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How to Treat Nutrient Deficiencies and Toxicities

Because nutrient imbalances can be a result of an imbalance in the soil, impaired or elevated availability or problems with a plant's uptake of nutrients, to treat a nutrient imbalance you first need to ensure your plants are able to uptake nutrients properly. If you suspect a nutrient imbalance in your plants and you've done everything you can to ensure your plants are capable of taking up nutrients properly and that the availability of the nutrients in the soil is appropriate for your plants, then I would always recommend you have a laboratory test your soil before taking further action. This will enable you to make absolutely sure that the problem is due to a nutrient imbalance in the soil, preventing you from wasting money on fertilisers that you don't need and from over correcting. Some labs will also provide you with tailored advice on how best to treat any problems you discover based on what you're growing and the type of soil you have, along with other environmental factors.

Below is a general guide to treating nutrient imbalances. I would encourage you to use this in conjunction with the specific information about each nutrient that can be found on this website.

7 Steps to Treating Nutrient Imbalances

  1. Check the visual symptoms to determine which nutrients might be causing the problem.
    • Taking a photo is also a great idea as you can more easily monitor the progress of any treatments if you don't have to rely on your memory of what the plants look like before you did anything.
  2. Check and amend if necessary, the soil's pH, temperature and moisture level. Ensure the plant is getting the right amount of light. Add organic matter to the soil.
    • If you needed to adjust the pH, add water or improve drainage, warm the soil up (eg. using a cold frame) or move the plant to a different spot (or prune overhanging branches or add shade cloth) then wait 3-4 weeks and if symptoms haven't improved, move to step 3.
  3. Read the page or pages on this website that relate to the nutrient(s) you believe are in excess or are deficient. Follow the suggestions for improving the condition that don't involve adding fertiliser. Wait 3-4 weeks and see if there's any change before moving to step 4.
  4. Have your soil tested by a laboratory to definitively determine what nutrient deficiencies or excesses there are.
    • If the soil tests show that all the nutrients are in the normal range, have some plant tissue tested. If the tissue test shows a nutrient imbalance, something else (such as a pesticide) is causing the plant to uptake an abnormal amount of nutrient and you'll need to fix that problem.
    • If the test shows that the plant has the correct amount of nutrients, something else is causing the symptoms. The plant may have a disease or may have special requirements that you're not meeting (some plants need unusually acidic soil for instance).
  5. If the soil test shows that the soil has too much or not enough of one or more nutrients, follow the directions on the relevant page(s) of this website to determine which fertilisers would be best to use. For symptoms that affected older leaves first, you should see a difference within 2-4 weeks if you used a quick release fertiliser. For symptoms that effect younger leaves first, affected leaves will likely stay the same but new leaves should appear normal.
  6. Regularly add organic matter to the soil and the keep it mulched, to help improve the soil longer term.
  7. A follow up soil test in 6-12 months would be a good idea as it will enable you to determine whether you've been mangling the soil appropriately and whether you need to additional fertiliser until the soil fertility increases (probable in really poor or degraded soils).

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