A Step-By-Step Guide to Solving Plant Nitrogen Deficiency

Plants have specific needs and environmental conditions for them to survive and stay healthy. Pests and diseases cause numerous problems for plants, but a lot of factors come into play when talking about a plant’s health: sunlight, moisture, soil quality, and even the nutrients they get, such as nitrogen.

Healthy plants get just the right balance of nutrients from their environment. Too much or too little of a certain nutrient can lead to a host of problems for the plant. Discoloured or misshapen leaves and stems often point out to nutrient deficiencies, but other factors may also come into play. 

Establishing cause and effect can take a bit of informed guesswork and problem-solving skills. How, then, do you determine what your plant requires? If it’s nitrogen your plant lacks, here’s our step-by-step guide for recognizing that need:

Step #1 – Perform a first aid survey

Although the leaves and stems of your plants may be distorted or discoloured, don’t be too quick to douse them with nutrients—too much can harm them! Before stuffing them with organic plant food, make sure to rule out these common problems first:

  • Moisture and drainage problems. Your plant’s drainage system could be lacking. A proper watering schedule is a key to a healthy plant. Without sufficient drainage, the soil might be too wet. This might cause its roots to rot, and its leaves can turn yellowish. Check its roots and make sure that they’re healthy and not compacted.
  • Temperature problems. Environments that are too hot or too cold can stunt your plants’ growth.
  • Salt injury. The salts in fertilizers can harm your plants, so make sure you don’t use too much of it. Salt injury may present itself as scorch marks or wilting even if your plant gets enough water.
  • Pests and diseases. Check for distorted and discoloured spots. This may be a symptom of plant diseases or pest infestations.

If it’s too difficult to point out the root of the problem, consider reaching out to local plant experts who can help you diagnose your plant problems accurately.

Step #2 – Understand nitrogen deficiency

Nitrogen is one of the most important nutrients that plants need. A deficiency in nitrogen causes chlorophyll to disappear from the leaves. This makes the leaves yellow, and the first victims are usually the yellow leaves at the bottom. Plants transport available nitrogen to focal growing points, which is their young leaves. While it may be tempting to just wave it off, especially since the plant is growing, the growth will eventually stop altogether. Here’s what happens to a plant suffering from nitrogen deficiency:

  1. The older leaves turn yellow-green, spreading from the inside of the leaves to the outside.
  2. The yellowing begins to spread to the base of the leaf and the veins.
  3. The growth of the entire plants is compromised, making the leaves fall off.
  4. The plant stems turn purple or reddish.

Step #3 – Learn the possible causes of nitrogen deficiency

To understand how you can help your plant recover, here are some of the most common causes of nitrogen deficiency:

  • A basic soil pH (pH is too high)
  • An excess of other nutrients/chemicals, such as potassium, zinc, manganese, or chloride
  • An unhealthy root system that may impact the plants’ nutrient intake, which could be due to physical damage, a cold environment, root rot, or diseases
  • Limited nitrogen availability in the soil or substrate

Step #4 – Prevent and cure

Oftentimes, nitrogen is readily available in the soil. During periods of rapid growth or stress, however, your plants’ needs can change and they may require more nutrients. During these times, you may need to feed your plants with nutrients and nitrogen-rich fertilizers to reduce the risk of deficiency. Make sure to tune in to a plant’s environmental conditions as well, such as sunlight, moisture, temperature, soil acidity, and other elements that may damage your plants.


Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for your plant to grow and stay healthy. Along with protecting your plants from the elements and adverse environmental conditions, you must also ensure that they meet their needs for nutrients. As they grow and fight off stress, make sure that the soil is well-fertilized to avoid deficiency!

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