How to Spot Nutrient Deficiency Symptoms


When we walk through the woods, we rarely see plants or trees showing nutrient deficiency symptoms. There are several reasons for this. One, the trees are generally growing in their native habitat, or a habitat to which they are adapted. Second, their root systems are generally growing unimpeded. Meaning their extensive root systems can forage to find water and nutrients. Third, the trees are growing at their own pace, the pace that environmental conditions permit.


In nurseries, both field and container, things are usually different for a few reasons. Trees are not necessarily growing in their native habitat; their root systems are limited, and they are not growing at their own pace. Growers are pushing the trees with irrigation and that wonderful thing called fertilizer. Growers want to maximize quality and minimize production time. However, inducing all that growth can create greater demand for nutrients. Leaving room for imbalances and deficiencies.


Nutrient Deficiencies:


  • Nitrogen deficiency results in poor color and lack of growth, that ‘hungry look.’
  • Phosphorous deficiency will often appear as weak root systems with a reddish color in the old leaves.
  • Potassium deficiency usually exhibits itself as fairly evenly spaced necrotic spots in the older leaves, while the new leaves appear normal. You may also see leaf tip burn or burnt edges of the leaves.
  • Sulfur deficiency, the trees will continue to grow, but their overall color will be a lighter green than usual.
  • Magnesium deficiency results in marginal yellowing of the older leaves, while the new leaves retain normal color.
  • Calcium deficiency will result in stunted growth and leaves may be curled or distorted.
  • Iron deficiency will give the classic yellowing of the newer leaves while the veins remain green. Manganese deficiency in most cases looks very much like iron deficiency. It is not easy to tell the two apart.
  • Zinc deficiency in trees will appear as smaller than usual leaves, though the tree keeps growing.
  • Copper deficiency in trees is pretty rare. New leaves will be severely crippled and distorted, looking almost like herbicide injury.
  • Boron deficiency will often cause poor flowering and fruiting. In more severe cases, foliar distortion may develop.
  • Molybdenum deficiency is very rare in trees. It will tend to look somewhat like nitrogen deficiency and occur in very acidic soils.
  • Nickel deficiency is even more uncommon. In pecans it causes very tiny leaves.


Plumeria Nutrient Deficiencies

Not all plumeria problems are caused by insects or diseases. Sometimes an unhealthy plumeria is suffering from a nutrient deficiency or even too much of any one nutrient. Plumeria nutrient deficiencies often manifest as foliage discoloration or distortion. The following chart outlines some possible problems. Unfortunately many problems have similar symptoms and sometimes it is a combination of problems.

Be sure you eliminate the obvious before you kill your plumeria with kindness.

  • Check first for signs of insects or disease.
  • Foliage discoloration and stunted plants can easily be caused by soil that is too wet and drains poorly or soil that is too compacted for good root growth.
  • Exposure to cold or heat will slow plant growth and effect flowering.
  • Too much fertilizer can result in salt injury. Your plants may look scorched or they may wilt, even when the soil is wet.

Plumeria require a mix of nutrients to remain healthy. Nutrients that are needed in relatively large amounts are called the macronutrients. Plant macronutrients include: (N) nitrogen, (P) potassium, (K) phosphorus, calcium, sulfur and magnesium.

There are a handful of additional nutrients that are required for plant growth, but in much smaller quantities. These micronutrients include: boron, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum and zinc.

All of these nutrients are taken in through the roots. Water transfers the nutrients from the soil to the Plumeria roots. So one requirement of sufficient Plumeria nutrition is water. A second requirement is the appropriate soil pH for the Plumeria being grown. Each Plumeria prefers a specific pH range to be able to access the nutrients in the soil. Some Plumeria are fussier than others, but if the soil pH is too acidic or alkaline, the Plumeria will not be able to take in nutrients no matter how rich your soil may be.


Nutrient Deficiency Symptoms


Calcium (Ca)

  • Symptoms: New leaves are distorted or hook shaped. The growing tip may die. Contributes to blossom end rot in tomatoes, tip burn of cabbage and brown/black heart of escarole & celery.
  • Sources: Any compound containing the word ‘calcium’. Also gypsum.
    Notes: Not often a deficiency problem and too much will inhibit other nutrients.

Nitrogen (N)

  • Symptoms: Older leaves, generally at the bottom of the plant, will yellow. Remaining foliage is often light green. Stems may also yellow and may become spindly. Growth slows.
  • Sources: Any compound containing the words: ‘nitrate’, ‘ammonium’ or ‘urea’. Also manure.
    Notes: Many forms of nitrogen are water soluble and wash away.

Magnesium (Mg)

  • Symptoms: Slow growth and leaves turn pale yellow, sometimes just on the outer edges. New growth may be yellow with dark spots.
  • Sources: Compounds containing the word ‘magnesium’, such as Epson Salts.

Phosphorus (P)

  • Symptoms: Small leaves that may take on a reddish-purple tint. Leaf tips can look burnt and older leaves become almost black. Reduced fruit or seed production.
  • Sources: Compounds containing the words ‘phosphate’ or ‘bone’. Also greensand.
    Notes: Very dependent on pH range.

Potassium (K)

  • Symptoms: Older leaves may look scorched around the edges and/or wilted. Interveinal chlorosis (yellowing between the leaf veins) develops.
  • Sources: Compounds containing the words ‘potassium’ or ‘potash’.

Sulfur (S)

  • Symptoms: New growth turns pale yellow, older growth stays green. Stunts growth.
  • Sources: Compounds containing the word ‘sulfate’.
    Notes: More prevalent in dry weather.



Boron (B)

  • Symptoms: Poor stem and root growth. Terminal (end) buds may die. Witches brooms sometimes form.
  • Sources: Compounds containing the words ‘borax’ or ‘borate’.

Copper (Cu)

  • Symptoms: Stunted growth. Leaves can become limp, curl, or drop. Seed stalks also become limp and bend over.
  • Sources: Compounds containing the words ‘copper’, ‘cupric’ or ‘cuprous’.

Manganese (Mn)

  • Symptoms: Growth slows. Younger leaves turn pale yellow, often starting between veins. May develop dark or dead spots. Leaves, shoots and fruit diminished in size. Failure to bloom.
  • Sources: Compounds containing the words ‘manganese’ or ‘manganous’

Molybdenum (Mo)

  • Symptoms: Older leaves yellow, remaining foliage turns light green. Leaves can become narrow and distorted.
  • Sources: Compounds containing the words ‘molybdate’ or ‘molybdic’.
    Notes: Sometimes confused with nitrogen deficiency.

Zinc (Zn)

  • Symptoms: Yellowing between veins of new growth. Terminal (end) leaves may form a rosette.
  • Sources: Compounds containing the word ‘zinc’.
    Notes: Can become limited in higher pH.