Key to Nutrient Deficiencies in Vegetable Crops

Reviewed: March 2023

Deficiencies producing distinct color changes in foliage.

1. Symptoms first apparent in young leaves.

Element Deficient

a. New leaves develop light-yellow color, first between veins. Later entire leaves become yellow. Necrosis and dying of tissue usually absent. Usually restricted to alkaline or over-limed soils.


b. Chlorosis appears first between veins on new leaves and then spreads to older leaves. Veins remain green even in advanced stages of deficiency. Chlorotic areas become brown or transparent, and ultimately marked necrosis of affected tissue occurs. Deficiency more general on alkaline or over-limed soils although known on acid soils.


c. New leaves abnormally small and mottled with yellow, or uniformly chlorotic. Necrotic, or dead, areas common.


2. Symptoms first apparent in old leaves.

a. First indication, ashen gray-green leaves at base of plant. Leaves develop a bronze and yellowish-brown color. Leaf margins become brown and cup downward. Specks develop along veins of leaf. Tissue deteriorates and dies. Roots poorly developed and brown. Stems slender, become hard and woody.


b. Chlorosis first appears between veins of old leaves while veins remain green. Leaves become brittle and margins curl upward. Chlorotic areas turn brown and die. Reddish-purple pigmentation appears instead of chlorosis with some crops. Occurs most frequently on acid soils and on soils receiving high amounts of potassium fertilizer or calcium limestone.


c. Distinctive mottling occurs in older leaves with veins remaining light green. New leaves green at first but become mottled upon expansion. As deficiency is prolonged, puffing of chlorotic areas occur, leaves curl inward, and necrosis sets in along leaf tips and margins.


Deficiencies affecting primarily the growing tissues of roots and stems.

1. Symptoms seldom apparent on older growth.

Element Deficient

a. Stems thick and woody with vegetative growth retarded. Root tips die and slough off with formation of small bulblike enlargements on remaining tips. New leaves chlorotic while old leaves remain green. New growth lacks turgidity. Terminal buds die in extreme cases. Fruits breakdown at blossom ends.


b. New bud leaves and petioles light in color, brittle, and often deformed in shape. Internodes short with rosetting pronounced at shoot terminals. In advanced stages, terminal buds die and new growth develops from buds below. Root growth greatly retarded with dark colored, corky areas forming in bulbous roots of such crops as beets, turnips, and radishes. Hollow stem is a common symptom in cabbage and cauliflower, and cracked stem in celery.


Deficiencies with localized symptoms.

1. Retarded growth with leaf chlorosis.

Element Deficient

a. Leaves lack turgidity and exhibit a chlorotic condition as if bleached. Growth of entire plant greatly retarded. Most prevalent on soils high in organic matter, and on peats and mucks.


b. Retarded growth with stems slender, fibrous and hard. Normal green of leaves fades to solid pattern of yellowish-green. Plant may become entirely yellow in extreme cases. Roots often show greater development than tops in earlier stages of deficiency but finally become stunted, turn brown, and die.


c. Lower leaves become thick and firm and develop yellowish-green color. Stems are hard, woody, and abnormally elongated and spindly. Root system extensively developed.


2. Retarded growth without leaf chlorosis.

a. Stems slender and woody. Leaves small and often darker green than normal. With many crops, undersides of leaves develop reddish-purplish cast. Development of fibrous roots greatly restricted. Setting of fruit and maturity delayed.