Nutrient Deficiencies

Almond Flowers 2-2

A pictorial guide to nutrient deficiencies in fruit trees and vegetables

The taste of tree-ripened nutrient-dense fruit is one of the many joys in my life. I love a flavorful apple at the peak of ripeness, the sweetness of a juicy custard-textured persimmon, a glass of vibrant orange juice. Picking ripe wild blackberries was a late summer ritual in western Oregon where I grew up. Now I have a new ritual; every year I plant fruit trees.

Fruit trees and citrus are an excellent indicator of topsoil and subsoil deficiencies. Since we are growing in sandy, low CEC soil here at Rancho Reinheimer, I have become a connoisseur of mineral deficiency descriptions and photos, searching for the “silver bullet” that will cause my trees to look like those in the nearby commercial orchards. It is this futile search for the “silver bullet” that originally led me to the use of soil testing and mineral balancing, but that’s a different story.

The long and the short of it is, deficiencies can and do show up in similar ways for different types of plants. They are an interesting indicator of how minerals move or don’t move in the plant and of mineral interactions. The pH of the soil can also affect availability of certain nutrients in the soil and can prevent their uptake in the plant. For example, high pH (>7.5) can block the uptake of iron.

Many of the pictures of nutrient deficient plants shown below have been taken under laboratory conditions, where just one nutrient at a time was withheld. Insect damage or disease symptoms can also look like nutrient deficiencies! Or a plant may suffer from multiple deficiencies, adding to the confusion.

Any diagnosis of a nutrient deficiency should only be made on the basis of a tissue test – a test where leaves or other plant parts are tested for nutrient content (it is best to test a control “healthy” sample at the same time). The instructions for doing a tissue test are on the test labs’ web site.

Table of contents (references at the bottom of the post).
> Nitrogen
> Sulfur
> Phosphorus
> Calcium
> Magnesium
> Potassium
> Manganese
> Iron
> Boron
> Zinc
> Copper

Nitrogen Deficiencies

Old leaves are affected.

Nitrogen is one of the major nutrients needed by plants — it is used to make chlorophyll — and it is one of the most difficult to find organic sources for. A deficiency can result in yellowing of older leaves first as nitrogen is translocated to new growth in the plant. Stunting of growth can also occur. Different types of plants exhibit different symptoms — not all plant turn yellow.  Lower leaves may dry up and die.

corn  

Nitrogen deficient corn on right with normal stand on left

Lemon normal leaf on left  

Nitrogen deficient lemon leaves with normal leaf on left.

nitrogen

Nitrogen deficient tomato leaf on left with normal on right

peach 4

Nitrogen deficient peach leaves on left with normal on right

peach  

Nitrogen deficient peach tree with reddish older leaves.

cabbage  

Nitrogen deficient cabbage showing reddened older leaves.

Return to top

Sulfur Deficiencies

Young leaves are affected.

Sulfur deficiencies look a lot like nitrogen deficiencies however sulfur deficiency affects new growth first because sulfur does not translocate easily in the plant.  Look for chlorosis (yellowing) of the veins without the new shoot tips dying back.
avocado 2  

Sulfur deficiency in avocado leaves

avocado  

Sulfur deficiency in avocado leaves showing new growth yellowing

peach  

Sulfur deficiency in peach

tomato  

Sulfur deficiency in tomato leaves

Return to top

Phosphorus Deficiencies

Old leaves are affected.

Phosphorus deficiency can occur in cool weather. Notice the typical reddish cast of the older leaves on many of the plant types.  The plant is stunted with short and slender stalks.  Older leaves may dry up and die.

apple 

Phosphorus deficiency in apple showing reddening of leaves

corn 2  

Phosphorus deficiency in corn

corn  

Phosphorus deficiency in corn

cucumber p-deficiency-3  

Phosphorus deficiency in cucumber with older leaf yellowing.

guava  

Phosphorus deficiency in guava

peach  

Phosphorus deficiency in peach

Phosphorus deficiency in tomato showing reddened leaf underside.

Return to top

Calcium Deficiencies

Young leaves are affected.  Terminal buds may die.

Calcium aids in cell wall strength in the plant. When deficient it can contribute to blossom end rot in tomatoes and corky spots in apples.  Deficiencies are most common in very acid soils and can be accompanied by aluminum or manganese toxicity in the plant.
apple calcium deficiency is called bitterpit  

Bitter pit in apples is caused by calcium deficiency

apple, bitterpit3  

Calcium deficient apple

cucumber ca-deficiency  

Calcium deficient cucumber leaf showing curling of leaf edge.

peach 2 normal on left necrotic spots in center then dropped  

Normal peach leaf on left. Calcium deficient leaves show necrotic (dead) spots in center before leaves dropped.

peach  

Calcium deficient peach leaves

strawberry-plant-leaves-show-Calcium-deficiency  

Calcium deficient strawberry leaves

tomato fruit  

Blossom end rot in tomatoes is caused by insufficient calcium for the cell walls of the expanding fruit, caused by uneven water supply interrupting the flow of calcium.

tomato leaf

Calcium deficient tomato leaf showing nectrotic (dead) spots near the petiole (the little stem on the leaf)

Tomato  

Blossom end rot on tomatoes

Return to top

Magnesium Deficiencies

Old leaves are affected.  The lower leaves do not dry up but become mottled or yellow.

Magnesium can be deficient in certain soils. As with all deficiencies, it is best to have the results of a soil test and tissue test in hand before treating the symptom. Magnesium is especially hard to get out of the soil once it’s in.

apple cox pippin purple tint and interveinal necrosis  

Magnesium deficient cox pippen apple leaves showing purple tint and necrotic (dead) areas between the veins.

apple

Magnesium deficient apple leaves

avocado  

Magnesium deficient avocado leaves

citrus 2

Magnesium deficient citrus leaves

citrus

Magnesium deficient citrus leaves showing typical “V”

Magnesium deficient tomato leaf showing yellowing between the veins.

Return to top

Potassium Deficiencies

Old leaves are affected. Lower leaves do not dry up and die but become mottled or yellow.

Potassium deficiency is not usually a problem for organic growers who apply composted manure, since manure is a good source of available potassium. Potassium deficiency shows up in the edges of the leaves first.
apple 2 

Potassium deficient apple leaves

apple 3  

Potassium deficient apple leaves

apple  

Potassium deficient apple leaves

citrus

Potassium deficient citrus leaves

corn

Potassium deficient corn

peach 2 normal on right

Potassium deficient peach (normal on right)

black olive

Potassium deficient black olive

peach 4

Potassium deficient peach

peach normal on left

Potassium deficient peach (normal on left)

pear

Potassium deficient pear
tomato fruit

Potassium deficient tomato

Potassium deficient tomato leaves.  The leaf on the right shows a mild deficiency while the leaf on the left shows a more pronounced deficiency.

Return to top

Manganese Deficiencies

Young leaves are affected. The terminal buds remain alive and the new leaves are not wilted.

Manganese deficiency produces a leaf yellowing similar to zinc deficiency where the veins of the leaves remain green while the part between the veins turns yellow.  There may be small necrotic (dead) spots on the leaves.  In extreme cases the leaves take on a greyish purple cast.
cherry

Manganese deficient cherry leaves

citrus

Manganese deficient citrus leaves

pear

Manganese deficient pear leaves

plum

Manganese deficient plum leaves

Manganese deficient tomato leaf.

Return to top

Iron Deficiencies

Young leaves are affected.  The terminal buds do not die back.

Iron deficiency tends to occur in high pH soil, where the pH is higher than 7.0 or in soils that are severely imbalanced. Its symptoms appear as a yellowing of the leaves in a manner similar to zinc or manganese deficiency, usually with green veins remaining.

apple

Iron deficient apple leaves

cherry

Iron deficient cherry leaves

citrus

Iron deficient citrus leaves varying from very deficient on the left to normal on the right

plum 2

Iron deficient plum branch

plum

Iron deficient plum tree

tomato

Iron deficient tomato leaf

Return to top

Boron Deficiencies

Young leaves are affected.  Terminal buds die back.  Young leaves die back from the base.  Leaves may be twisted.

In the mineral world they say that calcium is the trucker (in that it moves all the other minerals) but boron is the truck driver. This is apparent in the pictures of boron deficient fruits and trees. Somewhere along the line the truck has gone off the road, resulting in strange shapes, hollow or hard cores and variable leaves.
Boron is mobile in the soil and subject to leaching.

Strawberry-fruits-show-Boron-deficiency

Boron deficient strawberry

Boron and calcium cucumber

Boron and calcium deficient cucumber

apricot

Boron deficient apricot fruit showing typical striations and cracking.

peach normal on right note rosette and dieback

Boron deficient peach tree. A normal tree is shown on the right. Notice the rosette cluster of leaves at the tip of the branch, and the dieback of leaves on the branch.

citrus

Boron deficient citrus

apple

Boron deficient apples (normal apple on right) showing deformed and stunted growth pattern.

citrus 3

Boron deficient citrus

broccoli_boron_deficiency_0

Boron deficient cauliflower showing typical hollow stem. Boron deficiency can cause hollow stems in all brassicas; cabbage, brocolli, cauliflower.

citrus 2

Boron deficient citrus fruit showing hard centers and thickened asymmetric rinds

Boron deficient tomato leaf.

Return to top

Zinc deficiencies

Young leaves are affected.  Leaf edges do not meet evenly at the base of the leaf where they meet the petiole (the little stem on the leaf).

Zinc is another element that becomes less available at higher pH’s. It can be the limiting factor in tree crops in the drier and more alkaline western US. Zinc deficiency causes a symptom called “little leaf” where new leafs are abnormally small and causes a yellowing of the leaf between the ribs, similar to manganese deficiency but with less smooth edges.

citrus 2

Zinc deficient citrus leaves with new leaves small, narrow and pointing upwards

citrus

Zinc deficient citrus leaf

loquat

Zinc deficient loquat

peach 2

Zinc deficient peach leaves

peach 3

Zinc deficient peach branch (normal branch on left)

peach

Zinc deficient peach branch showing narrow leaves in a rosette similar to boron deficiency.

pear

Zinc deficient pear showing “little leaf”

Extremely zinc deficient tomato leaf showing dead spots between the veins.

Return to top

Copper deficiencies

Young leaves are affected.  Young leaves wilt without yellowing.

Copper compounds are often used in the orchard in organically approved sprays (and in conventional sprays) that are used to control fungal disease. It is immobile in the soil, so if copper sprays have been used in the past, it is worth doing a soil test to determine the amount of copper present. Because of its immobility, copper tends to build up and can reach toxic or at least unbalanced levels. However, some soils are deficient in copper. Before doing a soil application it is worth considering whether copper would not be better applied as a fungal disease preventative spray.

citrus

Copper deficient citrus leaves

peach normal at right

Copper deficient peach leaves. Normal leaf on right.

tomato

Copper deficient tomato leaf

Return to top


Image sources:
Pacific Northwest Extension Publications http://spottedwing.org/system/files/u1473/pnw0121e.pdf
TexasPlantAndSoilLab.com http://asktheplant.com/PDFs/strawberries-plant-nutrition-notes.pdf
The Diagnosis of Mineral Deficiencies in Plants by Visual Symptoms http://customers.hbci.com/~wenonah/min-def/list.htm
A Companion to Plant Physiology, Fifth Edition by Lincoln Taiz and Eduardo Zeiger http://5e.plantphys.net/article.php?id=289
University of Florida Environmental Horticulture http://hort.ufl.edu/database/nutdef/index_element_common.shtml
http://cals.arizona.edu/pubs/crops/az1007/contents.html
Guide to Common Nutrient Deficiency and Herbicide Injury Symptoms in Citrus http://www.clemson.edu/extension/peach/faq/peach_nutrition.html
International Plant Nutrition Institute http://www.ipni.net/article/IPNI-3351
Spectrum Analytic library http://www.spectrumanalytic.com/support/library/pdf/fertilizing_apple_trees.pdf
InsectImages.org Nutrient Deficiencies http://www.insectimages.org/browse/detail.cfm?imgnum=5076094
U Mass Amhurst Agriculture and Landscape Program / Vegetable program http://extension.umass.edu/vegetable/diseases/boron-deficiency-hollow-stem
U of California Fruit Report (for San Joaquin valley) http://ucanr.edu/sites/fruitreport/Nutrition_-_Fertilization/Individual_Nutrients/

Crop Guide: Tomato Plant Nutrition: https://www.haifa-group.com/crop-guide/vegetables/tomato/crop-guide-tomato-plant-nutrition

Leave a Reply