Subtropical Fruit Crops Research & Education
University of California
Subtropical Fruit Crops Research & Education

Posts Tagged: nutrient deficiency

Now is the Time to Sample Citrus for Nutrients - and Avocados Too

University of California (UC) researchers and private industry consultants have invested much effort in correlating optimal citrus tree growth, fruit quality and yield to concentrations of necessary plant nutrients in citrus (especially orange) leaf tissue. The grower can remove much of the guesswork of fertilization by adhering to UC recommendations of critical levels of nutrients in the tissues of appropriately sampled leaves.  Optimal values for elements important in plant nutrition are presented on a dry-weight basis in Table 1.  Adding them in appropriate rates by broadcasting to the soil, fertigating through the irrigation system or spraying them foliarly may correct concentrations of nutrients in the deficient or low range.  Compared to the cost of fertilizers, and the loss of fruit yield and quality that can occur as a result of nutrient deficiencies or excesses, leaf tissue analysis is a bargain.   At a minimum, the grower should monitor the nitrogen status of the grove through tissue sampling on an annual basis.

Leaves of the spring flush are sampled during the time period from about August 15 through October 15.  Pick healthy, undamaged leaves that are 4-6 months old on non-fruiting branches.  Select leaves that reflect the average size leaf for the spring flush and do not pick the terminal leaf of a branch.  Typically 75 to 100 leaves from a uniform 20- acre block of citrus are sufficient for testing. Generally, the sampler will walk diagonally across the area to be sampled, and randomly pick leaves, one per tree.  Leaves should be taken so that the final sample includes roughly the same number of leaves from each of the four quadrants of the tree canopy.  Values in Table 1 will not reflect the nutritional status of the orchard if these sampling guidelines are not followed. Typically, citrus is able to store considerable quantities of nutrients in the tree.  Sampling leaves from trees more frequently than once a year in the fall is usually unnecessary.  A single annual sample in the fall provides ample time for detecting and correcting developing deficiencies.


Table 1.  Mineral nutrition standards for leaves from mature orange trees based on dry-weight concentration of elements in 4 to 7 month old spring flush leaves from non-fruiting branch terminals.





























K (Calif.*)







K (Florida*)










































































5 - 16



*California and Florida recommendations for K are sufficiently different that they are presented separately.  The California standards are based on production of table navels and Valencias, and those for Florida were developed primarily for juice oranges like Valencia.


The sampled leaves should be placed in a paper bag, and protected from excessive heat (like in a hot trunk or cab) during the day.  If possible, find a laboratory that will wash the leaves as part of their procedure instead of requiring the sampler to do this.  Leaf samples can be held in the refrigerator (not the freezer) overnight.  Leaves should be taken to the lab for washing and analysis as quickly as is feasible.

Often separate samples are taken  within a block if areas exist that appear to have special nutrient problems.  The temptation encountered in sampling areas with weak trees is to take the worst looking, most severely chlorotic or necrotic leaves on the tree.  Selecting this type of leaf may be counter-productive in that the tree may have already reabsorbed most of the nutrients from these leaves before they were sampled. A leaf-tissue analysis based on leaves like this often results in a report of general starvation, and the true cause of the tree decline if the result of a single nutritional deficiency may not be obvious.  Often in weak areas, it is beneficial to sample normal appearing or slightly affected leaves.  If the problem is a deficiency, the nutrient will, generally, be deficient in the healthy-looking tissue as well.

Groves of early navels that are not normally treated with copper and lime as a fungicide should include an analysis for copper. Copper deficiency is a real possibility on trees growing in sandy, organic, or calcareous soils.  For later harvested varieties, leaves should be sampled before fall fungicidal or nutritional sprays are applied because nutrients adhering to the exterior of leaves will give an inaccurate picture of the actual nutritional status of the tree.

Usually leaf samples taken from trees deficient in nitrogen will overestimate the true quantity of nitrogen storage in the trees. Trees deficient in nitrogen typically rob nitrogen from older leaves to use in the production of new leaves.  Frequently, by the time fall leaf samples are collected in nitrogen deficient groves, these spent spring flush leaves have already fallen.  Nitrogen deficient trees typically have thin-looking canopies as a result of this physiological response.  Since the spring flush leaves are no longer present on the tree in the fall when leaves are sampled, younger leaves are often taken by mistake for analysis. These leaves are higher in nitrogen than the now missing spring flush leaves would have been and provide an inaccurately higher nitrogen status in the grove than actually exists.

Critical levels for leaf-nitrogen for some varieties of citrus, like the grapefruits, pummelos, pummelo x grapefruit hybrids and the mandarins, have not been investigated as well as those for oranges.  However, the mineral nutrient requirements of most citrus varieties are probably similar to those for sweet oranges presented in Table 1, except for lemons, where the recommended nitrogen dry-weight percentage is in the range of 2.2- 2.4%.

A complete soil sample in conjunction with the leaf sample can provide valuable information on the native fertility of the soil with respect to some mineral nutrients and information on how best to amend the soil if necessary to improve uptake of fertilizers and improve water infiltration.

P.S. from Ben Faber

What has been said here about citrus is also generally true for avocado, although the nitrogen sufficiency levels are lower than for citrus.  For a more detailed discussion see:

Photo: Nitrogen deficient avocado leaf

nitrogen avocado
nitrogen avocado

Posted on Wednesday, August 23, 2017 at 5:35 AM
  • Author: Craig Kallsen

Blossom End Rot in Citrus - Another Result of Drought

Another impact of the drought? There have been reports of a sunken, leathery patch around the blossom end (opposite of the stem end) of citrus fruit. This has been reported on lemons, limes and mandarins, but I am sure growers are seeing it on oranges, as well as other citrus relatives. This is an abiotic problem caused by a lack of calcium to the fruit, a problem with the plant's growing conditions, not a disease. This is a serious disorder found in various fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes, melons, peppers and eggplants

Blossom-end rot begins as small tan, water soaked lesions on the blossom end of the fruit. The lesion enlarges and becomes sunken, dark, and leathery. On peppers, the lesion is more commonly found on the side of the fruit towards the blossom end. Also, on peppers it can be sometimes confused with sun scald. Fruit infected by blossom-end rot ripen often become infected with secondary organisms such as Alternaria spp (most likely the surrounding tissue in the photo below).

This is a physiological disorder of low calcium in the fruit. Calcium is required for normal cell growth and in relatively high concentration for new tissue growth. Rapidly growing fruit will begin to breakdown at the blossom end because that is the last place of the fruit tissue to receive calcium and also the area with the lowest concentration of calcium.

In rapidly growing plants, calcium cannot move to those rapidly growing areas quickly enough. Because calcium moves with water, fluctuations in water supply can cause blossom-end rot. Large fluctuations in soil moisture inhibit uptake and movement of calcium within the plant. Excessive nitrogen promotes rapid plant growth, which can cause low concentrations of calcium to occur in plant tissue. Leaf tissue can often not disclose a low calcium in fruit because of the lag in movement of calcium to the rapidly growing fruit tissue.

Other causes such as low calcium levels in the soil or high amounts of cations in the soil which compete with calcium uptake can also cause blossom-end rot. This is especially true in areas of soils derived from serpentine rock that are high in magnesium. The magnesium competes with calcium uptake.

Proper fertilization and water management help to minimize this problem. Avoid over fertilizing the crop. Also avoid allowing the soil to become too dry and then overly wet. Wide fluctuations in soil moisture inhibit calcium uptake and movement. If calcium is deficient or high salts occur in the soil, gypsum applications can help, but delayed uptake may not help fruit tissue content. Often, foliar applications of calcium may be beneficial.

blossom end rot lemon
blossom end rot lemon

Posted on Monday, November 2, 2015 at 6:43 AM
Tags: blossom end rot (3), calcium (2), citrus (304), lemon (93), lime (5), mandarin (65), nutrient deficiency (3), orange (66)

Hunger Signs in Plants

Since Greek and Roman times, the appearance of a plant has been used to help identify plant health. The plant speaks through distress signals. The message may be that there is simply too little or too much water. Or the sign may tell us of a disease caused by a microorganism, such as a bacteria, virus or fungus. The plant may show symptoms of attack by nematodes, insects or rodents or from injuries from frost or lightning. According to the plant species these signals may differ slightly, but frequently they can be generalized.


It is also possible to generalize about the signals linked to the nutritional status of a plant. Learning these symptoms can alert us to appropriate steps to correct the toxicity, deficiency or imbalance of nutrients.


There are 17 elements essential for plant growth. Hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon come either from the air or water. The others come from the soil. Depending on the quantity needed by the plant, these are called either primary or trace (micronutrients) nutrients. The micronutrient nickel is required in such small amounts (50 -100 parts per billion) by plants that it was identified only last year as being an essential nutrient. Other micronutrients are iron, manganese, boron, chlorine, zinc, copper and molybdenum. Some other nutrients have been identified as being essential for only certain plants, such as silicon for sugar cane.


The primary nutrients are measured on a percent (parts per 100) dry weight tissue basis. These are nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and sulfur. The trace elements are measured on a part per million dry weight basis. For example, a typical analysis of a dried leaf from a healthy cherimoya might show 2% nitrogen, 1% potassium, 100 ppm (parts per million) iron and 50 ppm boron.


Although plants require more primary than trace nutrients, all the essential elements need to be present for a healthy plant. An excess, deficiency or even an imbalance of these elements will lead to individual symptoms which are characteristic to most plants. Because of our climate and soils, Southern California has different nutritional problems from those of much of the rest of the country. What is a problem in Massachusetts may rarely be a problem here. The following list is a description of the more common nutritional problems in most plants in Southern California.

Excess or toxicity (usually related to irrigation practices)

*Boron - chlorosis (yellowing), leading to tissue death (necrosis) along the margins of older leaves.

*Sodium , Chloride - necrosis of the leaf tips and margins on older leaves.



*Phosphorus - frequently the only symptom is smaller plants, but occasionally the leaves are darker than normal or may have a reddish cast, a common symptom in sweet corn. Phosphorus deficiency in California trees is rare.

*Potassium - scorching or firing along leaf margins that usually first appears in older leaves. Plants grow slowly and have a poorly developed root system. Stalks are often weak and fall over.

*Nitrogen - plants are light green or yellow. Older leaves are often affected first, but in trees the chlorosis may appear on any part of the plant.

*Zinc - depending on the plant there may be interveinal (between the leaf veins) chlorosis on younger leaves, but frequently the leaves are small and appear in a rosette.

*Iron - very sharply defined interveinal chlorosis of younger leaves, with little size reduction. Can often be associated with wet soil conditions.

*Manganese - mild interveinal chlorosis of younger leaves, with no size reduction.


These and other problems can be corrected with appropriate fertilizers, amendments and manures and also by soil and water management. In well-managed plants you may never see these signs, but learning the signals can help direct your activities if you do. Sweet corn is a wonderful indicator plant which develops very prominent symptoms according to the deficiency. Planting a row of sweet corn (not field) is a tasty way to determine if your soil has a generic nutritional problem.

iron dieback citrus
iron dieback citrus

Posted on Monday, May 11, 2015 at 9:26 AM
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