Nutrient deficiency disorders occur when a plant cannot access all of the 16 elements classed as essential for it to survive. Of the 92 mineral elements that exist, only 60 have been found in plants and of these only 16 elements are essential for plant growth. In order to be classed as essential for plant growth, an element must be necessary for the plant to complete its life cycle, have a specific action, be directly involved in the nutrition of the plant and not antagonise a toxic effect of another element.
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Below is a list of the 16 essential elements and their nutrient deficiency symptoms. This is broken down into macro-elements which are required in quite large quantities and micro-elements, also known as trace elements, which are required in very much smaller amounts.
Nutrient Deficiency Symptoms
Carbon 450,000ppm Present in all organic compounds so
cannot be deficient
Hydrogen 60,000ppm Present in air so is never
Oxygen 450,000ppm Present in air so is never
Phosphorus 2,000ppm Dark green foliage, purpling or
reddening of leaves and/or
Potassium 10,000ppm Young leaves show reddening or
interveinal yellowing. Surface becomes shiny. Older leaves show marginal burn or necrotic spotting.
Nitrogen 15,000ppm Yellowing (Chlorosis) of the plant.
The older leaves are normally
Sulphur 1,000ppm Yellowing of the whole plant usually
starting with the youngest
Calcium 5,000ppm Death of the growing tip. Species
specific disorders in fruit crops (such as blossom end rot in
Magnesium 2000ppm Strongly coloured chlorosis of leaf
margins or interveinally often
accompanied by strong reddening
on the edges of the chlorotic areas.
In woody plants the green area of
the leaf may form an
Iron 100ppm Interveinal yellowing. Total
bleaching of young leaves may
occur in severe cases. This is
followed by necrosis. Young leaves
are always affected first.
Molybdenum 0.1ppm General pallor is seen in legumes. A
mottled pale look is apparent in non-
legumes. Marginal burn is seen in
Boron 20ppm Growing points die. Bursting of
auxiliary buds may occur and some
species may exhibit leaf distortion.
Cracking of petioles in celery and
hollowness in some root vegetables
is also apparent. Fruit may show
woody pits or cracking and
distortion may occur.
Copper 6ppm Young leaves die, fruit does not set
and fertilisation fails. Citrus plants
will show ”S” shaped shoots and
Manganese 50ppm Middle leave are affected first with
interveinal Chlorosis. Severe cases
may show necrotic streaks and
Zinc 20ppm Rosetting, small leaves and in less
severe cases chlorotic mottling may
Chlorine 100ppm Chlorosis and then necrosis with
leaves wilting. Marginal and leaf tip
burning may occur. Roots may be
thickened at the tip and appear
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