Nutrient Deficiency Symptoms
NDSU Extension Soil Scientist
HTML Editors: Jochum
Wiersma & Tracy
The preferred way to handle
nutrient deficiencies is to identify
annual crop needs with soil testing, perennial
crop needs with plant analysis, and
to correct the deficiencies before the crop is
established or deficiency
symptoms appear. However, soils are very variable in nutrient levels. Portions
of fields low in a certain nutrient may not
show up in a normal composite soil sample. The chemistry of some nutrients,
such as iron and manganese, is very complex and
difficult to predict
with a simple soil test. Thus, deficiencies of
some nutrients can sometimes appear even with a good
soil testing program. Certain nutrient problems are sometimes so rare that
regular soil analysis requests do not include
testing for those nutrients. Nutrient deficiency
symptoms are often the first clues to a nutrient problem within a field.
Plants which are under stress show unusual
growth patterns or coloration. These visual symptoms are called
deficiency symptoms. Deficiency symptoms can
sometimes be confused with other complex field
events, such as high water tables, salt damage,
herbicide stress and
Deficiencies can also be so slight that they are confused
with other problems. If more than one deficiency
is present, one can be more dominant in its
symptoms, obscuring the symptoms of the other element.
Terminology of nutrient deficiencies
General yellowing of the leaf tissue. A very common
deficiency symptom, since many nutrients
affect the photosynthesis process directly or
Some deficiencies lower the amount of
photosynthesis and chlorophyll which is produced
by the plant. Other colored compounds
can then become dominant. When normal nutrient
sinks are not available, the plants can store up excess sugars within other
compounds which have distinct
colors of red, purple, or sometimes brown. The
absence of chlorophyll altogether causes the plant to turn white.
Yellowing, followed by rapid
death of lower leaves, moving up the plant and
giving the same appearance as if someone touched
the bottom of the plants
Yellowing in between leaf veins, but with the veins
themselves remaining green. In grasses, this is called
Severe deficiencies result in death
of the entire plant or parts of the plant first affected
by the deficiency. The plant tissue browns and
dies. This is called
necrosis. The tissue which has already died
on a still living plant is called necrotic
Many deficiencies result in decreased
growth. This can result in shorter height of the affected
Functions of the 13 soil supplied
An essential component
of amino acids, and therefore all proteins. An essential
component of nucleic acids, and therefore needed for all cell division and reproduction. Enzymes are
specialized proteins, and serve to lower energy requirements to perform many tasks inside plants. Nitrogen is contained in all enzymes essential for all plant functions.
A component of the
compound within plants which supply the energy to grow and maintain the plant. Part of cell membranes, the structures which selectively keep out
unneeded compounds and allow in those compounds which are needed for the plant cells to
function correctly. A part of DNA and its relatives. Needed for cell division and for reproduction.
enzymes. It regulates stomate opening, which
in turn regulates air flow into the leaf and transpiration of water out of the leaf. it acts to balance charge between negatively and positively charged ions within plant cells. It regulates turgor pressure, which helps protect plant cells from disease invasion. In certain plants, potassium
can be replaced by sodium.
Sulfur is a part of certain amino acids and all proteins. It acts as an enzyme activator and coenzyme (compound which is
not part of all enzyme, but is needed in close coordination with the enzyme for certain specialized functions to operate correctly). It is a part of the flavor compounds in mustard and onion
Calcium is a part of cell walls and regulates cell wall construction. Cell walls give plant cells their
structural strength. Enhances uptake of negatively charged ions such as nitrate, sulfate,
borate and molybdate. It balances charge from organic an ions produced through metabolism by the plant. Some enzymes are
regulated by Ca-calmodulin.
Magnesium is the central element within
the chlorophyll molecule. It is an important cofactor the production of ATP, the compound which is the energy transfer tool for the
Boron is important in sugar transport
within the plant. It has a role in cell division, and is required for the production of certain amino acids, although it is not a part of any amino acid.
Molybdenum is needed for the reduction of absorbed nitrates into ammonia prior to incorporation into
an amino acid. It performs this function as a part of the enzyme
nitrate reductase. In addition to direct plant functions, molybdenum is also essential for nitrogen fixation by nitrogen-fixing bacteria
in legumes. Responses of legumes to Molybdenum application are mainly due to the need by these symbiotic bacteria.
Iron is a component of the many enzymes and light energy transferring compounds involved in photosynthesis.
Zinc is a component of many enzymes. It is
essential for plant hormone balance, especially auxin
Manganese is a cofactor in many plant
reactions. It is essential for chloroplast production.
Copper is a component of enzymes involved with photosynthesis.
Plants use chlorine as chloride ion. Chloride is useful as a charge balancing ion and for turgor regulation, keeping plant cells
more free of infection by disease
organisms. It is essential for photosynthesis.
of plant nutrients
Plant nutrients which can move from
places where they are stored to
places where they are needed are
called plant mobile. Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are always plant mobile nutrients. Deficiencies are
noticeable first on older tissue. Plant immobile element deficiencies are noticeable first on younger tissue. Calcium and boron are always plant immobile nutrients. Sulfur, chloride, copper, zinc, manganese, iron and molybdenum are intermediate in plant mobility. Under certain circumstances the intermediate elements are mobile. Mobility in intermediate elements may be linked to the breakdown under low nitrogen conditions
of amino acids and proteins in older parts of the plant, and the mobility of these organic compounds to younger parts of the plant in the phloem stream. Under good nitrogen availability, these elements are mostly
of plant nutrient deficiency keys
Use of this plant nutrient deficiency key should be
as the first step toward understanding deficiency symptoms in the field secondly as an educational tool to be used in conjunction with soil testing and plant analysis. Environmental stress such as drought, wet conditions, disease, heat and agchemical interactions can easily be
misinterpreted as deficiency symptoms. Photographs of nutrient deficiencies are useful in diagnosis, but field
experience and a knowledge of field history based on local experience is the best diagnostic aid.
Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers