Since plants can't talk, we have to rely on changes in the appearance of the plant to tell us what is going on. These changes are called symptoms when they represent a response of the plant to the deficiency.

Perhaps the most common indication of a nutrient deficiency in a plant is the development of an unusual color pattern in the leaves. This may be a loss of chlorophyll resulting in a yellow rather than green leaf. This is called chlorosis and chlorotic leaves may be caused by a number of factors including nutrient deficiency. Sometimes, the symptom is the presence of dark green veins in the leaf which is otherwise yellow. In a few situations, veins or parts of the leaf may turn reddish to red in color.

Each nutrient has its own specific deficiency symptoms. Click on the nutrient below to learn about its function in plants, deficiency symptoms and what to do about them:

Note: Although we commonly think in terms of deficiency for nutrients, you should be aware that too much of a particular nutrient element may be detrimental to plants also.

Element Deficiency Excess
Nitrogen Stunted growth, pole green foliage, oldest leaves turn
yellow and abscise. Some crops show a reddish color
instead of pale green.
Heavy bushy and/or elongated growth large and many - dark green leaves, few flowers and fruits.
Phosphorus Dwarfed plants: thin shoots or stems, small leaves, dull
purplish color of whole plant, early defoliation.
Slender stems, shoots or leaves green leaves with
marginal browning of oldest leaves which con extend into
the leaves forward curling of the leaves.
Potassium Seldom occurring may result in nitrogen, potassium or zinc deficiency. Expressed in most cases as magnesium deficiency
Calcium  Yellow terminals with oldest leaves remaining green
stunted growth, die-bock of apical bud, abnormal growth
of young shoots followed by die-bock, pitted stems and
stubby roots with block spots.
Expressed as deficiency of other elements like potassium, magnesium, iron, manganese or boron.
Magnesium Interveinal chlorosis (yellow first, then brown) of oldest leaves, leaf margins at the beginning green but becoming chlorotic (yellow) withering of older leaves. Poor restricted growth.
Iron Net like interveinal chlorosis, followed by browning of
leaves on young growth.
Dark green foliage turning sometimes into manganese or zinc deficiency.
Manganese Fish-bone like appearance of veins with interveinal chlorosis on leaves near the tip of the plant. Leaf curl and complete yellowing of leaves. Like deficiency symptoms but with dork brownish spots on leaves. Sometimes like iron deficiency.
Boron Stunted growth, die-bock of terminal growth or apical buds of plant similar to calcium deficiency symptoms but without the abnormal growth of the young shoots. Appears similar to boron deficiency with deformed young leaves and terminal bud die-bock.

Note: We have provided some general information and observations on this topic aimed at the home gardener. Before you take any serious action in your landscape, check with your state's land grant university's Cooperative Extension Service for the most current, appropriate, localized recommendations.


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