Top Tips for Solving Nutrient Deficiencies in Plants


Top Tips for Solving Nutrient Deficiencies in Plants

Nothing is worse for a gardener than pouring their heart and soul into some plants only to find them sick, discolored, and generally looking sad. More often than not, this outcome is the result of a nutrient deficiency. Growing robust plants requires feeding them a delicate balance of appropriately timed fertilizers containing various micronutrients and macronutrients. If given incorrectly, the plants can suffer and may even be ruined.

Fortunately, gardeners have learned to address these issues over the years. Below is a list of the best ways to battle the most common nutrient deficiencies in plants.


Cal-Mag is a nutrient solution that aims to address calcium and magnesium deficiencies in most plants. These deficiencies first show up on the top of the plant with new growth having spots and looking unhealthy. Eventually, the plant’s growth slows significantly and bud, flower, or fruit development is reduced to a crawl.


There are lots of Cal-Mag supplements available and they all generally contain the same things, including calcium, magnesium, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. It is best if this supplement is used during a plant’s vegetative stage, as the nitrogen content could be too high for plants that are flowering or producing fruit.

Alfalfa and Cottonseed Meal

Nitrogen is arguably the most well-known nutrient, even among those unfamiliar with how to grow plants. Nitrogen is essential to vigorous plant growth and the production of chlorophyll. A nitrogen deficiency shoes up as yellowing leaves, which may eventually turn a wispy, pale white as the deficiency progresses. Additionally, plant growth will be minimal and leaves will be spare and small.

Alfalfa and cottonseed meal is one of the best ways to correct a nitrogen deficiency in garden plants. The granulated form can be added directly to soil. It’s important for gardeners to seek out pesticide-free products as the industrial production of cotton and alfalfa often requires the use of commercial pesticides.

Chelated Minerals

Chelated minerals are minerals that are bonded with organic compounds, making them easier for the plant's roots to access and use. Typically, liquid fertilizers use chelated minerals and target specific deficiencies. They are also used commonly in hydroponic garden setups.

Calcium Nitrate

Calcium nitrate is another solid option for combatting a calcium deficiency in plants, especially if the soil that plant is being grown in needs to have the pH increased. Calcium nitrate contains 15% nitrogen, so gardeners must apply this in the vegetative stage only. This fertilizer can be found easily in larger garden supply centers.

Compost Tea

Compost tea is all the rage among organic growers these days, and it is easy to see why. Since compost is rich with beneficial microbes and nutrients, it is best to add it to soil before planting. However, it is also an excellent option for supplementing during the growing period via compost tea.

How to Make Compost Tea

Compost tea uses high-quality compost to create a nutrient-rich liquid tea that can be used in hydroponic systems, at ground level to water plants, or as a foliar spray. Compost tea can be purchased fresh from local garden centers, but it is also easy for gardeners to purchase a kit and make it themselves.

To make it, gardeners will need a gallon-sized bucket with a handle, an aquarium pump with a bubbler, a nylon stocking, and organic compost that has been sterilized. Gardeners will then fill the stocking with about ¼ of a gallon of compost and place it in the bucket.

Next, they must fill the bucket with water and place the air hose from the bubbler at the bottom. The bucket will need to be aerated like this for about 24 hours before turning the pump off to let the compost tea settle. The water should be very dark and should not give off an unpleasant smell, or else the tea is no good.

The tea should be used within a few hours of finishing the aeration process. It can be used as a spray or as a liquid feed, depending on what the plants need.

Fish Emulsion or Meal

Fish emulsion and meal are excellent soil additives for addressing nitrogen deficiencies. Fish emulsion is what is left over after the fish has been pressed for oil. Fish meal is made up of the inedible parts of a fish ground up into a find powder. Both of these are chock full of micronutrients that protect plants against nutrient deficiencies.


Both fish emulsion and fish meal are meant to enhance the soil. The emulsion allows garden plants to gain quick access to available nitrogen, and the meal provides a slow and steady nitrogen release.


Gypsum is a hydrated form of calcium sulfate, which is a mineral available naturally throughout the United States. Gypsum is excellent for correcting the sodium level of soil and is an excellent source of calcium when added directly. In addition to helping the plant’s nutrient intake, adding it directly to the top of soil that has developed a hard crust will break it up and allow water to flow through more easily.

Iron Supplements

Iron deficiency shows up as leaves that turn yellow while the veins stay green. This happens most commonly when the pH of the soil is off, as it can block the roots from taking in vital micronutrients. Chelated iron is the most common form of iron supplement for garden plants. It should be added to plants by itself, as any other fertilizer could cancel out the effects of the iron supplement.

Magnesium Sulphate

Magnesium sulphate, commonly known as Epsom salts, has been used as a gardening soil additive for ages. Hydroponically, just a teaspoon of magnesium sulfate in the water reservoir can address magnesium or sulfur deficiencies. It can also be used as a foliar spray.

Final Thoughts

There are many ways that a nutrient deficiency can manifest. However, if they are caught and addressed early, it is unlikely the plant will sustain any permanent damage. It is important for gardeners to be aware of the signs of nutrient deficiencies and familiar with the various methods of correcting them.

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