University of Maryland Extension

Lack of Nutrients - Vegetables

Back to leaf yellowing - Seedlings and Transplants

chlorotic leaves

Nutrient Deficiency Symptoms

Leaves may yellow and die if sufficient nutrients are not available to plant roots. Nitrogen, in particular, may be in short supply early in the growing season. The leaves of lettuce, cabbage, spinach, and other vegetable plants may appear light green or yellow as a result. Incorporate organic matter into the soil prior to planting outdoors. Use a starter solution on transplants following label directions. Test your soil pH and nutrient levels every three years. Apply a liquid fertilizer at the base of each plant or to foliage if nutrient deficiencies are observed. Add one inch of high-quality compost to vegetable beds before planting.

purple foliage due to phosphorus deficiency
Phosphorus deficiency on tomato leaves

chard not thriving
Calcium deficiency on chard

Lack of Nutrients in Seedlings

Nutrient deficiency in seedlings is a common problem in early spring because root systems are immature and nutrients held in soil organic matter are not available to plants. Cool soil temperatures inhibit the activity of soil microorganisms and processes that cause nutrients to be released and made available to plant roots. This occurs to some degree on all soils but is more prevalent in soils with low fertility and organic matter content. The solution is to apply a balanced soluble fertilizer to the root zone (around the base of each plant) or to the leaves (be sure that to thoroughly spray leaf undersides). The best time for foliar applications is early morning or early evening when the stoma (leaf breathing pores) are open. Compost tea, seaweed extracts, fish emulsion, and store-bought soluble fertilizers are all suitable. So-called "starter fertilizers" have a higher percentage of phosphorus (the middle number in the N-P-K analysis) to encourage root growth. In all cases, these soluble fertilizers are mixed with water according to label directions. Dilute one part compost tea with three parts water.

underfertilized pepper seedlings
Nutrient deficiency on pepper seedlings

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