Symptoms of nutrient deficiency in plants and how to fix it

One of the fundamental aspects in any type of agricultural production, or in the plants in our garden, is nutrition. If it is deficient, we will not achieve the expected results, so we must make sure to carry out a good preparation of the soil prior to planting , or with periodic contributions of nutrients.

Although not all crops have the same requirements, some of them are always necessary for the proper development of plants, to a greater or lesser extent.

We also advise you which organic seeds to use , the best planters, growing boxes and tables for your garden and essential books to learn everything about organic gardening .

Types of Nutrients Plants Need

Plant nutrients are classified into two large groups:

  • Organic : they represent between 90 and 95% of the dry weight of plants and are made up of the elements carbon, oxygen and hydrogen , obtained from CO 2 in the atmosphere and soil water.
  • Inorganic : the remaining 5 – 10% constitutes the so-called mineral fraction, which play a fundamental role in the metabolism of plants , and when some of them are scarce, the plants show symptoms that we can analyze and determine which of them it is.

In turn, we can divide mineral elements into two large groups:

  • Micronutrients: they are required in very low concentrations. Most of these micronutrients are enzymatic constituents and are therefore only required in very small amounts. These essential micronutrients are: Iron (Fe), Manganese (Mn), Zinc (Zn), Copper (Cu), Boron (B), Molybdenum (Mo), Chlorine (Cl) and Nickel (Ni).
  • Macronutrients: they are constituent elements of structural biomolecules, such as proteins, lipids or carbohydrates, or they act as osmolytes. These essential macronutrients are: Carbon (C), Oxygen (O), Hydrogen (H), Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), Sulfur (S), Potassium (K), Magnesium (Mg) and Calcium (Ca).

Influence of pH on the availability of nutrients


As can be seen in the image, many nutrients are conditioned by the pH of the substrate . Most of them are available for plants in a range that goes from 5 to 6.5, that is, slightly acidic pH.

If we move away from these ranges, it is likely that the crop shows a deficiency of some nutrient, since it will be found in a form that cannot be assimilated by the plant.

Lack of nutrients in the cultivation soil

Next we are going to name some nutrient deficiencies and how we can identify them:

1.- Nitrogen

After water, nitrogen is the most important nutrient for plant development , given its abundance in the main biomolecules of living matter.

  • Deficiency symptoms: Foliage pale green and then yellow, these symptoms first occur on large, low leaves that prematurely wither and dry out and fall off. If the deficiency continues, the new leaves will also yellow and their petioles will become elongated and extremely narrow.


  • Causes of deficiency: the substrate in which the plant is does not have any organic amendment that provides it with this element and does not receive any irrigation with fertilizers.


2.- Phosphorus

Phosphorus plays a key role in photosynthesis , respiration, and all energy metabolism. In addition, it has an important structural role in many cell molecules and structures.

  • Deficiency symptoms: wilting, dark green foliage and a reddish-brown color on the contours of the leaves, the root has less development and a hair of fibrous secondary roots. Petioles, stems and veins turn reddish.


  • Causes of deficiency: fertilizers with little phosphorus, pH mismatch (above 7 and below 5.5) and temperatures below 10 ° C can make this element no longer assimilable by plants.

3.- Potassium

It plays a key role in the osmoregulation that takes place in the stomatal opening and closing processes. In addition, K activates more than 50 enzyme systems.

  • Symptoms of deficiency: they appear first in the peripheral leaves and later in the younger ones. Chlorosis occurs around the blade, later the edge becomes necrotic, the newer leaves are small.


  • Causes of deficiency: deficiency in the soil, irrigations with low potassium fertilizers or in low doses, especially in the flowering period, which is when the plant needs it most.

4.- Magnesium

Magnesium is almost never a limiting factor for plants, except in very acidic or sandy soils. It is involved in photosynthesis and energy metabolism.

  • Symptoms of deficiency: yellowing of the leaves between the veins, they appear at first on the edge of the upper part of the blade and then cover the entire leaf, the edge of the leaves turns black, cracks and deforms, it can be confused with symptoms of the virus of yellowness.


  • Causes of its deficiency: soil deficiency, excess humidity, acidic soils, excess potassium and calcium (they are antagonistic to magnesium).

5.- Calcium

Calcium is necessary for the integrity and functionality of cell membranes and walls . It is also involved in the functioning of some hormones and in environmental responses.

  • Deficiency symptoms: young leaves are deformed (spoon-shaped) and curved towards the ground. When the deficiency is high, the limbus is reduced in surface and a distal necrosis begins, the root presents the conducting vessels of brown color and a growth arrest. It affects the yield due to a decrease in root growth and less sugar.


  • Causes of its deficiency: low pH, deficiency in the substrate.


6.- Iron

Iron is part of the catalytic groups of many redox enzymes of the hemoprotein type. In turn, it is part of proteins that are key in photosynthesis and participates in the biosynthesis of chlorophyll .

  • Symptoms of its deficiency: interveinal chlorosis in young leaves, sometimes followed by chlorosis in the veins, which gives the entire leaf a yellowish appearance. In extreme cases, the leaf can become almost white.


  • Causes of deficiency: high pH. Deficiency in the soil.

7.- Zinc

Zinc has a stabilizing role on the chlorophyll molecule. On the other hand, it is necessary for the activity of numerous enzyme systems and is a regulator of gene expression .

  • Symptoms of deficiency: Zn deficiency produces internerval chlorosis, decreased leaf growth and shortening in the length of the internodes, especially in woody species.


  • Causes of its deficiency: very alkaline soils. Deficiency in the soil.

More articles on organic farming

Prevent and solve nutrient deficiencies: Organic soil fertilization

Fertilization is the incorporation into the soil of organic residues of animal or vegetable origin (manures, leaves, stems, green manures, compost, humus, etc.). These serve as food for the microbial population that lives in the soil, who are responsible for transforming them into soluble substances rich in minerals that serve as an energy and nutritional source for plants.

organic material

There are many forms of organic matter:

  1. Organic compost or “compost”.
  2. Earthworm humus.
  3. Poultry manure.
  4. Green manures

1.- Compost

It is the result of the mixture of residues of vegetable and animal origin that have been decomposed under controlled conditions. It is also known by the name of ” topsoil ” or ” mulch “.

Compost contributes to:

  • Improve soil structure
  • Retain moisture
  • Increase nutrient reserve capacity
  • Favor the development of the biological population (microorganisms) of the soil
  • Provide essential nutrients for plants

The way to use compost is at a rate of 30 kg of compost for every 10 m 2 of land, and it should be added when we are preparing the soil or substrate, prior to sowing or transplanting .

Read more about compost .

If we observe any of the previously mentioned deficiencies, what we can do is compost tea and water our plants with this solution, which will give them the necessary nutrients, as well as beneficial microorganisms that will give the plant greater vitality to be able to cope with pests and diseases.

Compost tea is the soluble fraction of compost, and to make it we must place a fraction of compost inside a fine mesh of cloth or some other permeable fabric, and then place it in a container with water for 24 hours. Once this process is finished, we can water the plants with the tea produced.

2.- Worm humus

This is the name given to the droppings of worms known as ” California reds “, which transform organic waste.

As organic compost it is excellent:

  • Improves the biological activity of the soil due to the great microbial flora it contains
  • It allows the production of enzymes important for the evolution of soil organic matter to take place
  • Promotes the absorption of nutrients
  • It improves soil structure
  • Increase moisture retention

The way of applying it is the same as the compost, we can even make the tea to water.

3.- Poultry manure

If you want to start the garden as soon as possible but do not have organic compost or worm castings, do not worry, animal manure or guano is a good alternative if it is prepared well, since it supplies organic matter and nutrients.

To use it, it is advisable to compost it previously , since fresh manure can bring pathogens with it, possess weed seeds, salinize the soil and even burn the seedlings if it is placed very close to them.

It should be applied when we are preparing the soil, at a rate of 1 to 2 kg / m 2 , and if it is very sandy soils, we can apply up to 5 kg / m 2 .

4.- Green fertilizers

Those who have larger surfaces, can take advantage of a plot to make crops that serve to enrich the land .

These crops are not used for consumption, but are used exclusively to incorporate them into the soil as fertilizer, which is why they are called “green” fertilizer.

The plants that we use as green manure must be chopped and buried shallowly, some time before they bloom.

Once incorporated into the soil, they will rapidly increase their organic matter content. This type of compost is very useful for bad or impoverished lands , they become easier to work.

In the SUMMER we can sow: legumes (soybeans, beans or beans) and grasses (corn, sorghum).

In WINTER: legumes (broad beans, peas or peas, vetch, clovers) and cereals (wheat, oats, rye, barley).

Read more about green manures .

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