There are few things more frustrating than noticing the degradation of your plants. You feel as if you are doing everything right, but you are still noticing discoloration of leaves, slowed growth, or other signs something is not right.
Nutrient deficiencies in plants are one of the toughest challenges you will face as a grower, but using a chart like the one in this article will make this process a breeze.
We will show you a few ways to prevent deficiencies, but we understand that sometimes mistakes happen. Therefore, we will also show you how to remedy the most common plant nutrient deficiencies.
Preventing plant nutrient deficiencies
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Instead of waiting for a deficiency to pop up and then addressing it, make sure you are taking every step possible to prevent this in the first place.
The relationship between plant nutrients and pH
Plants are only unable to absorb nutrients when pH levels are within the optimal range. This can be tricky, since a number of factors can affect pH such as growing medium, water, and the nutrients themselves.
If your pH is out of whack, certain essential macro and micro nutrients will be unavailable, and this will result in a deficiency. Step one to preventing deficiencies is always testing the pH of your runoff, whether you are growing in soil or hydroponics.
You should also test the pH of your nutrient solution before you feed it to your plants, using a pH pen.
If you want to automate this process, and cut down on any human error, use a nutrient and pH doser. These will continually feed your plants the optimal level of PPM and pH.
What are mobile and immobile nutrients, and how do they affect my plants?
Nutrients can be classified as either mobile or immobile. This indicates the ability of that nutrient to move within the plant. Knowing which nutrients are mobile and immobile will help you when diagnosing nutrient deficiencies.
A healthy and vigorous plant is characterized by deep green leaves, a strong, sturdy stem, and steady growth development. Sick or nutrient deficient plants will display certain symptoms on leaves and stems that we can use to diagnose the issue to address it. This nutrient deficiency chart shows the most common signs of specific nutrient issues:
It is important to examine our plants daily when possible, to keep an eye out for any signs of a nutrient deficiency. Inspecting plants is as simple as doing a check of the tops and undersides of leaves, stems and at the surface of the growing medium.
Generally speaking, one of the first signs of a nutrient deficiency will be a discoloration or deformation of the leaves. When you see this occurring it's best to address it as soon as possible to avoid stunting plant growth and lowering the quality of the flowers.
Many nutrients are influenced by other nutrients. A deficiency in one area can lead to deficiencies in other areas. Likewise, an excess in a nutrient can lead to issues with other nutrients. Mulder's chart of nutrient interactions shows the relationship between each of the main macro- and micronutrients and how they interact.
Common plant nutrient deficiencies
Below are individual nutrient deficiency examples with links to treatment methods. Clicking the link will provide a more in depth guide on how to identify a deficiency, example pictures, and ways to correct each. If you think you've got some great recommendations we may have missed, please let us know in the comments below!
Boron deficiency will still allow the plant to grow to a reasonable size with lateral shoots, but with death at growing points, so flowers and fruits will fail to develop. Slight yellowing may occur, and the tips of leaves will turn brown to black and die off. The stems may also be affected by becoming brittle, displaying cracks along the surface of the stem, or becoming hollow.
Where to look: Stems and leaf edges of younger leaves
What to look for: Cracked, hollow stems and black or brown edges on the tips of leaves, wrinkling of leaves or leaf curl
Calcium deficiency symptoms are similar to boron deficiency, with slight yellowing, and the tips of leaves will turn brown to black and die off. Calcium deficiency causes the new leaves at the top of the plant to look misshapen. Growth of the plant as a whole will be stunted, but unlike a boron deficiency, calcium deficiency does not promote the growth of lateral shoots.
Where to look: New leaves and overall plant growth
What to look for: Irregular shaped leaves and lack of new growth
Copper deficiency symptoms will occur at the new growth at the top of the plant. The new leaves appear wilted, pale green to yellow, and have dead areas throughout the leaves.
Where to look: New leaves
What to look for: Wilted appearance, yellowing and brown spots, leaves curling under
Iron deficiency symptoms appear on the upper, young leaves. Because iron is essential to the production of chlorophyll in the leaves, an iron deficiency is primarily revealed as yellowing between the veins of leaves. Larger veins in the leaves will remain green.
Where to look: New leaves
What to look for: Yellowing of leaves in margins between veins, giving a mottled/marbled appearance, necrosis spots
Magnesium deficiency symptoms appear on lower, older leaves first. Mg is also essential to the production of chlorophyll, so like iron, a deficiency will cause yellowing of the leaves between the veins. In later stages, the leaves will die. Magnesium is a mobile nutrient, so the plant will move its remaining magnesium from its old leaves to the new ones. In some cases, brown or black spots may appear on the leaves.
Where to look: Lower, older leaves
What to look for: Yellowing of leaves and leaf fall off, curling of leaves, necrosis spots
Manganese deficiency symptoms begin with yellowing of upper, young leaves between the leaf veins. The leaf will have a netted appearance, because the veins of the leaves will remain green. Blossom buds may not develop and will fall off. Overall there can be a reduction in the size of the plant.
Where to look: New leaves
What to look for: Yellowing of leaves between the veins, netted appearance and stunted growth, necrosis spots
Molybdenum deficiency symptoms begin in the older leaves at the bottom of the plant. The leaves will appear yellow, and oftentimes the rest of the plant appears light green as the deficiency progresses.
Where to look: Lower, older leaves and middle leaves
What to look for: Yellowing of leaves between the veins, leaf curl, pale green leaf color
Nitrogen deficiency affects the entire plant with very stunted growth and small leaves. Yellowing begins in the lower leaves on the bottom of the plant, and proceeds towards younger leaves. Stalks appear weak and spindly.
Where to look: Lower, older leaves, stalks, overall plant growth
What to look for: Yellowing of leaves, weak and spindly stalks, small plants, tip burn, pale green leaf color
Phosphorus deficiency results in stunted growth similar to nitrogen deficiency. Plants remain a very poor size. Leaf color appears dull dark green, or bluish green, with a purplish color of the petiole (leave stem) and veins on younger leaves. In fruit bearing plants, flowers are produced, but there are low fruit yields.
Where to look: Older leaves and grow tips
What to look for: Dull, dark green color and purple or reddish discoloration, brittle stems
Potassium deficiency results in very stunted plant growth and yellow or purple tinted leaves. Older, lower leaves look wilted with browning and curling at leaf edges and yellowing between leaf veins and around leaf edges. Left unchecked, older leaves will begin to die off and symptoms will progress to upper, younger leaves. Potassium deficiency gives the plant poor disease resistance.
Where to look: On the outside edges of lower, older leaves
What to look for: Yellowing and dead areas, curled edges, necrosis, death of growth tips
Silicon deficiency affects new leaves, roots or stems with malformations from warping, hardening, and sometimes thickening. Silicon deficiency is rare, and is not a nutrient that is considered essential for plant growth and development.
Where to look: New leaves
What to look for: Irregular growth
Sulfur deficiency results in yellowing of the upper, younger leaves. Leaf veins may appear lighter in color than the surrounding areas of the leaf. A sulfur deficiency should not be confused with a nitrogen deficiency, which appears first on lower, older leaves before spreading to the whole plant.
Where to look: New leaves, leaf veins
What to look for: Yellowing and lighter leaf veins
Zinc deficiency results in stunted plant growth and small leaves. Yellowing occurs on upper, young leaves. Leave tips die and flowers may stop growing or die off.
Where to look: New leaves, flower buds, and older leaves
What to look for: Yellowing, dead leave tips, dead or dying blooms, molting