Nutrient Deficiency Symptoms in Plants – A Full Guide

Introduction: Hello Farmers and Gardeners today we are with a great information of Nutrient Deficiency Symptoms in Plants and thier treatment. Plants require the right combination of nutrients to live, grow and reproduce. When plants suffer from malnutrition then they show symptoms of being unhealthy. Too little or too much of nutrients can cause some problems.

A step by step guide to Nutrient deficiency symptoms in plants

Plant nutrients fall into two categories. They are;

  • Macronutrients and
  • Micronutrients

Macronutrients – Macronutrients are those elements that are required in relatively large amounts. They consist of nitrogen, potassium, sulfur, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus.

Micronutrients – Micronutrients are those elements that plants need in very small amounts (sometimes trace amounts), like iron, boron, manganese, zinc, copper, chlorine and molybdenum.

Growing plants act as integrators of all growth factors and the products in which the grower is interested. So, careful inspection of the growing plant can help identify specific nutrient stress. If a plant is lacking in a particular nutrient, characteristic symptoms can appear. The deficiency of a nutrient does not directly generate symptoms. Rather, the normal plant processes are thrown out of balance, with an accumulation of definite intermediate organic compounds and a shortage of others. This leads to abnormal conditions known as symptoms. Visual evaluation of nutrient stress must be used only as a supplement to other diagnostic techniques (i.e., soil and plant analysis). Classification of Nutrient deficiency symptoms can be defined as follows;

  • Complete crop failure at the seedling phase.
  • Severe stunting of plants.
  • Specific leaf symptoms appearing at different times during the season.
  • Internal abnormalities such as clogged conductive tissues.
  • Delayed or abnormal maturity.
  • Obvious plant yield differences, with or without leaf symptoms.
  • Poor quality of crops, also differences in protein, oil, or starch content, and storage quality.
  • Yield differences detected by careful experimental work.

Each symptom should be related to some function of the nutrient in the plant. A given nutrient can have several functions, which makes it difficult to explain the physiological reason for a particular deficiency symptom.

Leaves with Nutrient Deficiency.
Leaves with Nutrient Deficiency.

Plant roots need certain conditions to obtain these nutrients from the soil. First, the soil should be sufficiently moist to allow the roots to take up and transport the nutrients. Sometimes correcting improper watering strategies will remove nutrient deficiency symptoms. Second, the pH level of the soil must be within a certain range for nutrients to be release-able from the soil particles. Third, the temperature of the soil should fall within a certain range for nutrient uptake to occur. The optimum range of temperature, pH level, and moisture is different for different species of plants. Thus, nutrients can be physically present in the soil, but not available to plants. Knowledge of soil pH, texture, and history can be useful for predicting what nutrients may become deficient.

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Nitrogen, phosphorous, and iron are the nutrients that are commonly lacking in Arizona soils. Most of the others can be lacking under certain conditions, however, deficiencies are quite rare. The following table lists nutrients that can be lacking in Arizona soils, and what deficiency symptoms often look like. Keep in mind that each plant variety is different and could display different symptoms.

Nutrient deficiencies can be defined as some garden soils and potting composts suffer from a lack of nutrient content, leading to deficiency symptoms in the plants growing in them.

Plants can also suffer deficiencies where the growing conditions are poor and plants are unable to take up nutrients present in the soil. Very acid or alkaline conditions, dryness, and waterlogging could all make it difficult for plants to take up soil nutrients.

Nutrient deficiencies cause symptoms for example leaf yellowing or browning, sometimes in distinctive patterns. This can be accompanied by stunted growth and poor flowering or fruiting.

Some of the nutrient deficiency symptoms in plants can be given below;


Some of the Macronutrients are Nitrogen, potassium, sulfur, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus.

Calcium (Ca)

Symptoms – New plant leaves are distorted or hook-shaped. The growing tip can die. Contributes to blossom end rot in tomatoes, tip burn of cabbage and brown or black heart of celery.

Sources – Any compound containing the word ‘calcium’ and also gypsum.

Nitrogen (N)

Symptoms – General yellowing of older leaves at bottom of the plant and the rest of the plant is often light green.  Stems can also yellow and may become spindly. Plant growth slows.

Cause – Nitrogen promotes green, leafy growth and deficiency effects in yellowing and stunted growth. Nitrogen is soluble, so easily washed out of the soil in winter rains, just when the plants are putting on new growth. Nitrogen deficiency is a common cause of yellow color leaves in spring.

Remedy – In the long term, mulching with organic matter (such as well-rotted garden compost or manure) gives a steady trickle of nitrogen to stabilize levels. In the short term, applying high nitrogen fertilizers for example sulfate of ammonia or poultry manure pellets will remedy the problem.

Sources – Compound containing the words ‘nitrate’, ‘ammonium’ or ‘urea’. Also manure.

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Magnesium (Mg)

Symptoms – Slow growth and plant leaves turn pale yellow, sometimes just on the outer edges. New growth can be yellow with dark spots.

Sources – Compounds containing the word ‘magnesium’.

Cause – Magnesium is required for healthy leaves and for plants to harness energy from the sun (photosynthesis). Soil shortages of magnesium are common on light, sandy soils. Over-use of high-potassium fertilizers such as tomato feed can cause magnesium deficiency, as plants take up potassium in preference to magnesium.

Remedy – In the short term, carefully apply Epsom salts as a foliar feed in summer. Dilute the salts at a rate of 20g of Epsom salts per liter of water plus some drops of liquid detergent. Apply 2 or 3 times at fortnightly intervals, spraying in dull weather to avoid leaf scorch.

In the long term apply to the soil around the roots either Dolomite limestone or calcium-magnesium carbonate at 100g per sq m or magnesium sulfate at 30g per sq m. Dolomite limestone will make the soil more alkaline, so it must not be used around ericaceous or acid-loving plants such as rhododendrons or camellias, or where the soil is already alkaline.

Phosphorus (P)

Symptoms – Small leaves that can take on a reddish-purple tint. Leaf tips can look burnt and older plant leaves become almost black. Reduced fruit or seed production. Slow growth and dull yellow foliage.

Sources – All compounds containing the words ‘phosphate’ or ‘bone’. Also greensand.

Cause – Phosphorus is required for healthy roots and shoots growth. Soil shortages of phosphorus are rare but can occur in areas with high rainfall and heavy clay soil.

Remedy -Apply some fertilizers such as superphosphate or bone meal.

Potassium (K)

Symptoms – Older plant leaves may wilt, look scorched. Interveinal chlorosis begins at the base, scorching inward from plant leaf margins. Yellow or purple leaf-tints with browning at the plant leaf edge and reduced flowering or fruiting.

Sources – All compounds containing the words ‘potassium’ or ‘potash’.

Cause – Potassium is required for controlling both water uptake and the process allowing plants to harness energy from the sun (photosynthesis). Potassium promotes flowering, fruiting, and hardiness. Shortages are more likely on light, sandy or chalky soils where potassium is simply washed away. Clay soils, by contrast, hold potassium within the structure.

Remedy – Apply high potassium fertilizers such as sulfate of potash, tomato feed or organic potassium sources derived from sugar beet processing.

Sulfur (S)

Symptoms: New growth turns pale yellow, older growth stays green and stunts growth.

Sources: Compounds containing the word ‘sulfate’.


Some of the Micronutrients are Boron, manganese, copper, chlorine, zinc, iron, and molybdenum

Boron (B)

Symptoms – Poor stem and root growth. Terminal or end buds may die. Witches brooms sometimes form.

Sources – Compounds containing the ‘borax’ or ‘borate’.

Copper (Cu)

Symptoms – Stunted growth and leaves can become limp, curl, or drop. Seed stalks become limp and bend over.

Sources – Compounds containing the ‘copper’, ‘cupric’ or ‘cuprous’.

Manganese (Mn)

Symptoms: Plant growth slows. Younger leaves turn pale yellow color, often starting between veins. May increase dark or dead spots. Leaves, shoots, and fruit diminished in size. Failure to bloom. Reduction of the size of plant parts.

Sources – All compounds containing the words ‘manganese’ or ‘manganous’

Cause – Manganese, and iron are very important for allowing plants to harness the energy of the sun (photosynthesis). Soil shortages are rare, but manganese and iron could be unavailable to plant roots in alkaline conditions. Ericaceous or acid-loving plants are particularly vulnerable when growing in alkaline soils or potting composts.

Remedy – Apply chelated iron and manganese treatments, for example, Sequestrene, to the soil around the plant roots.


Symptoms – The distinctive symptom of iron deficiency is chlorosis of the youngest plant leaves. As the chlorosis is an effect of photobleaching, leaves in bright sunlight will be more affected than those in shade. Primarily, yellow interveinal chlorosis develops, which is characterized by a sharply contrasting green network of veins. But, as the condition becomes more severe, the chlorosis becomes white and the veins may lose their green color. If young plant leaves are normally purple, they become pink as a result of iron deficiency. While all the leaves of the plant can become affected, the youngest leaves generally show the greatest intensity.

Treatment – Iron deficiency can be avoided by choosing suitable soil for the growing conditions (e.g., avoid growing acid-loving plants on lime soils), or by adding well-rotted manure or compost. If iron deficit chlorosis is suspected then check the pH level of the soil with an appropriate test kit or instrument.

Molybdenum (Mo)

Symptoms – Older plant leaves yellow, remaining foliage turns light green. Leaves can become narrow and distorted.

Sources – All compounds containing the words ‘molybdate’ or ‘molybdic’.

Cause – Molybdenum is necessary for a variety of plant growth processes but is needed only in tiny quantities. Soil shortages of molybdenum are rare, but it can be less obtainable to plant roots in acid conditions.

Remedy – Treat with fritted trace elements. Liming the soil will help in the long term, as making the soil more alkaline will help to create the molybdenum more available.

Zinc (Zn)

Symptoms – Yellowing between veins of new growth. Terminal or end leaves may form a rosette.

Sources – Compounds containing the word ‘zinc’.

That’s all folks about  Nutrient Deficiency Symptoms in Plants and thier treatment process.

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