Plant nutrient deficiency chart

Plants grown commercially need key nutrients to grow optimally. If a plant is lacking a certain nutrient, you’ll start to see the specific nutrient deficiency symptoms. We’ve put together a chart to help you identify which nutrients your plants may be lacking.

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15 Essential Nutrients That Plants Need

Plants require at least 15 essential nutrients to grow normally. These 15 nutrients can be classified into three categories: essential nutrients, macronutrients, and micronutrients (also known as trace or minor elements):

Essential Nutrients

  • Carbon (C)
  • Hydrogen (H)
  • Oxygen (O)

Plants obtain these essential nutrients from water, air and sunlight, to make food for growth.


  • Nitrogen (N)
  • Phosphorus (P)
  • Potassium (K)
  • Sulphur (S)
  • Calcium (Ca)
  • Magnesium (Mg)

These nutrients are required by plants in relatively large amounts.


  • Copper (Cu) 
  • Manganese (Mn)
  • Zinc (Zn)
  • Iron (Fe)
  • Boron (B)
  • Molybdenum (Mo)

These nutrients are required by plants in smaller quantities.

What Is Nutrient Deficiency?

Plants can suffer from malnutrition if they are not getting what they need. Nutrient deficiency occurs when a plant lacks an essential nutrient required for growth. Without sufficient essential nutrients, plants will not thrive and present various symptoms to express the deficiency.

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Essential Plant Nutrients And Their Deficiency Symptoms

We've put together this helpful plant nutrient deficiency chart of essential plant nutrients and their deficiency symptoms to help you identify common macronutrients and micronutrients that your plants may be lacking.

boron deficiency

Boron Deficiency


  • Discolouration of leaf buds
  • Breaking and dropping of buds
sulphur deficiency

Sulphur Deficiency


  • Discolouration of leaf buds
  • Breaking and dropping of buds
manganese deficiency

Manganese Deficiency


  • Leaves are a pale colour
  • Veins and venules dark green and reticulated
zinc deficiency

Zinc Deficiency


  • Leave are pale and narrow
  • Short veins are dark green
  • Dark spots on leaves and edges
iron deficiency

Iron Deficiency


  • Leaves are pale
  • No spots
  • Major veins are green
copper deficiency

Copper Deficiency


  • Pale pink between the veins
  • Wilt and drop
molybdenum deficiency

Molybdenum Deficiency


  • Leaves go light green/lemon/yellow/orange
  • Spots on whole leaf except veins
  • Sticky secretions from under the leaf
magnesium deficiency

Magnesium Deficiency


  • Paleness from leaf edges
  • No spots
  • Edges have cup shaped folds
  • Leaves die and drop in extreme deficiency

Phosphorus Deficiency


  • Plant short and dark green
  • Extreme deficiencies turn brown or black
  • Bronze colour under the leaf
Nitrogen Deficiency in a Leaf

Nitrogen Deficiency


  • Stunted growth
  • Extremely pale colour
  • Upright leaves with light green/yellowish colour
  • Appear burnt in extreme deficiency
signs of potassium deficiency in plants

Potassium Deficiency


  • Small spots on the tips
  • Pale edges
  • Spots turn rusty
  • Tips start to fold

How To Prevent Nutrient Deficiency In Plants

Applying more fertiliser doesn’t necessarily result in a healthier crop and a greater yield. Rather, farmers should seek to support nature’s delicate balance by applying the right fertiliser, in the right amounts at the right time. 

Zylem facilitates the supply of a variety of agricultural inputs, including our own range of biological soil conditioners and foliar feeds, to address and prevent nutrient deficiencies in plants. Developed over ten years, our soil nutrition and foliar feed products encourage sustainable activity and assist with regenerative agriculture. The products are available anywhere in South Africa.

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Infographic Showing Symptoms Of Nutrient Deficiencies In Plants

You can download and share the Plant Nutrient Deficiency Chart by clicking the image:

Prevent Nutrient Deficiency In Plants

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Frequently Asked Questions

The five common nutrient deficiencies in plants are nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, iron, and magnesium. Each of these nutrients plays a crucial role in plant growth and development, and their deficiencies can lead to various symptoms affecting overall plant health.