Historic note
 Title Page

Group Title: Circular - University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences ; 435
Title: Plant nutrient deficiency symptoms
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00067095/00001
 Material Information
Title: Plant nutrient deficiency symptoms
Series Title: Circular
Physical Description: 9, 1 p. : ; 23 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Street, Jimmy J ( Jimmy Joe ), 1945-
Gammon, Nathan
Florida Cooperative Extension Service
Publisher: Florida Cooperative Extension Service
Place of Publication: Gainesville Fla
Publication Date: 197-
Subject: Plant diseases -- Nutritional aspects   ( lcsh )
Soil fertility -- Florida   ( lcsh )
Genre: government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Statement of Responsibility: Jimmy J. Street and Nathan Gammon.
General Note: Cover title.
General Note: "1-3M-78"--P. 10.
Funding: Circular (Florida Cooperative Extension Service) ;
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00067095
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 20536118

Table of Contents
    Historic note
        Historic note
    Title Page
        Title Page
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
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        Page 9
        Page 10
Full Text


The publications in this collection do
not reflect current scientific knowledge
or recommendations. These texts
represent the historic publishing
record of the Institute for Food and
Agricultural Sciences and should be
used only to trace the historic work of
the Institute and its staff. Current IFAS
research may be found on the
Electronic Data Information Source

site maintained by the Florida
Cooperative Extension Service.

Copyright 2005, Board of Trustees, University
of Florida

Circular 435




Jimmy J. Street and Nathan Gammon*
"Extension Soils Specialist and Professor of Soil Chemistry, Respectively.

Florida Cooperative Extension Service
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
University of Florida, Gainesville
John T. Woeste, Dean for Extension

Jimmy J. Street and Nathan Gammon*
There are 16 elements that are known to be required for plant
growth and development. Three of these, carbon (C), hydrogen
(H), and oxygen (0), are obtained directly from air and water.
The remaining 13 elements are normally considered to be sup-
plied by the soil; they include nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potas-
sium (K), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), sulfur (S), chlorine (Cl),
copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), manganese (Mn), iron (Fe), boron (B), and
molybdenum (Mo). Legumes (i.e., clover, peanuts, soybeans,
etc.) are not wholly dependent upon soil N but may indirectly
obtain their N from the air through the help of microscopic or-
ganisms that live on the legume roots and utilize nutrients sup-
plied by the legume to convert N in the air into forms that can
be utilized by the plant. The 13 elements that plants obtain from
the soil must be in a slightly soluble form to be taken up by the
plant roots. If they are present in a totally insoluble form, they
are unavailable to plant roots. Each of these elements has a
specific function in plant growth and development. (For discus-
sion of these functions see Extension Service publication "Soil
Science Fact Sheet SL-8.")
If one or more of the 13 mineral nutrients are present in the
soil in excessive amounts, then a toxicity or nutrient imbalance
can occur and the plant growth or quality may be reduced. On
the other hand, if one or more of the essential elements are in
short supply, then a deficiency can result and plant growth and/or
quality may be reduced. Good soil management practices will re-
sult in fertilizer use that will prevent nutrient deficiencies and
toxicities, provide optimum economic yields, and minimize poten-
tially polluting residuals. For information on good soil manage-
ment practices contact your local county extension office or the
extension soils specialist at the University of Florida.
To assist you in diagnosing plant nutrient problems the follow-
ing discussion of nutrient deficiency symptoms has been com-
piled. Remember that plant nutrition problems can be very
complex and may require the assistance of a crop specialist.
Oftentimes, if there is a nutrient shortage, a crop may not ex-
hibit visual deficiency symptoms (acute), but may show from
10 15% reduction in yield (chronic). In order for a crop to
reach its full genetic potential, i.e., top yield, there must be an
adequate supply of all the essential nutrients. In many cases
knowledge of soil conditions and visual symptoms of abnormal
plant growth will help identify the cause of a problem. However,
symptoms vary with the age of the plant and between species and
*Extension Soils Specialist and Professor of Soil Chemistry, Respectively.

positive identification of a problem often requires laboratory an-
alysis of the plant and/or the soil.

Most Florida soils, except for those very high in organic matter
such as peats and mucks, do not supply N fast enough to meet
the growth requirements for non-leguminous crops. Plants low
in N grow slowly and may have a pale yellow (chlorotic) appear-
ance, especially on the lower (oldest) leaves. When the deficiency
becomes acute in corn, the tips of the leaves become yellow and
the yellow progressively moves towards the base of the leaf along
the midrib giving an inverted 'V' appearance as the yellow in-
vades formerly green areas. As the condition worsens these
leaves gradually die back from the tip, a condition generally called
"firing." The symptoms on broadleaved plants are similar, but
the development of a yellow 'V' along the major veins may be
Most Florida soils were originally deficient in P for economic
crop production. A few exceptions can be found where soils have
developed on phosphatic mineral deposits. In general, sandy
loam soils in the Florida Panhandle contain more iron and alumi-
num compounds which render P insoluble and hence require more
P fertilizer than the sands. Citrus groves and old vegetable lands
that once were P deficient may now contain surplus quantities of
P from repeated applications of fertilizer.
Acute P deficiency symptoms are relatively rare, but like N,
visual signs of too little phosphorus occur first in the lower
(older) leaves. Severely deficient plants may have a dark bluish-
green color with some tints of bronze or purple caused by an ac-
cumulation of purple pigments; however, this symptom may not
always be visible. Other abnormalities in plants may be thin
stalks, small leaves, limited lateral growth, delayed maturity, pre-
mature defoliation, poor quality and quantity of seed yield, and
coarse textured or spongy fruit. A low P supply may limit the
development of the root system and hence severely reduce pro-
duction of root crops.
The K reserves in Florida soils are very low and only small
quantities of K are retained in surface soils. Hence K fertiliza-
tion on an annual basis is essential for production of economic
Visual symptoms of K deficiency appear first on the oldest

leaves. Corn and grain sorghum develop typical symptoms in
that chlorosis or bronzing develops at the tip of the leaf and
gradually progresses along the edges to the base of the leaf. The
tissues die and dry out shortly after the chlorosis appears. The
K deficiency can readily be distinguished from N deficiency, since
it begins at the leaf edge and gradually works to the center, hence
the midrib area in K deficiency is the last part of the leaf to
In clover and alfalfa, white spots develop on the leaf margins
as early symptoms; as the deficiency progresses these will en-
large and the edges of the leaves will die (scorch). In other
plants small interveinal spots of dead tissue develop first, but the
most common condition is the dead tissue at the edge of the leaf
that subsequently causes the leaf to develop a torn and ragged
Other symptoms may be slow growth, weak stalks that lodge
easily, long slender stems, collapse of petioles, death of terminal
and lateral buds, failure of ears or heads to fill, resulting in poor
yields of low quality grain, and low yields of small misshapen

Most Florida soils are acid and require lime or dolomite to ad-
just the acidity (pH) to a higher level for optimum crop growth.
When this is done, visual symptoms of Ca deficiency are rarely
observed. However, Florida soils even in optimum pH ranges
contain relatively small quantities of Ca, hence fertilization with
K and/or Mg or the presence of large quantities of sodium (Na)
in the irrigation water may temporarily limit the supply of Ca
taken up by the roots.
Calcium is a relatively immobile element within a plant. It
does not easily redistribute in a plant subject to stress from
shortages. It does not move from old leaves to new. Hence a
continuous supply of Ca is essential. Also, seeds contain too little
Ca to supply plants beyond emergence.
Black heart in celery, tipburn in lettuce and cabbage, blossom
end rot in peppers and tomatoes, carrot cavity, and fading of
chlorophyll along the edges of citrus leaves, followed by early leaf
drop, are examples of Ca deficiency that have been observed in
Florida. Bitter pith or cork spot in apples, wilt of new growth,
death of terminal buds and root systems that exhibit poor de-
velopment and even rot are other symptoms associated with low
or unavailable Ca supplies.

Although Florida soils have relatively low Mg supplies, the
virgin soils were proportionately better supplied with Mg than
with Ca, particularly for those soils with fairly generous supplies
of organic matter. Continuous cultivation has destroyed much
of the organic matter and the Mg reserves have been lost. Mag-
nesium levels in the soil today are being maintained by use of
dolomite lime and, when necessary, supplemental soluble mag-
nesium fertilizers.
Deficiency symptoms of Mg occur in older leaves because the
nutrient is relatively mobile in the plant. When in short supply,
the Mg will move from the older leaves to the actively growing
new leaves. Inadequate liming or excessive K or Ca supplies will
depress Mg uptake. In corn, the symptoms first appear as inter-
veinal chlorosis in the older leaves. Symptoms often appear
early in the season in cold wet soils and may disappear as the soil
warms up and dries. Severe deficiency may cause stunting.
In celery, chlorosis starts on the tips of the older leaves and
progresses around the leaf margins (edges) and inward between
the veins. Magnesium deficiency is a common disorder in green-
house tomatoes. The oldest leaves are first to show symptoms of
chlorosis. The veins remain green while the interveinal tissues
become yellow, then brown, causing the leaves to become very
In oats and wheat, the older leaves show a distinctive "chain-
like" yellow streaking. In potatoes, the loss of green color begins
at the tips and margins of the older leaves and progresses be-
tween the veins toward the center of the leaflets. The leaves be-
come brown and very brittle during the advanced stages of the
In citrus there is a gradual chlorosis starting on the tips of the
older leaves but the leaf veins are the last to lose their green
color. In grapefruit, leaves adjacent to the fruit may be the first
to become chlorotic. Chlorotic leaves will gradually shed so that
in acute cases a long twig may be devoid of leaves but still retain
the fruit. The pecan occasionally exhibits Mg deficiency on the
older leaves. The symptoms usually develop in July and August
when the nuts are developing rapidly. Low organic matter (sand
soak) soil areas are frequently associated with the appearance of
Mg deficiency symptoms.

When soil temperatures are warm enough to favor organic
matter decomposition, there is usually enough soil S to satisfy

plant requirements. Hence when S is not supplied in the fertilizer
S deficiency may be expected to develop in cool weather or on soils
with a low organic matter supply.
Sulfur deficient leaves become uniformly chlorotic, i.e., chloro-
sis is not noticeably interveinal. Plants have a light green color
which resembles the early stages of N deficiency. However,
young leaves are usually affected before older leaves and de-
ficiency symptoms are more severe in young leaves although all
leaves may become chlorotic. Orange, red, or purple pigments
may appear. Leaves and plants are stunted.

This element was added to the list of essential elements in
1954. It is not likely to be a problem in Florida since the 'salt
air' from the ocean or gulf will usually provide the trace of Cl in
rainwater necessary for plant growth. The general use of muri-
ate of potash (KC1) in fertilizers is another common source of Cl.
Deficiency symptoms are rare but have been associated with a
slight thickening and embrittling of tobacco leaves and an inter-
veinal chlorosis on the blades of the younger leaves of sugar beets.
This is similar to Mn deficiency, but in more advanced stages flat
depressions form in the interveinal areas so that the veins have
a distinct raised appearance which will distinguish Cl from Mn
or Fe deficiency.

When the peat soils of the Florida Everglades were first
drained, no crop production was possible until these soils had been
adequately supplied with Cu. Many of the sandy soils are also
inadequately supplied with Cu. Acute deficiency symptoms are
relatively rare since Cu may be supplied as an impurity in P
fertilizer. Some Cu fertilizers have been employed directly and
some spray materials such as Bordeaux mixture contain Cu.
Mild Cu deficiency may appear as slightly smaller or unusually
dark green leaves. In many plants it appears as wilting and
eventual death of leaf tips. In grain and Pangolgrass, the leaves
are yellowish in color and the leaf tips show a disorder similar to
frost damage. Carrot roots, wheat grain and onion bulbs show
poor pigmentation. Normal plants contain 4 to 20 ppm Cu while
deficient plants usually contain less than 6 ppm. In each ton of
dry hay the plant material contains about 0.022 pounds of copper.
The Zn supply in most Florida soils is relatively low. Sands

low in organic matter are most likely to develop Zn deficiency,
however, some peats and mucks are also deficient. High soil pH
(as in overliminfg) will further reduce Zn availability.
Plants that do not get enough Zn are stunted and have thick-
ened leaves. Internodes on stems are shorter than normal. Chloro-
tic zones on leaves usually develop between veins. In corn the
youngest developing leaves may be completely lacking in chloro-
phyll (i.e., the "white bud" of corn that was once common in Flor-
ida corn fields). With some crops Zn deficient leaves may be
smaller than normal. Deficiency symptoms of Zn may resemble
those of magnesium (Mg), manganese (Mn), or iron (Fe). Zinc
deficiency occurs together with that of Mn on several crops.
Under such circumstances, the tissue in nodes may be off color.
Leaves are abnormally small but thickened. In fruit and nut
trees, small leaves, "little leaf," and short internodes are common.
The internodes are so shortened that the leaves appear to all be
coming from one point on the stem, hence the term "rosette" is
commonly used. Interveinal mottling is common and these areas
may become necrotic. Leaf margins may be distorted into a
wavy, twisted, or corrugated outline. There may be poor fruit
set as well as small size and poor quality. The pecan may not
exhibit any easily recognized symptoms until July or August dur-
ing the nut filling period when part or the entire tree will develop
a strong bronze cast. Depending on the severity, twig or large
branches may die back the following winter.

The red and yellow acid soils of the Florida Panhandle are in-
herently high in Mn and Mn toxicity may develop in these soils
if the acidity is not controlled. However, the sandy soils of the
peninsula and some of the organic soils are Mn deficient. As in
the case of Cu many of the cultivated soils have been supplied
with Mn either intentionally or unintentionally. This element is
one of the most sensitive to changes in soil pH and Mn deficiency
symptoms are among the first to be identified following overliming
of the soil.
Visual Mn deficiency symptoms are often difficult to correctly
identify because they are very similar to those for Fe and on some
crops are somewhat similar to those for Mg. However, Mn de-
ficiency symptoms occur on the younger leaves rather than the
older leaves as is the case for Mg deficiency symptoms.
Symptoms on soybeans, field beans and celery are similar in
that leaves are mottled. Leaf veins are much darker green than
the interveinal tissue. On small grains and corn, the leaves are

likely to be striped. Oats are an excellent indicator crop because
gray specks frequently appear a short distance back from the leaf
tip. With time, a zone across the entire leaf eventually develops
which causes the end of the leaf to hang rather than to be in a
natural upright position. The foliage of most Mn-deficient grains
is light yellow and has soft, limber stems.
Leaf size is occasionally reduced when the symptoms are so
severe that dead tissue develops before the leaves are fully ex-
panded. In the pecan, a misshapen leaflet caused by a shortening
of the midrib and generally called "mouse ear" is attributed to a
low Mn supply during the period of bud development.

Although the supply of iron is low it is usually adequate in
most Florida soils. Deficiencies do arise from time to time from
excessive lime applications, particularly when acid adapted orna-
mental plants are placed in excessively limed soil near a building
foundation. Excessive quantities of Cu and/or Mn in the soil
may also limit Fe uptake. When root development is restricted
by nematodes, diseases, excess water, adverse temperatures, or
excessive N fertilization, Fe deficiency symptoms may develop.
These symptoms show up first in terminal leaves as a light yel-
lowing. The symptoms are very similar to Mn deficiency. A lack
of Fe in field and vegetable crops is not common in soils with a
pH below 7.0.
Lawns and particularly putting greens on golf courses some-
times show a lack of Fe because of high pH, high P levels, and
high N fertilization.
Iron deficiency appears in many woody plants when they are
grown in soils low in organic matter and high in pH. Incorpora-
tion of organic materials such as manure or acid peat will help
increase the availability of the iron.
Potting or seedbed mixtures of sphagnum peat moss, and sand,
perlite and/or vermiculite are usually inadequately supplied with
Fe and it is generally necessary to add Fe fertilizers for the pro-
duction of petunias, snapdragons, tomatoes and other bedding

This element is in relatively short supply in Florida soils. Fur-
thermore, it is easily lost from the soil by leaching rains, hence,
if a deficiency is observed, small quantities may need to be sup-
plied by fairly frequent fertilization.

Mild deficiency of B may not be observed until harvest when it
will be observed that a crop such as clover has simply failed to set
seed. In other plants there may be a die back of tip growth or
terminal buds and excessive sprouting of secondary buds.
In more severe B deficiencies there may be a degeneration of
meristematic tissue associated with a restriction in terminal
growth; thickened, wilted or curled leaves; a thickened, cracked
or watersoaked condition of petioles and stems, and a discolora-
tion, cracking or rotting of fruit, tubers or roots.
Cracked stem of celery, brown heart of table beets and turnips,
hollow stem. of cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli, as well as gum
spots in the rind, and excessive fruit drop of citrus are among
the B deficiency symptoms observed in Florida.
Although the Mo supplies in most Florida soils appear to be
low, adjusting the soil pH to the range 5.5 to 6.5 will often release
adequate Mo from the soil for plant growth. On the other hand,
potentially toxic quantities of Mo have accumulated in some peat
and muck soils and it is necessary to keep such soils used for
pastures at pH levels below 5.0 in order to avoid levels of Mo in
the herbage that would be toxic to cattle.
Since Mo is involved with N transformation within the plant,
many Mo deficient plants exhibit symptoms similar to those of N
deficiency. However, in mature citrus leaves the chlorophyll
gradually disappears into large interveinal spots with yellow or
orange halos, while brown gummy spots appear on the lower sur-
face of the leaf. Even more spectacular is the "whiptail" of
cauliflower and broccoli in which the leaves become very ragged
and crinkled, then, as the conditions worsen, the youngest leaves
are reduced to little more than midribs with a small quantity of
crinkled leafy material attached to them in irregular locations.
Another condition known as "strap leaf," in which normally
broad leaves are much narrowed and the usual outward extend-
ing veins of the leaf tend to parallel the midrib, has been identi-
fied as a Mo deficiency symptom. This condition has been ob-
served on hibiscus, dieffenbachia, and other ornamentals usually
growing in very acid soils.

General Comments
It is necessary to caution the reader that since different plant
species have different nutritional requirements, the symptoms
described here may not always appear. Sometimes a plant species
may just fade away because it can no longer compete for the

small nutrient supply. For example, in a field of grasses and
legumes, if potash is deficient in the soil, the legume will be forced
out. This may happen even though no obvious deficiency symp-
toms ever appear in the legume plants. Solid plantings of most
legumes require high potassium levels to maintain a satisfactory

Correction of Deficiencies
Visual symptoms of nutrient deficiencies are only one of the
tools used by the plant and soil scientist to assist him in diagno-
sing plant growth and production problems. From the preceding
descriptions, the reader can determine that visual symptoms are
not always specific, but they may help narrow the possible causes
of the disorder. Seldom is the case when fertility management
practices will be based solely on visual examination of an un-
healthy plant or low yielding crop. Soil testing and plant testing
serve as valuable aids in solving plant nutrition problems. Soil
tests and/or tissue tests make diagnosis a lot simpler by elimi-
nating certain nutrients that are present in adequate amounts or
revealing that a certain nutrient is extremely low. The use of
these tests help when nutrient interactions in the soil and plant
cause complex nutrient disorders.
The stage of development of the crop when deficiency occurs,
and the severity of the deficiency and its duration, are important
factors to consider when deciding whether to correct the de-
ficiency in the current crop or in the following crop. Crops found
deficient early in the season can often benefit from additional
fertilizer the same year. The micronutrients are best applied in
a spray program if a quick recovery is needed. If correction is
not possible in the present, crop adjustments should be made so
that missing elements are applied early for the following crop.
In essence each crop tells a nutritional story, which is revealed
to the grower by crop yields, visual symptoms, and soil and tissue
tests. As the story unfolds, the grower may make improvements
in the fertilizer program long before nutrient deficiencies result in
serious loss of crop yield or quality. Once the nutritional status
of the crop is found to be adequate, the fertilizer program is not
changed except where economic and conservation factors may
warrant further adjustment.
The grower is cautioned that repeated applications of Cu, Zn,
Mn, or Mo may result in accumulation of these elements to levels
in the soil easily toxic to plants or animals, hence reapplication of
these elements is not recommended once the deficiency problem
is overcome.


This publication was printed at a cost of $353.80 or $.12
per copy to inform Florida growers about nutrient defi-
ciency symptoms.

Single copies are free to residents of Florida and may be obtained
from the County Extension Office. Bulk rates are available upon
request. Please submit details of the request to C.M. Hinton, Publi-
cation Distribution Center, IFAS Building 664, University of
Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611.

(Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914)
Cooperative Extension Service, IFAS, University of Florida
and United States Department of Agriculture, Cooperating
K. R. Tefertiller, Director


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