Ugrás a tartalomhoz

Nutrient management

Sárdi Katalin (2011)

Debreceni Egyetem, Nyugat-Magyarországi Egyetem, Pannon Egyetem

Nutrient Deficiency and Toxicity Symptoms

Nutrient Deficiency and Toxicity Symptoms

Nutrient deficiency and toxicity symptoms of crops will be dealt with in this chapter.

A general description of deficiency and toxicity is given below followed by the concentration ranges used in plant analysis and interpretation. Visual symptoms of deficiencies and then to the visual symptoms of toxicities are also described n this chapter.

We may consider concentration ranges indicating the actual nutrient status of crops. The following categories: deficient, critical, sufficient or normal, excessive or toxic are known and widely accepted for the interpretation of laboratory results.

The mobility characteristics of a certain nutrient ion within the plant may provide the information required for understanding the development of nutrient deficiency symptoms.

When deficiency symptoms develop on older leaves: it shows the better mobility and thus the re-utilization i.e. the rapid transport of the element (e.g. nitrogen) from the older leaves to the younger ones.

When deficiency symptoms appear on younger leaves: it shows that the nutrient is rather immobile and cannot be re-utilized (transported) from the older leaves to the younger leaves.

Acute deficiency: under this condition, nutrient level is extremely low, associated with severe symptoms and strongly reduced growth. Addition of the deficient element will result in significant increases in growth, development and crop yield.

Marginal or latent deficiency: also known as “hidden hunger”. At this level, yield losses are considerable compared to adequate nutrient supply level.

Importance of “critical range”: this interval is referred as the concentration in the plant below which a yield response to the applied nutrient occurs.

The table below shows the potassium and phosphorus ranges for corn.

Table 10 Example: K and P % concentration ranges for corn

The following graph is a visual representation of how plant growth and/or yield is affected by nutrient concentrations.

Relationship between plant nutrient concentration and plant growth/yield

The Steenberg effect: known under extreme deficiency, rapid yield increase can cause some decreases in nutrient concentration.

General Deficiency symptoms of nitrogen (N)

In case when N is inadequate for crops i.e. they become deficient in nitrogen, the loss of N from chloroplasts will result in a yellowing of older leaves as an indicator of N deficiency.

The most typical symptoms are: leaf chlorosis, without N addition it becomes harmful when leaves turn brown and die (called necrosis). Upper leaves remain normal green while older leaves become stunted and yellow (chlorotic). As mobility of nitrogen is good, re-utilization will occur: proteins in older leaves are converted into soluble forms and transported to younger leaves in order to reduce deficiency.

Excess (toxiticy) symptoms

On the other hand, in the case of excess nitrogen we can observe vigorous vegetative growth coupled with dark green color. The vegetative growth is prolonged and crop maturity is somewhat delayed.

The following nutrient ratios in plants are of utmost importance!


Imbalances of these ratios may depress not only yield levels but also their quality.

Deficiency symptoms of phosphorus

The deficiency of phosphorus is characterized by retarded, slow overall growth and weak plants. It can be visually observed by the appearance of typical dark green color with older leaves showing a purple discoloration (because anthocyans are produced in greater amounts).

Since phosphorus is mobile in the plant, deficiency symptoms initially occur in the older tissues (indicating the ability for reutilization) as P is translocated to the active meristematic parts.

Excess (toxiticy) symptoms

The excess of phosphorus appears mainly in the form of micronutrient deficiency mostly for iron, zinc and manganese.

It is an interesting fact that excess phosphorus, however, may also cause typical calcium deficiency symptoms.

Deficiency symptoms of potassium

When K is deficient in crops, several visual symptoms may appear on leaves and stalks: white spots and chlorosis appear on leaves, when the severity of K deficiency increases, symptoms are progressing toward the top from lower leaves. K deficient plants often show symptoms of being burned on leaf edges.

Crops deficient in potassium become more sensitive to diseases caused by fungi such as Fusarium spp. Furthermore, fruit yield and quality will be reduced.


  • Serious reduction in yield levels occur without visible deficiency symptoms when amounts of K are inadequate compared to crop requirement! This is referred as “ hidden hunger”, however, the term is not restricted to K (Tisdale et al. 1993).

Excess (toxiticy) symptoms

As a result of excess potassium, plants show the typical symptoms of magnesium and possibly calcium deficiency due to a cation imbalance in the plant.

Deficiency symptoms of calcium

The visually most striking symptom of calcium deficiency in a plant is that the growing tips of the leaves and roots turn brown and die. Shortage of calcium also causes reduced structural stability of cell membranes. It also reduces the functions of root hairs in nutrient and water uptake.

Excess (toxiticy) symptoms

Excessive calcium content will produce magnesium or potassium deficiency in plants, although this depends on the concentration of these elements.

Nevertheless, it should be mentioned here that so far calcium toxicity symptoms have not been reported for crops under field conditions.

Deficiency symptoms of magnesium

Magnesium deficiency causes intervenial chlorosis and reduced chlorophyll synthesis in leaves.

It is noteworthy that magnesium deficiency begins on older leaves as magnesium is a mobile element in plants.

Excess (toxiticy) symptoms

As now no specific toxicity symptoms are known for magnesium.

However, imbalances between potassium, calcium and magnesium may induce reduced growth when the magnesium content is extremely high.

Deficiency symptoms of micronutrients

The symptoms of micronutrient deficiency are very many and varied. They include: reduced or abnormal growth, bleaching and necrosis of leaves, intervenial chlorosis and other symptoms typical for the given crop.

Excess (toxicity) symptoms

Excess or toxic amounts of micronutrients may result in a premature yellowing and burning of the leaves, as well as leaf abscission. Root growth may be reduced, which in turn restricts the uptake of water and several nutrients from the soil.

Typical symptoms of both deficiencies and toxicities are described in nutrition manuals and other books.