Plants, much like humans, need a certain mix of nutrients to grow healthy and strong. Elements like nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, sulfur, and magnesium are considered macronutrients. These are needed in large amounts so that plants can perform various tasks including creating essential biological molecules, seed germination, forming healthy roots, flowering, and fruiting.
Plants also need micronutrients such as boron, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, and zinc in very small amounts. These also play a critical role in the chemical reactions in plants that allow them to grow at their best.
Normally, plants take in these nutrients through their roots. They soak up these crucial compounds and deliver them to the various parts of the plants to be utilized. However, there are times when plants aren’t able to take in nutrition sufficiently from the soil they are grown in. This is called nutrient deficiency. If your plants are looking lackluster despite ample watering and sunlight then you might want to consider looking for signs of a nutrient deficiency.
Nutrient Deficiency at a Glance
Nutrient deficiency happens when garden soils and potting composts lack the necessary nutrient content for plants to absorb and utilize. It can also happen if the soil is too acidic, too alkaline, or is waterlogged which makes it difficult for plants to take up soil nutrients.
What Does Nutrient Deficiency in Plants Look Like?
Similar to malnutrition in humans, plants also exhibit signs and symptoms of nutrient deficiency. There are distinctive patterns that will clue you in on what is happening such as stunted growth and poor flowering or fruiting.
Macronutrients need to be replaced once every growing season. Here are some of the symptoms you need to look out for:
Calcium helps control how the nutrients are transported in your plants. Calcium pectate, which can be found within the middle of the lamella, is what glues the plant cells walls together.
One of the signs of a calcium deficiency is that the new growth of the plant appears distorted or are oddly shaped, along with curled and browning leaves. Calcium deficiency also causes blossom-end rot. To remedy the situation you need to supplement the soil with calcium and gypsum.
However it is important to note that balance is key as excessive calcium may limit the availability of other nutrients in the soil.
Nitrogen helps the plant green up and gives is a lot of leafy growth and helps form stems. It also helps make proteins and amino acids (which includes enzymes) as well as other important biological molecules.
You can be sure that your plant is suffering from a nitrogen deficiency when you see a general yellowing of older leaves (at the bottom of your plants). Yet, the rest of the plant is light green. To remedy this issue you can use a fertilizer that has Use fertilizers ammonium, nitrate, or urea listed in the ingredients. You can also improve the soil by adding manure.
Magnesium is another common nutrient deficiency in plants that often happens because it leaches away from the soil. Having a calcium deficiency will also cause the magnesium to be leeched out of the soil.
You’ll see that older leaves begin turning yellow at their edges and you may see the shape of what looks like a green arrowhead in the middle of the leaf. You can supplement the soil with fertilizer that contains magnesium. Epsom Salt also works well for a magnesium deficiency.
Phosphorus is very important for seed germination and for root growth that is healthy. Phosphorus provides the immediate source of energy in all the plant’s cells. This is especially important for young plants as they are developing their root system
The pH of the soil affects the uptake of phosphorus and doesn’t leech in water. When there isn’t enough phosphorus in the soil, the leaf tips will look as though they are burnt, and you will begin to see older leaves turning a dark green or reddish-purple. Amend the soil with fertilizer that contains bone and phosphate. You can also use green sand.
When you think about nutrient deficiency in plants Potassium is one that comes to mind. Potassium is what causes your plants to flower, fruit and helps their general hardiness and disease resistance. Your plants also need it to control the water uptake in the root system as well as its loss from plants through the stomata in the leaves. It is also needed for photosynthesis and its general respiration. Having enough potassium in the soil is absolutely important for the plant to be able to use nitrogen efficiently.
With a potassium deficiency older leaves may wilt, and look scorched. Interveinal chlorosis also will begin at the base scorching inward from leaf edges. Potassium deficiency is rare but if you do encounter it you can replenish it with a fertilizer that contains potassium or potash.
Sulfur atoms are needed to make some amino acids and vitamins. Ina sulfur deficiency you will see younger leaves turn yellow first, sometimes followed by the older leaves. Use a fertilizer that contains sulfate. But, keep in mind that the sulfur may actually acidify the soil. Remember it’s all a balance.
Micronutrients need to be replenished whenever you notice these symptoms:
Boron is needed for healthy plant cells forming. It is important for flowering.
Boron deficiency symptoms include the terminal buds dying and witches’ brooms forming. Amend the soil with fertilizer that contains borate or borax.
Copper is important for photosynthesis as well as many of the enzyme processes. Without a sufficient supply of copper, leaves will appear dark green yet the plants will become stunted. This is rare in certain areas. If you notice deficiency symptoms, apply a fertilizer that contains cuprous , copper, or cupric.
Iron affects photosynthesis and some enzyme processes.
You’ll see an iron deficiency manifest as yellowing occurs between the veins of the younger leaves. When you notice this, look for a fertilizer that contains iron chelate.
Manganese activates important enzymes that work in chlorophyll forming and is necessary to build chloroplasts. It is also a cofactor for enzymes in the plant’s respiration.
Much like an iron deficiency, yellowing occurs between the veins of young leaves. However, this pattern is not as distinct as it is with iron. Use a fertilizer with manganese or manganous. It is also a good time for a zinc application.
Molybdenum is needed for some of the plant’s enzyme processes that lead to the synthesis of amino acids using nitrates. You’ll begin to see a general yellowing of older the leaves (found on the bottom of plant). The remainder of the plant is often light green. In legumes, molybdenum deficiency can appear like it’s actually a nitrogen deficiency. Use a fertilizer with molybdic or molybdate to remedy this issue.
Zinc activates many enzymes in your plants. It also has plays a key role in your plant’s genetic code. A zinc nutrient deficiency in plants appears as a yellowing between the veins of the new leaves and leaves may be rosetted. For this deficiency you need to apply a fertilizer that contains zinc.
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