Root development general vigor, disease resistance Squatty, stunted growth. Starting with their margins, older leaves may yellow, scorch, and die; edges may roll up.
Calcium (Ca) Development of root system and growing points (meristems). Important part of cell walls in plant tissue. Terminal buds die, blossoms may have black heart, roots are poorly developed, young foliage may turn yellow. Leaves become distorted with hooked tips, marginal scorching.
Magnesium (Mg) Vital for chlorophyll production. Leaves yellow between veins. Defoliation may become severe. Shows first on older leaves.
Sulfur (S) Necessary for chlorophyll production. A component of proteins. Young growth is restricted. Leaves turn yellow and become brittle; small leaves roll toward upper surface. Defoliation becomes severe, terminal buds die.
Iron (Fe) Respiration and other oxidation processes, important for chlorophyll production. Youngest leaves yellow between veins, possibly followed by leaves turning almost white. Leaf margins may scorch.
Manganese (Mn) Involved in chlorophyll production, catalyst in enzyme systems. Foliage yellows between veins, with older foliage affected first. leaves may crinkle and become cupped.
Boron (B) Cell water regulator, necessary for translocation of sugars, important to reproduction. Growing ends thicken and die, often forming distorted form called witches’-broom. Fruit also becomes deformed.
Zinc (Zn) Important to maturity and size of plant, necessary for protein synthesis. Foliage yellows between veins. Leaves, small and narrow, form rosettelike growth.
Copper (Cu) Reproductive growth, necessary for protein synthesis. Younger leaves yellow between veins, become thick and crinkled. Leaves are small; shoots die back.
Molybdenum (Mo) Necessary to nitrogen processing. Chlorosis, mottling and dieback of leaves. Growth stunted.
Chlorine (Cl) Regulator of tissue water pressures, may affect maturity and influence photosynthesis. Seldom observed