Plant Nutrient Deficiencies- How to Identify and Correct These to Keep Your Container Plants Healthy With Proper Growing Conditions

Plant nutrient deficiencies are often mistaken for diseases and insects. However, oftentimes the plant is lacking nutrients that can be replaced by regular fertilizing. What fertilizer to use is as important as having a regular feeding schedule for your plants. By learning to recognize how to identify plant nutrient deficiencies, you can keep your container garden healthy and blooming all through the growing season.


Not all plant problems are caused by diseases, fungi or insects. Don’t assume because your plants are stunted, leaves are turning yellow and foliage is falling off, that your plant is under attack. It may be that your plant has a nutritional deficency and all can be made well with a correction in your feeding methods.



Check for these Problems First

If your plants are showing signs of yellowing leaves, weak stems, stunted growth or blossom drop, first check for signs of disease such as mold, fungus, or blight.
Foliage discoloration and stunted plants can easily be caused by soil that is overly wet and drains poorly. If you are using garden soil it may be too heavy and compacted to allow for good root growth.
Temperature extremes will slow plant growth and effect flowering and fruit set.
Too much fertilizer can result in salt injury. A heavy application of fertilizer can also cause the plant foliage to burn or scorch.

Before you reach for the sprayer without any idea of what the problem is, do what a smart gardener will do and look at your plant’s leaves and stems to spot signs of nutrient deficiencies in plants.

The plants aquire these nutrients through the roots. Therefore proper watering is very important in insuring the nutrients are transferred from the soil to the plant roots.

Check the listing below and see if your plants show any of these symptoms that can be attributed to plant nutrient deficencies:

Mineral DeficiencySymptomsRemedies
NitrogenOlder leaves, generally at the bottom of the plant, will yellow.
Stems may also yellow and may become spindly. Growth slows
All manures, Ammonia, Cottonseed, Urea
PotassiumOlder leaves become mottled or spotted, edges become dry and scorched.
Stems are weak, root systems are poor.
Fruit ripens unevenly.
Potash, Wood Ash, Seaweed, Kelp
PhosphorusPlants become dark green frequently changing to purple, especially the undersides of leaves. Poor flowering and fruitingPhosphate, Bone Meal, Greensand, Vetch

Check out this website for more information about Plant Nutrient Deficiencies and a complete listing of plant diseases and remedies.
Soil pH is also important to proper root growth. In order for plants to access the nutrients in the soil, the pH must have the proper acidity or alkalinity required by each plant. Even if nutrients are in the soil, if the soil pH is not suitable for the plant, they will not be accessible to the plant and will result in plant nutrient deficiences. Small home soil test kits are available for testing the pH of your container soil at your local garden center or hardware store.

Determining why plants are stunted, yellowing, or just all around unhealthy can be a complicated process. Unfortunately many problems have similar symptoms and sometimes can even be a combination of diseases, insects and plant nutrient deficencies. Through researching, talking with other gardeners, experience and acute observation, a good gardener will eventually gain the knowledge required to become not only a gardener, but a good gardener, and eventually a great gardener.

Hang in there. Container gardening is a very satisfying and fulfilling hobby and avocation. Keep moving forward and adding knowledge and experience and you’ll soon be receiving a plethora of compliments and comments such as, “You are so lucky to be born with a green thumb!” However, we know better don’t we?

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