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Virginia Cooperative Extension - Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Crop and Soil Environmental News, June 2001

Conditions Contributing to Various Plant Nutrient Deficiencies

Stephen J. Donohue
Professor and Extension Specialist, Soil Testing & Plant Analysis

Certain soil and weather conditions can contribute to plant nutrient deficiencies on crops grown in Virginia. Below is a listing of those conditions (from several sources) that contribute to various deficiencies. Note: Some nutrient deficiencies are more common in Virginia than others; some deficiencies seldom occur. For example, copper deficiency is seldom seen on any crops grown in the state.

Condition by Element

Nitrogen (N)

  1. Leaching from excessive rainfall
  2. Sandy soils -- low organic matter
  3. Cold or wet soils
  4. Drought - especially after mid-season
  5. Plowing under residues low in N and high in carbon
  6. Acid soils
  7. Warm, wet (denitrification)

Phosphorus (P)

  1. Compacted soils
  2. Cold or wet soils
  3. Low pH or high pH
  4. Lack of other elements - particularly N
  5. Soils high in Fe and Al (liming reduces soluble Fe and Al)

Potassium (K)

  1. Heavy removal by preceding crop (corn silage, legume crops)
  2. Sandy soils (low CEC)
  3. Organic soils (high CEC)
  4. Wet or compacted soils
  5. Dry weather
  6. High pH soils (pH 7.0 and above)
  7. N or other nutrient stresses

Calcium (Ca)

  1. Low pH
  2. High soil K level
  3. Applying large amounts of N, P, and K fertilizers to acid soils
  4. Soils high in Al

Magnesium (Mg)

  1. Low pH soils
  2. Sandy soils
  3. High K or high Ca soils
  4. Extensive leaching of light or sandy soils
  5. High soil P

Sulfur (S)

  1. Cold and wet soils
  2. Extremely acid soils
  3. Low organic matter soils
  4. Poorly drained soils
  5. Highly leached soils

Manganese (Mn)

  1. High pH (alkaline) soils (above pH 7.0)
  2. Highly leached soils
  3. Poorly drained or compacted soils
  4. Soils high in Fe
  5. Sandy soils high in organic matter
  6. Lack of N
  7. Dry weather

Zinc (Zn)

  1. High P soils
  2. High pH soils
  3. Cool and/or wet soils
  4. Areas where subsoils have been exposed (low organic matter)
  5. Lack of N

Copper (Cu)

  1. Deficiency generally limited to peat and muck soils
  2. Compacted or wet soils
  3. High P soils
  4. Lack of N

Iron (Fe)

  1. Plant species vary in their requirements for Fe (also variety). Deficiencies in Virginia normally limited to acid-loving plants.
  2. High pH soils
  3. Cool weather
  4. Compacted soils
  5. Wet, poorly aerated soils adding excessive amounts of soluble P to the soil

Molybdenum (Mo)

  1. Acid soils
  2. Poorly aerated soils
  3. Plant species vary in requirements (legumes require more than grasses or corn)
  4. Low P level

Boron (B)

  1. High pH soils
  2. Low OM sands
  3. Highly leached soil
  4. Dry weather
  5. Lack of N

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