Indentifying Plant Deficiencies

In order to enjoy a thriving garden, you must learn to correctly diagnose nutritional deficiencies in your plants. Detecting symptoms allows you to respond and fix the issue before your plants experience major stress.

Signs and symptoms vary depending on the growth stage, plant species and other factors such as climate and growing conditions. Gardeners need to become familiar with the wide range of deficiencies and understand how they can affect each crop.

How to Tackle Plant Deficiencies

Use a plant journal to record the conditions of your garden, making special note of any strange or unusual appearances or behavior. Photographs work well for this and can be stored on your computer or smartphone for fast access.

Pictures allow you to compare the appearance of your plant over time and can help with problem solving. Share your pictures with other gardeners and gather advice and tips from experienced growers. Keeping an accurate record, through text or images, helps to record the response to treatment as well.

Common Plant Deficiencies

Deficiencies are not the same as diseases. Watch your plants for signs of the following common plant deficiencies:

Nitrogen (N) Deficiency

Plant roots and top exhibit restricted growth and lateral shoots. They may become spindly and foliage may turn light green and eventually yellow, beginning with older leaves and moving to the younger foliage. Older foliage falls off early.

Phosphorous (P) Deficiency

This looks very similar to a nitrogen deficiency, although the leaves turn more of a bluish color or a darker green. Both nitrogen and phosphorous deficiencies can present purple streaks between the veins and underneath fresh leaves.

Potassium (K) Deficiency

Look for signs of chlorosis (patches of yellow or white on the leaves that results from insufficient chlorophyll) and limited scorching or necrotic spots. This scorching moves toward the middle of the plant and will spread into fresh growth as the deficiency increases.

Calcium (Ca) Deficiency

This deficiency shows up in a number of ways, including slight detection of chlorosis, die-back at points of growth and scorching around new leaves. The scorched and die-back sections will not dry out or crumble in your hand.

Boron (B) Deficiency

Similar to calcium deficiency, a lack of boron results in scorching on fresh growth and die-back. But you'll also detect rough, cracked and hollowed stems and an increase in lateral shoots.

Magnesium (Mg) Deficiency

Look for mottling, marbling and chlorosis on older foliage, which moves toward fresh leaves as the deficiency increases. Yellow patches show up between the veins and near the center of the foliage, spreading to the outer edges as time progresses. Certain plants also present necrotic spots and some scorching on foliage.

Sulfur (S) Deficiency

This deficiency looks much like nitrogen deficiency, but plant stems become thin, woody and tough. They grow longer, but not thicker and the foliage may turn an orange-red color instead of the yellowish tinge common with nitrogen deficiency.

Iron (Fe) Deficiency

Immature foliage presents mottling between the veins, and with severe deficiencies, fresh leaves contain little to no chlorophyll. Mottling often starts at the base of fresh leaves and presents a yellowish streak up the middle of the leaf.

Manganese (Mn) Deficiency

This deficiency is difficult to distinguish from an iron deficiency. You may notice stunted blossom development on fruit plants or yellow blossoms. This increases as the deficiency progresses and necrotic spots often develop between the foliage veins.

Zinc (Zn) Deficiency

Depending on the plant species, this deficiency presents mottling between the veins of old or new foliage. Eventually, the mottling spreads throughout the plant and may resemble the symptoms of manganese or iron deficiency, especially if the onset is sudden. You will notice small foliage developing, unlike the other two deficiencies.

Copper (Cu) Deficiency

This deficiency results in wilted leaves on the crown of your plants, following by mottling and necrotic spots on the foliage. You may see puckering and chlorosis, and could detect an absence of knots on the stem.

Molybdenum (Mo) Deficiency

This deficiency appears much the same as a nitrogen deficiency, especially when present in legume plants. Because molybdenum moves around a plant, symptoms are found in foliage of any age. The most common symptoms include irregular formation of foliage, often called whiptail, as well as mottling between the veins and chlorosis in older leaves.

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