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Frann Leach

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Organic Gardening:

How to recognise mineral deficiencies in your crops


As everyone knows, a balanced diet is important for all of us, and that includes food crops. But how do you know if a plant is suffering from a deficiency in its diet?

You can usually tell just by looking if a plant is not at its best. Not all plant growing problems are caused by bugs and diseases. Other possibilities include too much or too little water, or a lack of one or more essential nutrients.

So, if there's no sign of any obvious disease or bug, and your plant has had plenty of water, and isn't waterlogged, the likelihood is that a nutrient deficiency is the cause. Check your symptoms against this table, covering all the major and minor nutrients, and you should be able to see what is going on, and how to fix it.

Nitrogen (N) (a constituent of protein and chlorophyll) Yellowing of the leaves, especially along the veins, and generally poor growth. EOG: A deficiency of nitrogen will show up as small, yellowish leaves.
Phosphorus (P) Poorly developed roots and reddish, brownish or purple patches on older leaves.
Potassium (K) Scorching of leaf tips and margins (especially older leaves), weak stems and poor flower and fruit formation. EOG: If the foliage rolls and scorches that indicates a lack of potassium in the soil. A liberal mulch of manure (or a clover mulch to which lime has been added) mixed with the right amount of potash rock to the acre, will adjust the potassium deficiency.
Boron (B) Leaves may become misshapen and stems may break. Flowering is often suppressed. Brown heart in turnips, hollow stem in brassicas, corky core in apples, cracked peaches.
Calcium (Ca) Inward curling, pale young leaves. Sometimes death of the growing point. Blossom end rot in tomatoes, bitter pit in apples.
Iron (Fe) (very similar symptoms to Manganese deficiency) Inter-veinal chlorosis starting in younger leaves. In extreme cases, growing area may turn white.
Magnesium (Mg) (a constituent of chlorophyll) Interveinal chlorosis commencing in older leaves, which become reddened and eventually develop necrotic areas.
Manganese (Mn) (very similar symptoms to Iron deficiency) Inter-veinal chlorosis starting in younger leaves. In extreme cases, growing area may turn white.
Molybdenum (Mo) (assists in uptake of nitrogen) Leaves become yellow (older leaves first), stems may become red or purple, growth becomes slow and spindly. In lettuce and tomatoes, yellowing of older leaves followed by death of interveinal cells and leaf margins, sometimes necrosis. In brassicas, 'whiptail'.
Sulphur (S) Chlorosis, starting in younger leaves.
Zinc (Zn) Deficiency produces characteristic symptoms associated with poor development of leaves, eg. Little Leaf in citrus and peach, Rosette Leaf in apples.

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Article ©2004 Frann Leach. All rights reserved.

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