Nutrient Deficiencies: How to Spot Them

Many people assume when their plants wilt or shrivel up that the problem comes from an issue with light, pests, or the amount of water they are receiving. While these causes may be the case in some situations, many times the issues are actually caused by nutrient deficiencies.

A nutrient deficiency is when a plant lacks an element crucial to their growth, like phosphorus or nitrogen. Learn more with this guide to common nutrient deficiencies, how to spot them, and how to fix the problems they’re causing.  

When dealing with standard potting soil, the most common deficiencies plants experience are due to a lack of phosphorus, potassium, and nitrogen. A deficiency in each of these elements presents itself differently in plants: 

  1. Let’s start with phosphorus! If a plant is not receiving enough hposphorus, its growth is most likely stunted, and the leaves will start to turn a dark purple hue. If untreated, a phosphorus deficiency will lead to brown spots and necrosis (death) of the leaves.  
  2. A deficiency in nitrogen will also stunt a plant’s growth, but instead of turning purple, the leaves will turn yellow and very pale-looking. The leaves at the bottom of the plant will be the most yellow, while the leaves at the top will be more of a dull, faded green. Additionally, a nitrogen deficiency causes chlorosis (lack of chlorophyll) between veins, and if left untreated, your plant will become more susceptible to disease. 
  3. Plants deficient in potassium will seem to “burn” from the outside in. This process begins with the tip of the leaves shriveling up. As the leaves lose stomata control and become dehydrated, the deficiency travels further towards the base of the plant. The result is a plant that looks as if it’s been scorched by a fire.  

If you have noticed any of the above symptoms in your plants, don’t fret! In most cases, nutrient deficiency can be amended by giving your plants the nutrients they are missing. 

If you haven’t been fertilizing your plants, start now! If you have been fertilizing your plants and are still noticing these deficiencies, you could be using the wrong fertilizer. Trying to find the right fertilizer on the shelf can be hard, that’s why we make our blends to help all plants, from succulents to small trees.  

Wondering if your plants are suffering from a specific nutrient deficiency? Send us an email with a picture or two to and we'll make a recommendation.