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  • Writer's pictureHarvesto Group

How to identify a nutrient deficiency in plants?

Updated: Dec 23, 2020

Nutrient deficiency causes when plants don’t adsorb necessary amount of a nutrient and it may lead to a variety of health problems such as necrosis, chlorosis, stunted growth and poor yield etc., are such problems are shown.

Nutrient Deficiency of Nitrogen

In the absence or low supply of Nitrogen the following deficiency develops:

  • The plant always looks thin and poorly furnished.

  • The chlorophyll content is reduced due to which leaf turn pale yellow the older leaves turn completely yellow and fall because nitrogen is rapidly from older to younger leaves.

  • Flowering and fruiting are reduced.

  • In certain plants such as tomato leaf vein, turn purple or red due to the development of abundant anthocyanin pigment. Often apple plants are supplied less nitrogen to develop more attractive colour.

  • Due to the high mobility of N deficiency symptoms first appears on the older leaves in the form of light green to pale yellow in plants.

  • The protein and starch content are decreased.

  • Due to a reduction in protein, the plant growth remains front and late, but they remain dormant. As a result, seriously do not show characteristics tillering.

  • Shoots remain short and thin with upright growth.

  • In tomato, potato, cereals and other grasses, younger leaves, however, tend to remain erect. The angle between stem and leaves is reduced.

  • Prolonged dormancy and early senescence appear.

  • Roots get more length and as in wheat.

  • Stunted growth is manifestation.

  • In grasses, the lower leaves turn into brown beginning at the leaf tip and progressing along the midrib in the form of inverted ‘V’ shape.

  • Reduction in flowering, crop yields and lower protein content are associated with N deficiency.

Nutrient Deficiency of Phosphorus

  • Plants having less than 0.1 % phosphorus are designated as P-deficient because of its faster mobility in plants P gets translocated from older tissues to the meristematic tissue. Therefore, P deficiency symptoms are to first appear on the older leaves and appears at all stages.

  • Severe restriction of root growth and stunned growth occurs.

  • P deficiency results in the development of dark blue-green colour leaves.

  • In the severe deficiency of P it shows purple discolouration on stem and petiole but for leaves it shows in older leaves of lower sides, on tips and margins and after that it expands rest of the leaf surface.

  • Leaves become leathery in texture and veins form a brown netting and it can be characterized by burnt tips, development of chlorosis and necrotic patches on leaf margins and cambial activity is checked.

  • Thickening of tracheidial cell is reduced and phloem differentiation is found incomplete.

  • P deficiency in plants has premature leaf falls take place.

  • Tillering of crop plants is reduced and yield declines.

  • Thin, erect and spindly plants with sparse and restricted foliage suppressed lateral bud production and reduces growth.

  • Growth is retarded and dead patches appear on leaves, petioles and fruits.

Nutrient Deficiency of Potassium.

The deficiency symptoms of potassium vary with the extent of the shortage of the potassium element.

  • In acute deficiency cases a. Shoots may die, eventually, the plant may die, b. Plants become stunted with numerous tillers and c. There will be little or no flowering.

  • In mild deficiency cases, a. Thin shoots may develop and b. There may be restricted shoot growth.

  • It does not manifest immediately in the form of visible symptoms at first growth rate decreases later deficiency symptoms appear.

  • Deficiency symptoms first develop on the older leaves and leaf colour may be dull or bluish-green and its tips appear in brown such as burns or development of brown spots near the margins.

  • Chlorosis occurs in interveinal regions along the margins followed by scorching and browning of tips of older leaves which gradually progresses inwards giving burning appearance.

  • Slow and stunted growth of the plants and crop lodging.

  • Reduced internodes of the stem and reduced production of grains occur.

  • Shrivelled fruits and seeds.

  • Reduced crop yields without the appearance of definite symptoms are called hidden hunger.

  • Decrease in resistance to certain plant diseases

  • The lamina of broadleaved plants curl backwards toward the under surface or roll forwards towards the upper surface parallel to the midrib.

  • Decrease in the quality of fruits and vegetables.

  • Potassium deficiency disturbs the overall physiological activity within the plant system by altering the activities of the enzyme.

Nutrient Deficiency of Sulphur

In view of the large field-scale occurrences of sulphur deficiencies in India, it has been described as the fourth major nutrient after N, P and K. N:S ratio of plants are between 9 to 12:1. Sulphur is an immobile nutrient in the plant, its deficiency is seen in young leaves.

  • Decrease in leaf size and generally paling with red or purple pigmentation are generally symptoms.

  • The older leaves become puckered inwardly with raised areas between Veins and also may develop orange or reddish tints and maybe shed.

  • Leaves remain small and turn pale green symptoms of chlorosis. Chlorosis affects young leaves because of the immobile property of sulphur. The young leaves develop orange, red or purple pigments.

  • In case of severe sulphur deficiency, necrosis of young leaf tips and margins, shorter internodes, premature development of lateral buds, multiple branches with dead tips and shoot dieback occur.

  • The stem and leaf petiole may become brittle, very sensitive and may collapse.

  • The apical growth is inhibited whereas lateral buds develop prematurely

  • The fading of the normal green colour of the young meristem followed by chlorosis.

  • Shoot growth is restricted plant shows stunned growth

  • Leaf fall is rapid and fruit formation is suppressed.

  • In Brassica, the lamina is restricted and the leaves show cupping owing to the curling of leaves.

  • Reduced synthesis of proteins and oil.

  • In tobacco, tea and tomato, the leaf-tips are characteristically bent downwards. The leaf margins and tips roll inwards.

Nutrient Deficiency of Calcium

  • Deficiency of calcium is characterised by a reduction in meristematic tissue.

  • Calcium is highly mobile in the soil; in the plant system it is the immobile nutrient and hence the deficiency symptoms show at the growing tips of shoots and youngest leaves.

  • Failure or desiccation of terminal bud development.

  • No unfolding of new leaves in corn, whose tips are colourless and are covered with sticky gelatinous material which makes them adhere to one another.

  • In fruit trees, the death of growing points followed by dieback and leads all plants to death.

  • In Guava, the old leaves are chlorotic with red-brown spots and leaves are folded.

  • Calcium deficiency in leaves shown by curling of young leaves, spotting on young leaves, poor growth, leaf tip burn, damage to fruit, stunning growth.

  • It makes cells weaken; a vascular system of plants starts to collapse so water availability can be less.

  • In Brassica, severe loss of colour in young leaves, terminal bud leaves are hooked, leaves below become cup-shaped. Old leaves collapse due to terminal bud disintegration.

  • Blossom end rot in tomato is due to Ca deficiency so reduce in quality and yields.

Nutrient Deficiency of Magnesium

  • Mg+2 is a mobile element and it is readily translocated from older to younger plant parts of the leaves so deficiency symptoms are manifested in the older leaves. The magnesium deficient shows to plants usually by have less than 0.1% Mg in soil.

  • Magnesium deficiency has interveinal chlorosis and that region turns yellow.

  • In tomato plant when magnesium deficiency occurs, it leads to purpling of the affected area in leaf.

  • Magnesium leads to defoliation of lower leaves and it loses its green colour except in the veins it appears yellow or reddish-purple and mid remains are green

  • Magnesium not only reduces yield, but it can stress the plants too.

  • Wheat crop shows magnesium deficiency in leaves as yellowish-green patches, leaves can curl and have a reddish colour.

  • When Mg concentration is reduced then wheat forage occurs, and it leads to grass tetany in animals (which mean low blood serum).

Nutrient Deficiency of Molybdenum

Molybdenum is the mobile nutrient and visual deficiency symptoms will see in the older leaves and effects can be localized or generalized.

  • In most plants with reticulate venation, the first effect of Mo deficiency appears as chlorotic mottling between the veins.

  • Molybdenum deficiency shows plant light green when it affected and some necrotic spotting on leaves, pale leaves sometimes scorched or rolled.

  • Brassica crops are very susceptible to Mo deficiency, the symptoms developing in 3-4week old plants on an older leaf.

  • Lettuce, spinach, tomato, beetroot and Brassica species especially cauliflower and rapeseed are extremely sensitive to restricted Mo supply. Legumes develop symptoms which resemble N deficiency.

  • Grasses seem to have low Mo requirement.

  • Citrus plants develop ‘yellow spot’ on leaves.

  • Cauliflower exhibits whiptail (leaves get twisted elongated)

  • Cabbage shows cupping on leaves and veins become purple, leaves become necrotic and malformed along the margins.

  • In tomato chlorotic mottling occurs in old leaves roll inwards along the leaf margin.

  • In rice, slight chlorosis between the vein in the middle of the upper and middle leaves and extending across the width.

Nutrient Deficiency of Boron

  • Boron is immobile nutrient it shows its deficiency in younger leaves.

  • Boron deficiency in younger leaves of terminal bud become light green at the base, leaves become twisted and brittle, chlorosis of younger leaves and they die back at the growing point.

  • Boron develops dark brown, an irregular lesion on leaves and leaf necrosis occurs.

  • Boron deficiency develops whitish yellow spots on the base of the leaves.

  • Plants having B concentration in the order of 5 to 30 ppm are suspected to be boron deficient. Critical deficiency range of B varies from 5 to 10 ppm in Gramineae plants and 20 to 70 ppm in dicotyledons.

  • Boron deficiency symptoms are found mostly on the terminal buds or the youngest leaves, which become discoloured and may die under acute deficiency.

  • It makes internodes become shorter and give the appearance of a bush or rosette with stunned growth because it accumulates reproductive tissues, flower bud fails to farm.

  • Boron deficiencies increase the diameter of stem and petiole gives rise to the typical cracked stem of celery.

  • Specific names given to B deficiency in different crops are Heart rot of sugar beet, in tobacco top sickness and internal cork in apple.

  • Boron deficiency makes stem and leaves brittle, distorted at leaf ends and it tends to curl.

Nutrient Deficiency of Chlorine

  • Chlorine is a mobile nutrient and it shows its symptoms on older leaves.

  • Chlorine does not show interveinal chlorosis; it shows distinct chlorotic and necrotic lesions with the abrupt boundary between dead and live tissues.

  • Cl as symptoms were misdiagnosed as physiological leaf spot.

  • Tomato leaves show chlorotic mottling, bronzing and cause necrotic lesions.

  • Chlorine deficiencies show wilting of leaves at margins.

  • Excess chloride will increase the osmotic pressure of soil water and lower the water availability to crops. Some plants are sensitive to chloride and develop leaf burn symptoms when chloride concentration reaches about 0.5%. leaves of tobacco and tomatoes thicken and begin to roll due to excess chloride.

  • The other toxicity symptoms include a reduction in the number and size of leaves, burning or firing and scorching of the leaf tips or margins, bronzing, premature yellowing and abscission of leaves. Sometimes growth reduction may occur without any leaf symptom.

  • High concentration of Cl- in the soil is due to the high amount of chloride in irrigation water. Inadequate leaching of salts from the root zone of the plant and inadequate permeability and drainage of the land.

Nutrient Deficiency of Zinc

  • Zn is immobile nutrient it shows its symptoms on middle leaves with interveinal chlorosis and has stunned growth.

  • Zn deficiency symptoms have wide variation in different plant species most common symptoms are chlorosis between the veins, reduction in the size of the young leaves, clustered leaves, bronzing, purple, violet, reddish-brown or brown colouration of the foliage.

  • Zinc deficiency shows interveinal chlorosis at margins and midrib, mottling may occur.

  • It generally exhibits severe stunning; flowering and seed set is also low in affected plants.

  • Khaira disease of rice: The first symptom of zinc deficiency appears in 3 - 4-week-old seedlings when the young leaves develop reddish-brown pigmentation. The pigmentation first appears in the middle of the leaves, then intensifies and spreads over the entire lamina. The affected tissue becomes papery and necrotic and under conditions of severe deficiency, the entire mass of leaves collapses and further growth of the plant is arrested.

  • White bud of maize: Soon after the emergence of seedlings, areas between the veins of old leaves become light yellow and develop white necrotic spots, which later develop dark brown necrotic areas that enlarge and coalesce, resulting in the necrosis (death of the entire leaf).

  • Mottle leaf or Frenching of citrus.

  • Reduced leaf size and shortening of internodes in brinjal and mango called as a little leaf.

Nutrient Deficiency of Iron

  • Iron is an immobile nutrient and it shows its symptoms on younger leaves and it is a major nutritional disorder for crops.

  • Iron availability to plants is reduced by a high concentration of phosphorus and also by precipitation of iron at high pH.

  • There are a number of disorders which infect plant by iron deficiency such as toxicities of manganese or zinc or calcium, impair root functions.

  • It has been established that Fe2+ content of the plant rather than total Fe content resolves Fe deficiency.

  • Deficiency of Fe shows interveinal chlorosis appearing first on the younger leaves with leaf margins and veins remaining green.

  • In later stage burning of the chlorotic leaves start from the tips and margin, spread inwards of leaf in plants.

  • Leaves with large necrotic areas fall off and twigs defoliate so plants become unhealthy.

  • In mild cases, the mottled pattern may be seen with primary and secondary veins retaining their green colour.

  • In gramineous crops, chlorosis consists of alternate strips with green veins and yellow interveinal tissues.

  • Under conditions of severe deficiency, growth cessation occurs with the whole plant turning necrotic.

Nutrient Deficiency of Manganese

  • Mn deficient occurs in plants that contain less than 25 ppm Mn.

  • Mn Deficiency symptoms are more severe on middle leaves than on the younger ones of the plant because Mn is preferentially translocated to the younger tissues. Mn is immobile nutrient so it shows its symptoms on younger leaves.

  • Interveinal chlorosis in dicotyledons is characterized by the appearance of chlorotic and necrotic spots in the interveinal areas.

  • In monocotyledonous plants like cereals, Mn deficiency symptoms appear as greenish-grey spots, fleeks and stripes more on the basal leaves (Grey speck).

  • Chlorotic leaf areas soon become necrotic and turn red, reddish-brown or brown in that region.

  • Symptoms of Mn deficiency are popularly known as Grey speck of Oats, on sugar beet, it shows Speckled yellow, in tung grass Frenching occurs, in sugarcane pahala blight occurs, Marsh spot of peas

Nutrient Deficiency of Copper

Copper is immobile nutrient it occurs in newer leaves of the plant. Symptoms occur in the crop depending on the crop and shows cupping and slightly chlorosis in the whole leaf or in between veins of the leaves.

  • Plants having a copper content of less than 5 ppm are regarded as Cu deficient in plants.

  • Copper deficiency shows symptoms in male flowers sterility and delayed flowering and senescence are the most important effects of Cu deficiency.

  • Chlorosis of the younger shoot tissue, white tips, reclamation disease, necrosis, leaf distortion and dieback are characteristics of Cu deficiency.

  • Copper shows deficiency in apical meristem causes necrosis results in elongation of the shoot in cereals and auxiliary shoots in dicots.

  • The shoot apex may cease to plant grow and results in the development of several auxiliary buds in the plant.

  • In cereals copper symptoms appear as bleaching and withering of young leaves and causes the plant to yield low.

  • Exanthema and dieback in citrus which manifests as dark brown spots on the leaves, terminal twigs and fruits.

  • Copper shows symptoms in yellowish-brown blotches on the leaf particularly in legumes and it makes tip drying in rice and causes bluish-green leaf tips symptoms in rice plant and causes empty glumes in wheat.

Nutrient Deficiency of Cobalt

  • Cobalt is a trace element in the plant because it is not been more essential for plant growth.

  • Cobalt deficiency may lead to a reduction in seed germination in drought conditions and reduced plant growth.

  • In legumes, cobalt deficiency may result in symptoms of nitrogen deficiency.

  • It also plays an important role in the production of growth hormone-like ethylene in plants.

  • High levels of cobalt can result in iron deficiency in the plant, so symptoms are often those of iron deficiency.

  • Cobalt can also produce its own toxicity symptom, and these include loss of leaves from a plant, pale coloured leaves, and discoloured veins.

Nutrient Deficiency of Silica

  • Silicon is one of the most relevant macroelement’s and it is an essential element and immobile nutrient so it shows its symptoms on newer leaves.

  • Silicon deficiency in plants causes the easy attack to diseases, pathogens and stress.

  • Silicon deficiency causes physical stress such as drought, high temperature and chemical stress such as salinity, metal toxicity.

  • Silicon deficiency causes freckling, a necrotic leaf condition as a symptom of low Si in sugarcane receiving direct sunlight due to Ultraviolet radiation.


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