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Common Plant Nutrient Deficiencies

January 19th, 2010

Common Plant Nutrient Deficiencies

iron chlorosisiron chlorosisCommon nutrient deficiencies have similar symptoms in most plants, by knowing what to look for you can make adjustments that will get your plant healthy in no time. One of the number one reasons plants in our landscape, garden or home die is over watering. Often the first response to a yellow leaf is more water but in most cases it is not lack of water but lack of the proper nutrient(s) the plant needs to grow and maintain it’s healthy appearance. There are 6 macronutrients that plants need in the greatest quantity, the primary nutrients are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). These primary major nutrients are usually lacking from the soil first because plants use large amounts for their growth and survival. The secondary nutrients are calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and sulfur (S). The secondary macronutrients are less likely to be deficient in most soils and as a result fertilization is not always needed. There are also 7 micronutrients needed for plant growth, these are called micronutrients because they are needed in only very small quantities. These elements are also sometimes referred to as minor elements or trace elements. The micronutrients are boron (B), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), chloride (Cl), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo) and zinc (Zn). Recycling organic material from your yard waste such as grass clippings and tree leaves is an excellent way of providing micronutrients and macronutrients to growing plants. Here are the most common signs of nutrient deficiency along with some recommended sources of the nutrients. However, please keep in mind not all plants communicate their needs in the same way and results vary based on location and plant type. These examples make for a great starting point in treating your plants and gardens.

Nitrogen- Slow growth, leaves are uniformly yellow-green Source- Fish, alfalfa, blood meal and green manures

Phosphorus- Purplish leaves, Yellow or streaked leaf margins, Leaf tips die off and/or Fruits late, is poor or absent Source- Manure, bonemeal, rock phosphates

Potassium- Brown leaf margins on lower leaves, Shriveled fruit, Plants not as healthy, Weak stems Source- Greensand, granite dust, Kelp, compost, manure

Calcium- Leaves curled upward, Leaves are scalloped, Buds dried out or absent, Buds drop off early while the stem is still stiff and erect, Weak stems (The cause of tomato blossom end rot) Source- Limestone, ground clam and oyster lime shell, gypsum, wood ashes

Sulfur- Leaves at branch tips turn down, Stems are hard and brittle Source-
Manure, Sul-Po-Mag, gypsum, elemental sulfur

Magnesium- Leaves are thin and brittle; purplish red or brown to bronze; striped or yellow to brown between veins; curl upward; or don't grow long, Late to mature Source- Kelp or fish extract, limestone, compost

Iron-Pale yellow color between leaf veins eventually turning brown Source- Iron sulfate, chelated iron

The remaining micronutrients zinc, boron, manganese, copper and molybdenum are rarely lacking in soils, however if you suspect one is needed good organic compost from material around your home or store bought should provide all your plants need. Because these micronutrients are need in such small quantities adding them directly is not recommended, too much could cause irreversible damage.
Knowing these common signs of nutrient deficiency and there remedies will help you to treat the soil appropriately so your plants and garden thrive.

Happy Gardening and feel free to ask our experts any further questions by clicking on our Q&A Section.