Understanding Plant Nutrition: Environmentally Induced Plants

Environmentally Induced Plants

Most nutrients are actively taken up by the plant from the soil solution. With active uptake, the plant roots use energy to scavenge the root environment for soluble nutrients. For nutrients that are taken up actively (like nitrogen or phosphorus), their concentration in the root medium (as measured with soil tests) tends to correlate well to uptake by the plant.

The exceptions to this rule are calcium and boron. Calcium and boron are taken up passively by the plant. With passive uptake, nutrients only move into the plant along with the water used for transpiration. No transpiration, no uptake, regardless of the concentration of those nutrients in the soil solution.

The environment where the plants are being grown will directly affect transpiration rates, and calcium and boron uptake. The types of environments that suppress transpiration can include:

– Hot, humid conditions, especially when light levels have been reduced with excess shade.

– Cool, humid conditions, especially when no de-humidification is occurring.

– Greenhouses with little or no air movement, especially when conditions are humid.

Other management factors can also reduce transpiration rates and affect calcium and boron uptake. For example, a high salt level (high EC) in the root media will reduce transpiration by making it harder for the plant to take up water out of the soil solution. Constant overwatering or underwatering may also reduce transpiration rates.

What Else Affects Calcium & Boron Uptake?

Don’t forget to check roots. Calcium and boron are only taken up by the plant at the root tip. Root tip damage caused by salt burn, overwatering, fungus gnats or root pathogens such as Pythium can cause calcium or boron deficiency symptoms similar to those caused by environmental conditions. In that case, careful irrigation and a fungicide are required in order to grow a healthy root system and improve nutrient uptake.

Diagnosing Calcium & Boron Deficiency

Diagnosing environmentally induced calcium or boron deficiency in a crop can be difficult, especially if it has not been noticed before. Plants often do not show any discoloration at first. Environmentally induced problems will also seem to appear or disappear at random, or may appear on one crop, but not another.

Another difficulty is the common methods for diagnosing nutritional problems (soil tests or tissue tests) may be of little use. For example, it is common to see adequate concentrations of calcium or boron contained in the soil (based on a soil test), but because of environmental conditions, it is not getting into the plant.

Tissue testing may also show adequate concentrations of calcium or boron in the tissue. The problem is both calcium and boron will accumulate in the tissue as the leaf ages. So older leaves, like the newest fully expanded leaves that are recommended for tissue testing in larger plants, may have adequate levels of calcium or boron in the tissue, but the new growth is deficient. With plugs and liners, the entire plant is often tested. Again, the older leaves often have accumulated calcium or boron over time, and because their mass represents a much greater portion of the tissue than the new growth, it will cover up a deficiency at the growing tip.

Plant appearance often becomes the most effective tool for determining calcium and boron deficiency. With calcium, the early symptoms start on the new leaves as leaf distortion followed by chlorosis and necrosis of the leaf edge (Figure 1). If calcium deficiency progresses further, you might also see growing tip death, deformed flowers or short, thick roots.

With boron, the early symptoms also start on the new leaves as leaf distortion, but the tissue also gets thick and leathery, and the leaf petiole gets elongated. Often the growing tip dies, followed by the production of a large number of new growing tips, often called a “witch’s broom” (Figure 2). Sometimes, flower formation is also affected.


Calcium: Additional sources of calcium that can be added to a nutritional program can include incorporating gypsum (CaSO4) into the media at 1 to 2 lbs/yd³ at mixing or adding calcium nitrate (Ca(NO3)2) to the fertilizer solution. Limestone is also a calcium source but is not a reliable source under all conditions.
Be careful when using additional calcium nitrate in the fertilizer because it can change the pH effect of the fertilizer. It is not recommended to use calcium nitrate as the only water-soluble fertilizer. Plants need all nutrients on a regular basis. Applying an unbalanced fertilizer like calcium nitrate for more than one or two irrigations can easily cause other deficiency problems.

When adequate calcium is being applied, but is not being taken up by the plant, then anything that increases transpiration, like lowering the humidity levels in greenhouse or increased air movement, will increase calcium uptake.

Foliar spraying calcium can also work to increase calcium nutrition, but should be thought of as a last resort and must be done proactively to be effective. The typical recommendation is to use a weekly spray of 400 ppm calcium (1 pound CaCl2 or 1.25 lbs Ca(NO3)2 per 100 gallons). As with all foliar sprays, adding a spreader to the spray solution will increase its effectiveness. Foliar sprays should be done early in the morning so they remain on the leaf surface as a liquid for the longest time possible.

Boron: Be extremely careful applying extra boron to a crop. The problem is that the difference between boron deficiency, adequate boron levels and boron toxicity is much smaller than any other nutrient. If the applied concentration is too high or the high concentrations are applied too frequently, then it is very easy to get boron toxicity (Figure 3).

Common boron rates in fertilizer solutions range from 0.1 to 0.4 ppm B. If these concentrations are inadequate, the first step is to try to increase transpiration rates. Supplemental boron drenches should only be used if it is not possible to increase transpiration rates. Supplemental drench rates of 1 to 2 ppm B applied one to two times during a crop have been shown to improve boron nutrition. Unfortunately, there is no good recommendation for foliar spraying boron at this time.

Be Proactive

Like most problems, prevention works best. Learn to recognize the type of environment that induces calcium and boron deficiency. If those conditions occur regularly, then it may be best to adjust your nutrition program accordingly. Remember, increasing the amount of calcium or boron applied to the crop may reduce the risk of environmentally induced deficiencies, but may not solve the problem under all conditions.

Leave a Reply

More From Fertilization...
Giving Tuesday

November 24, 2015

Giving Tuesday On December 1 Is An Opportunity For The Industry To Make Charitable Tax-Deductible Donations

Organizations such as American Floral Endowment and others are encouraging industry members to participate in the generous spirit of the holiday season.

Read More
Cannabis marijuana

November 24, 2015

Five Florida Growers Receive Licenses To Potentially Produce And Process Medical Marijuana

The Florida Department of Health has announced the five nursery operations awarded with exclusive licenses to grow, process, and dispense “Charlotte’s Web,” a low-THC (non-euphoric) cannabis approved for patients with intractable epilepsy and people with advanced cancer.

Read More
Random Acts Of Flowers

November 24, 2015

Random Acts Of Flowers Partners With FTD And Pro Flowers To Make Milestone Charitable Bouquet Delivery

The organization, which recycles and repurposes flowers with a volunteer team that delivers bouquets to health care facilities across the country, made its 100,000th delivery to a health care facility in Chicago.

Read More
Latest Stories
Fertilizer Rates Feature Image

August 12, 2015

Selecting Fertilizer Rates For Several Spring Bedding P…

Fertilizing bedding plants can be difficult due to the differing needs of the large variety of plants that we grow. Many operations do not grow enough of any one crop to cater the fertilizer specifically for each crop. Therefore, grouping crops with similar fertilizer requirements and having two to three fertilizer strengths available is a practical way to ensure plants are getting the fertilizer they need. With many new plant varieties on the market, we wanted to conduct a trial at Cornell University to determine best fertilizer rates for several common bedding plant crops. 22 Bedding Plants Studied To Establish Fertilizer Rates Plugs and rooted liners of 22 crops (Table 1) were transplanted into 4-inch (500 mL volume) round pots with a commercial peat/perlite based substrate. The plants were grown in a glass greenhouse at Cornell University during the spring season at a spacing of one plant per square foot. Heating set […]

Read More

June 13, 2015

UMASS Fertilizer Trials Recommend Nature’s Source Organ…

In a recent online fact-sheet at its Extension website, the UMass Amherst Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment lists Nature’s Source Organic Plant Food 3-1-1 as “the best liquid organic fertilizer,” according to Dr. Douglas Cox, Stockbridge School of Agriculture. It is called-out by the Extension after a number of years of studying the use of organic fertilizers for growing commercial greenhouse crops. The trials evaluated traditional water soluble and granular slow-release chemical fertilizers. Dr. Cox recommends Nature’s Source Organic Plant Food 3-1-1 as a liquid fertilizer that is readily available, cost effective, OMRI-listed and with good label directions for greenhouses. He also mentions the ease-of-use in how it mixes well with water and can pass fertilizer injectors. “Nature’s Source is currently the best liquid organic fertilizer,” Cox wrote in his article “Organic Fertilizers – Thoughts on Using Liquid Organic Fertilizers for Greenhouse Plants,” “I have seen no foliar chlorosis yet with this fertilizer. Nature’s source is widely available and a great […]

Read More

January 9, 2015

6 New Fertilizer Products For Healthy Plants

These five products add even more options for delivering nutrients to the root zone.

Read More

January 7, 2015

Fertilizers And The Future

As growers look for new ways to cut costs and conserve resources, fertilizer and equipment companies are offering products that strive to save water, reduce toxic runoff and keep chemicals out of the equation.

Read More

December 31, 2014

Gain Greater Control Of Fertilizer With Automated Ferti…

University researchers look at integrating irrigation and fertilization with the help of water sensors to reduce fertilizer treatments and improve application timing.

Read More

October 30, 2014

Basics & Beyond: Comparing Substrate Fertilizer Ame…

Cornell University researcher determines if substrate-incorporated slow-release fertilizers can be used to replace or reduce the need for liquid fertilizer for four spring crops.

Read More

July 24, 2014

Using Controlled Release Fertilizers To Produce Garden …

Researchers determined whether or not garden mums can be grown with controlled-release fertilizer, and if it reduces fertilizer leaching, as compared with water-soluble fertilizers.

Read More

March 14, 2014

New Foliage Pro Fertilizer Offers Complete Nutrition Pl…

Dyna-Gro Nutrition Solutions has developed a process it says is capable of keeping all 16 essential plant nutrients in solution form.

Read More

January 30, 2014

OASIS Grower Solutions Introduces New One-Bag Hydroponi…

The new 16-4-17 Hydroponic Fertilizer from OASIS Grower Solutions (OGS) is a one-bag solution that replaces two-part systems traditionally used by commercial hydroponic growers. It is specifically formulated for commercial hydroponic production of lettuce, herbs and vegetables.

Read More

December 30, 2013

Fertilizer Changes Growing Mix pH

When considering a fertilizer's influence on media pH, you need to know its acid or basic reaction.

Read More

December 30, 2013

Basics & Beyond: Fundamentals Of Phosphorus Nutriti…

Phosphorus is an essential element, after all.

Read More
Everris Liquid S.T.E.M.

December 30, 2013

New Fertilizers For 2014

New fertilizer products not only deliver optimum nutrition, they also provide for easier application and increased efficiency. Check out these new products to help your operation produce a healthy crop in 2014. Click through on the pages below.

Read More

December 18, 2013

Focus On Fertilizer: Micronutrients And Organics

New fertilizer products are focusing on micronutrients and providing efficient options for organic production.

Read More

August 27, 2013

BioWorks Adds EcoVita To The Verdanta Family Of Biofert…

EcoVita, a homogeneous granular organic fertilizer, has been added to Bioworks Inc.’s Verdanta biofertilizers product family. This fertilizer will be manufactured and supplied to BioWorks by DCM Corporation of Belgium, a producer of natural and organic-based fertilizers in Western Europe. EcoVita is suitable for a wide variety of crops with its gentle release curve including:• Organic fertilization as a base nutrition in potting mixes• Leafy vegetables• Fruiting vegetables (s a top dressing) • Roses and other ornamentals The new fertilizer offers long-lasting and continuous action for 75 to 100 days and contains organic phosphorus (5 percent P2O5) for fast rooting. Nutrients in EcoVita are gradually released by the soil microbes, in addition to producing humus for better rooting and less leaching. EcoVita is OMRI Listed, making it suitable for use in organic production. “We’re pleased to introduce EcoVita 7-5-10 as our organic NPK product to complement our organic products: K-Vita 2-0-20 […]

Read More

April 29, 2013

Rockwell Farms Introduces Ready-To-Pour Container Ferti…

Rockwell Farms has introduced Rockwell Farms Plant Food, a bottled liquid fertilizer that does not need to be diluted before use. Always looking for ways to help the consumer succeeed, Jason Roseman of Rockwell Farms says the operation is also always looking for ways to get consumers to come back and buy more plants and flowers. “We feel like fertilization is one of those things that can be very confusing,” Roseman says. “Not everyone does it, and not everyone knows what they’re supposed to do.” The solution: Rockwell Farms Plant Food. The formulation is 150 ppm of a 20-10-20 fertilizer and is sold in 24-ounce bottles. Rockwell recommends that one bottle be used to fertilize 1.5- to 3-gallon outdoor plant and flower containers every 21 days. The product’s signage shows a young patio gardener pouring the bottled fertilizer on a windowbox with the tagline, “Just pour on your way out […]

Read More

April 29, 2013

Plant Products To Be Purchased By MGS Horticultural And…

MGS Horticultural Inc., a full-service supplier of fertilizers, pest control products, seeds and substrates in North America, together with Haifa Chemicals, a global supplier of potassium nitrate for agriculture and industry, specialty plant nutrients and food phosphates, today announced a plan to purchase Canadian fertilizer and pesticides supplier Plant Products Co. Ltd. The deal is anticipated to close by the end of June 2013. MGS will acquire Plant Products’ Canadian distribution business, sales force and name. MGS plans to use both names (MGS Horticultural and Plant Products) in all communications going forward. MGS will maintain locations in Leamington, ON; Brampton, ON; Laval, QC; St. Hyacinthe, QC; and Detroit, Mich. As part of the deal, MGS has signed multi-year agreements with Haifa to maintain exclusive distribution of Plant-Prod Soluble Fertilizers, Acer Controlled Release Fertilizer, Stim-Root and potting soil premix fertilizers for distribution in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Eastern Canada. “MGS is excited […]

Read More

March 19, 2013

Irrigation And Fertilizer Tips For New Vegetable Grower…

Compared to other variable costs, fertilizers are not the largest part of the budget in conventional greenhouse production. Nevertheless, over the course of the season, mistakes in fertilizer use can lead to significant damages or crop losses. That makes this an important topic for ornamental growers who are experimenting with growing vegetable crops. This article will emphasize major differences between fertilizers used in vegetable production and in ornamentals production. The different nutrition strategies, monitoring and water volume per plant will also be explained. Fertilizer In ornamental production, nutrients are delivered using various water-soluble fertilizers through a fertilizer injector, through the use of controlled-release fertilizers, or a combination of the two. There are numerous fertilizer mixes available with all the needed nutrients already included. The fertilization rate is often given in parts per million (ppm) of nitrogen (N), which is a way of expressing the fertilizer concentration. At younger stages, plants will […]

Read More

March 11, 2013

Daniels Plant Food Rebranded As Nature’s Source

Ball DPF has announced the launch of Nature’s Source, a rebranding in name and packaging for its seed extract-based plant fertilizer product Daniels Plant Food. The new brand will make its industry debut at California Spring Trials. “While we are proud of our heritage, we made this bold decision because we’re expanding sales to our existing market segments and entering new ones. It was a good opportunity to start with a fresh name and a modern look for all our products and packaging,” says Chance Finch, general manager for Ball DPF. “We wanted to make it obvious, beginning with our Nature’s Source brand name, to know our products are sourced from nature. Growers, contractors and gardeners can be confident that our effective and unique formulations remain unchanged. We’re excited about launching updated packaging for all our products, and especially the new ready-to-spray plant food for home gardeners.” The Nature’s Source brand […]

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]