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Symptoms of Deficiency In Essential Minerals

  •  Visual nutrient deficiency symptoms can be a very powerful diagnostic tool for evaluating the nutrient status of plants
  • One should keep in mind, however, that a given individual visual symptom is seldom sufficient to make a definitive diagnosis of a plant’s nutrient status
  • Many of the classic deficiency symptoms such as tip burn, chlorosis and necrosis are characteristically associated with more than one mineral deficiency and also with other stresses that by themselves are not diagnostic for any specific nutrient stress
  • However, their detection is extremely useful in making an evaluation of nutrient status. In addition to the actual observations of morphological and spectral symptoms, knowing the location and timing of these symptoms is a critical aspect of any nutrient status evaluation
  • Plants do not grow in isolation, they are part of the overall environment and as such they respond to environmental changes as that affect nutrient availability
  • Also, plants do influence their environment and can contribute to environmental changes, which in turn can affect the nutrient status of the plant.

Sources of Visual Symptoms

  • Stresses such as salinity, pathogens, and air pollution induce their own characteristic set of visual symptoms. Often, these symptoms closely resemble those of nutrient deficiency
  • Pathogens can cause tip burn. Although at first these symptoms might seem similar in their general appearance to nutrient deficiency symptoms, they do differ in detail and/or in their overall developmental pattern
  • Pathological symptoms can often be separated from nutritional symptoms by their distribution in a population of affected plants
  • If the plants are under a nutrient stress, all plants of a given type and age in the same environment tend to develop similar symptoms at the same time.
  • However if the stress is the result of pathology, the development of symptoms will have a tendency to vary between plants until a relatively advanced stage of the pathology is reached.


Functions of Elements in Plant Health



Boron (B)

Stimulates cell division, flower formation and pollination

Calcium (Ca)

Raises soil pH; promotes root hair formation and early growth

Chlorine (Cl)

Needed for photosynthesis; stimulates root growth and aids water circulation in plants

Cobalt (Co)

Improves growth, water circulation, and photosynthesis

Copper (Cu)

Stimulates stem development and pigment formation

Iron (Fe)

Stimulates the formation of chlorophyll and helps oxidize sugar for energy; also necessary for legume nitrogen fixation. It regulates the respiration of the plant's cells.

Magnesium (Mg)

Aids in chlorophyll formation and energy metabolism; it increases oil production in flax and soy beans; helps regulate uptake of other elements. It also promotes healthy, disease-resistant plants.   It is generally available in acid soil

Manganese (Mn)

Necessary for the formation of chlorophyll

Molybdenum (Mo)

Needed for nitrogen fixation and nitrogen use in the plant; stimulates plant growth and vigor much like nitrogen

Nitrogen (N)

Necessary for chlorophyll and genetic material (DNA & RNA) formation; stimulates green, leafy growth

Phosphorous (P)

Necessary for genetic material (DNA & RNA) formation; stimulates fruit, flower and root production, and early season growth; increases disease resistance

Silicon (Si)

Increases number of seeds; strengthens cell walls of plants

Sodium (Na)

Increases resistance to drought; increases sugar content in some crops

Sulfur (S)

Aids in formation of certain oil compounds that give specific odors to some plants such as onions, garlic, mustard, etc; increases oil production in flax and soy beans

Zinc (Z)

Stimulates stem growth and flower bud formation






Nitrogen (N)
Necessary for all phases of plant growth

Little new growth, yellow leaves: this being more pronounced in older leaves. Earlier fall leaf drop. New shoots may be red to red-brown.

Quick fix: Make weekly foliar applications of fish emulsion or manure tea.
Long term: Apply aged compost, manure, soybean meal or cottonseed meal to the soil once in spring. Seaweed extract will improve the soil environment thus giving nitrogen fixing bacteria a boost.

Phosphorous (P)
Necessary for strong stems, fruiting, rooting and seed making.

Overall dark green with purple, blue or reddish cast to leaves particularly on underside, veins and stems and some plants respond to lack of P with yellowing. Foliage may be sparse, small and distorted becoming mottled and bronzy with maturity. Very distinctive symptoms. Excess foliage with no flowers can also indicate lack of (P).

Quick fix: Spray plant weekly with fish emulsion until symptoms quit. Apply a light soil dressing of wood ashes. Incorporate aged compost into the soil to boost microorganisms.
Long term: Mix rock phosphate or aged manure into the soil in fall.

Potash (K)

Necessary for strong root systems and for forming starch, protein and sugar.

Sickly looking plants, undersized fruits, leaves showing marginal and interveinal yellowing. Yellowing starts on older leaves and progresses upwards. Leaves may crinkle, turn brown and roll upwards. Blossoms may be distorted and small. Plant has little resistance to heat, cold and disease problems.

Potash deficiency is mostly in the upper levels of soil.
Quick fix: Spray plant weekly with fish emulsion until symptoms quit.
Long term: Applanure, granite dust or greensand to the soil in fall. Hardwood ashes may be applied to soil anytime. 






Calcium (Ca)

Young leaves are small and distorted with curled back leaf tips. Shoots may be stunted and show some dieback, roots will be stunted.





Magnesium (Mg)


A lack of magnesium is characterized almost identically with iron deficiency but the older leaves, generally at the bottom of the plant, show marginal and interveinal reddening or yellowing with leaf base and midrib staying green. Later in the season interveinal necrosis may occur. Leaves may be brittle and thin with leaf curling and stunted growth..

Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) can be used for magnesium deficiency. You can use it watering with a mix of 1-2 teaspoons or Epsom salts dissolved in 1 gallon of water or using the mix as foliar spray. Make 3 applications 6 weeks apart. Other treatments include adding fish meal, basic slag, greensand or dolomitic limestone.

Sulphur (S)

Leaves are pale yellow-green at any stage of development. Shoots are stunted. Similar to chlorosis.

Perform a soil test; correct as necessary.
Add sulfur or potassium sulfate as necessary. Use caution when applying sulfur compounds, however. Too much sulfur ("sulfur toxicity") appears as veinal chlorosis followed by rapid defoliation of the lower leaves.  






Boron (B)
Boron amounts in the soil is directly proportional to the amount of organic matter

Youngest leaves may be red, bronze or scorched also small, thick or brittle. New shoot tips may form what is called a witches broom. Stems stiff; terminal buds die and growths die back; lateral shoots developed, giving plant flat top; leaves highly tinted purple, brown and yellow. Fruit and vegetables may have heart rot. Fruits pitted and corky areas in skin; ripening is uneven. Boron deficiencies are found mainly in acid, sandy soils in regions of high rainfall, and those with low soil organic matter. Boron deficiencies are more pronounced during drought periods when root activity is restricted.

Apply household borax at a rate 1 tablespoon borax to 12 quarts of water. This amount will treat a 100 foot row of vegetables or 10 square feet of soil. Apply two times 2-3 weeks apart.

Copper (Cu)

Copper deficiencies are mainly seen on sandy soils which are low in organic matter. Copper uptake decreases as soil pH increases. Increased phosphorus and iron availability in soils decreases copper uptake by plants. Small leaves with necrotic (dead) spots and brown areas near the leaf tips. Rosetting of the leaves and dieback of terminal shoots.


    Iron (Fe)

New leaves are the most symptomatic and when condition is most severe they can be all yellow or white but still have green veins. Overall you see yellow leaves with green veins leading to marginal scorching or browning of leaf tips. Tip leaves, especially basal areas of leaflets, intense chlorotic mottling; stem near tip also yellow. Fruits have poor color. Shoot diameter is small. Iron deficit often occurs when the soil pH is higher than 7.5 meaning it is more alkaline. Lack of Fe is common in plants living next to concrete walls, foundations etc.

Perform a soil test; correct soil pH to 7.0 or lower.
In iron-deficient soils, add bone meal or blood meal organic amendments, or add iron sulfate or chelated iron liquid or granular inorganic amendments.
Quick fix: Apply chelated iron directly to soil or as a foliar spray.
Reduce soil pH to at least 7.0 which is considered neutral.
Long term: Improve the soil by adding 1-2 inches of compost in the spring every year.

      Manganese (Mn)

Similar to N deficiency, leaves display marginal scorching, rolling and reduced width. Yellowing may also occur between leaf veins or total yellowing on youngest leaves.

Perform a soil pH test; correct to 6.5 or lower. In deficient soils, add millorganite or houorganite treated sludge organic amendments, or

Add manganese sulfate inorganic amendments.

Molybdenum (Mo)

Only a problem with brassicas like broccoli, cauliflower etc in acid soil. Heads can fail to form,  leaves will become thin, elongated and rippled.

Add lime to soil before planting or sowing seeds.

      Zinc (Zn)

Zinc deficiencies are mainly found on sandy soils low in organic matter and on organic soils. Zinc deficiencies occur more often during cold, wet spring weather. New and intermediate leaves are small, yellow, sometimes with a grayish cast. Narrow and older leaves may drop. Small shoots may show rosetting followed by dieback.

Test the soil for a pH Imbalance, making sure that the pH is between 5.8 and 6.2. A pH imbalance can inhibit the absorption of zinc and other nutrients.
Use fertilizers that generate acidity. Organic compounds such as zinc chelates (zinc EDTA and zinc NTA) are about 5 times more effective than inorganic salts with equivalent amounts of zinc.
Apply aged organic manure.



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Please note that this is the opinion of the author and is Not Certified by ICAR or any of its authorised agents.