What are the potential implications of improper fertility management? What do symptoms of mineral nutrient deficiency look like in peach?

Answer: The implications of improper fertility management are many!  Supplemental fertilization is expensive.  If nutrients are supplied in excess, luxuriant growth may result causing shading and reducing fruit quality and flower bud production for next year.  Excess nutrients may be leached from the soil or runoff the site and that is a waste of money and can cause environmental contamination.

Further, some nutrients can actually create toxicities when in oversupply that can harm growth and development.  If specific nutrients are deficient in the soil, canopy growth may be stunted and fruit size and quality can be impaired.  If nutrients are applied at the wrong time, they may be unavailable when the feeder roots are growing and capable of absorption.  If the soil pH is incorrect, nutrients could be “tied up” and unavailable for root uptake (see image below).  If trees go into the winter nutrient deficient, early spring growth will be compromised.

This is because much of the early growth is driven by “reserves” that were stored in the tree last summer/fall as opposed to new nutrient uptake in the spring that helps growth later on. Getting fertility right is not a simple matter but it is a critical one.

Effects of soil pH on nutrient availability (Source: Polomski, 2007)
Effects of soil pH on nutrient availability (Source: Polomski, 2007) 

Prior to planting the orchard, you should perform a soil analysis according to the recommendations of your local cooperative extension service.  Testing the soil at two separate depths (0 - 8 inches and 8 – 16 inches) is helpful. Based on the soil test results, you will learn if any soil amendments are necessary and how deeply they need to be incorporated.  If any nutrients are deficient (i.e., phosphorus), these can be added and incorporated.  If the soil pH is too high or low, (i.e., add lime to acidic soils to increase pH, or sulfur to basic soils to lower pH) it can also be adjusted.  There may also be a need to increase the percentage of organic matter.  Annual soil testing after the orchard is established can check for nutrient availability in the soil and also determine pH changes from one year to the next, thus potentially avoiding soil acidification if acid-forming fertilizers (i.e., ammonium nitrate) are repeatedly used.   Foliar analysis during the growing season can be used to determine the nutrient status in the tree.

Nutrients typically needed in large quantities are referred to as macronutrients.  These include: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg) and sulfur (S).

Nutrients typically needed in small quantities are referred to as micronutrients.  These include: chlorine (Cl), iron (Fe), boron (B), manganese (Mn), zinc (Zn), copper (Cu) and molybdenum (Mo).


The single most important nutrient that is needed and used by the peaches every year is nitrogen.  Although a certain quantity of fertilizer may be applied to the soil, losses due to volatilization and leaching will reduce the amount that is available for root uptake.  

For specific fertilizer requirements and recommendations please see Clemson University Fact Sheet on Peaches & Nectarines (HGIC 1354):
http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/plants/vegetables/tree_fruits_nuts/hgic1354.html

Noted below are representative images (black/white and color) showing symptoms of nutrient deficit and a few symptoms of nutrient excess in peach for each of the macro and micronutrients.  

Macronutrients

1. Nitrogen (N)


  peach tree
Two-year-old peach tree showing symptoms of nitrogen deficiency.  Note pale leaf chlorosis and red coloration of stem and leaf midrib (Source: Stiles and Reed, 1991).


  Pale green-red chlorosis in a nitrogen deficient peach tree
Pale green-red chlorosis in a nitrogen deficient peach tree (Source: Hanson, 1996).

 

Red coloration on leaves and stems of nitrogen deficient peach shoot
Red coloration on leaves and stems of nitrogen deficient peach shoot (Source: Johnson, 2008).

 

Nitrogen deficiency in peach, showing characteristic reddening of stem and leaf midrib
Nitrogen deficiency in peach, showing characteristic reddening of stem and leaf midrib (Source: LaRue and Johnson, 1989).

 


Peach 
Severe nitrogen deficiency in peach.  Leaves are very chlorotic and have developed typical brown spots (Source: LaRue and Johnson, 1989).

 

Nitrogen deficient leaves of reduced size (on left) compared with normal, healthy peach leaf on right
Nitrogen deficient leaves of reduced size (on left) compared with normal, healthy peach leaf on right (Source: Childers et al., 1995).


2. Phosphorus (P)

Purple coloration and leathery texture of phosphorus deficient peach leaf
Purple coloration and leathery texture of phosphorus deficient peach leaf  (Source: Johnson, 2008).

3. Potassium (K)

Two-year-old peach trees: A. (left) Adequately supplied with nitrogen and potassium; B. (right) Adequately supplied with nitrogen but deficient in potassium showing narrow leaves with a tendency for the margins to roll upward
Two-year-old peach trees: A. (left) Adequately supplied with nitrogen and potassium; B. (right) Adequately supplied with nitrogen but deficient in potassium showing narrow leaves with a tendency for the margins to roll upward (Source: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture,  1976).

 

Potassium deficiency (right) compared with normal peach shoots (left).  Note pale color and leaf-rolling symptoms of shoot with potassium deficiency
Potassium deficiency (right) compared with normal peach shoots (left).  Note pale color and leaf-rolling symptoms of shoot with potassium deficiency (Source: LaRue and Johnson, 1989).

Potassium deficient peach shoot (left): marginal necrosis and leaf curling.  Healthy shoot (right)
Potassium deficient peach shoot (left): marginal necrosis and leaf curling.  Healthy shoot (right)  (Source: Hanson, 1996).

Pale color and leaf rolling caused by potassium deficiency in peach leaves
Pale color and leaf rolling caused by potassium deficiency in peach leaves (Source: Johnson, 2008).

Peach leaves showing severe upward rolling and marginal necrosis characteristic of potassium deficiency (left) compared with normal leaf (right)
Peach leaves showing severe upward rolling and marginal necrosis characteristic of potassium deficiency (left) compared with normal leaf (right) (Source: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture,  1976).

Potassium deficiency on peach.  From left to right most severe to no symptoms
Potassium deficiency on peach.  From left to right most severe to no symptoms (Source: Childers et al., 1995).

4. Calcium (Ca)

 

Calcium deficiency in peach.  Normal leaf on left.  Under controlled greenhouse conditions, affected leaves showed necrotic spots in center of leaves, then dropped.  Leaves on lateral spurlike shoots affected first
Calcium deficiency in peach.  Normal leaf on left.  Under controlled greenhouse conditions, affected leaves showed necrotic spots in center of leaves, then dropped.  Leaves on lateral spurlike shoots affected first (Source: Childers, 1954).  

Calcium deficiency in peach with necrotic spots in center and margin of leaf
Calcium deficiency in peach with necrotic spots in center and margin of leaf (Source: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture,  1976).

5. Magnesium (Mg) 

Marginal chlorosis on leaves of magnesium deficient peach tree
Marginal chlorosis on leaves of magnesium deficient peach tree (Source: Childers et al., 1995).  

Early symptoms of leaf margin and tip discoloration on magnesium deficient peach tree
Early symptoms of leaf margin and tip discoloration on magnesium deficient peach tree (Source: Johnson, 2008).  

Marginal chlorosis and necrosis of magnesium deficient peach leaves (worst at bottom)
Marginal chlorosis and necrosis of magnesium deficient peach leaves (worst at bottom)  (Source: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture,  1976).  

Magnesium deficiency in peach leaves, showing the typical, inverted, green “V” around the midrib.  Healthy leaf is on the far right
Magnesium deficiency in peach leaves, showing the typical, inverted, green “V” around the midrib.  Healthy leaf is on the far right (Source: LaRue and Johnson, 1989).

6. Sulfur (S)

Healthy shoot (left) and sulfur deficient shoot (right) from peach in Washington state
Healthy shoot (left) and sulfur deficient shoot (right) from peach in Washington state (Source: Childers et al., 1995).

Micronutrients


1. Chlorine (Cl)

Marginal leaf burn in peach caused by excessive chloride ions in the leaf
Marginal leaf burn in peach caused by excessive chloride ions in the leaf  (Source: LaRue and Johnson, 1989).

Chloride toxicity showing marginal leaf burn (left) versus healthy leaf (right)
Chloride toxicity showing marginal leaf burn (left) versus healthy leaf (right)  (Source: Johnson, 1993).


2. Iron (Fe) 

Chronic chlorosis in peach trees, due to an iron deficiency.
Chronic chlorosis in peach trees, due to an iron deficiency.(Source: Larson, IPMImages.org).  

Iron deficiency in peach.  Veins remain green while the rest of the leaf turns chlorotic
Iron deficiency in peach.  Veins remain green while the rest of the leaf turns chlorotic (Source: LaRue and Johnson, 1989).

Healthy leaf on far right.  Increasing iron deficiency (right to left) in peach.  Severe deficiency will turn the leaf almost white.
Healthy leaf on far right.  Increasing iron deficiency (right to left) in peach.  Severe deficiency will turn the leaf almost white.  (Source: LaRue and Johnson, 1989).

“Netting” symptoms of iron chlorosis on a peach leaf.  Veins remain green while the rest of the leaf has turned yellow
“Netting” symptoms of iron chlorosis on a peach leaf.  Veins remain green while the rest of the leaf has turned yellow  (Source: Johnson, 2008).

3. Boron (B) 

Young peach tree showing moderate dieback in the spring on shoots of the previous year’s growth due to boron deficiency
Young peach tree showing moderate dieback in the spring on shoots of the previous year’s growth due to boron deficiency (Source: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture,  1976).

Boron deficiency in peach.  Normal branch on right.  Boron deficient shoot on left with defoliation and rosette
Boron deficiency in peach.  Normal branch on right.  Boron deficient shoot on left with defoliation and rosette (Source: photo by Woodbridge, cited in Nemeth, 1986).

Boron deficiency on peach tree in sand culture.  Note dieback of side shoots
Boron deficiency on peach tree in sand culture.  Note dieback of side shoots (Source: Childers et al., 1995).

Severe boron toxicity on young peach shoot showing necrotic spots along the stem and petioles
Severe boron toxicity on young peach shoot showing necrotic spots along the stem and petioles (Source: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture,  1976).


4. Manganese (Mn)

Manganese deficiency develops on younger leaves first.  It shows as yellowing between veins.  Veins remain green.  Soil pH may be high, reducing availability of manganese
Manganese deficiency develops on younger leaves first.  It shows as yellowing between veins.  Veins remain green.  Soil pH may be high, reducing availability of manganese (Source: Cline, 1983). 

Gradient showing increasing levels of manganese deficiency.  Healthy leaf (top left).  Most manganese deficient leaf (bottom right)
Gradient showing increasing levels of manganese deficiency.  Healthy leaf (top left).  Most manganese deficient leaf (bottom right) (Source: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture,  1976). 

Manganese deficiency symptoms on a peach leaf.  Bands along main veins remain green
Manganese deficiency symptoms on a peach leaf.  Bands along main veins remain green (Source: Johnson, 2008).

Shothole in peach leaves associated with a severe manganese deficiency
Shothole in peach leaves associated with a severe manganese deficiency  (Source: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture,  1976).

5. Zinc (Zn)  

Zinc deficiency in peach. (Left) Severe resetting and little leaf in Australia (Courtesy A.E. Vincent, Department of Agriculture, Sydney, Australia).  (Right) Zinc chlorosis, crinkling, and mild resetting at the shoot tips due to zinc deficiency in the Sand Hill section, South Carolina (Courtesy Roy Ferree, Clemson College, Clemson)
Zinc deficiency in peach. (Left) Severe resetting and little leaf in Australia (Courtesy A.E. Vincent, Department of Agriculture, Sydney, Australia).  (Right) Zinc chlorosis, crinkling, and mild rosetting at the shoot tips due to zinc deficiency in the Sand Hill section, South Carolina (Courtesy Roy Ferree, Clemson College, Clemson) (Source: Childers, 1954).

 

Zinc deficiency in young peach.  Characteristic symptoms of acute zinc deficiency in young peach tree:  little leaf, crinkling, rosette, defoliation and twig “dieback”
Zinc deficiency in young peach.  Characteristic symptoms of acute zinc deficiency in young peach tree:  little leaf, crinkling, rosette, defoliation and twig “dieback”  (Courtesy Florida Agricultural Experiment Station) (Source: Gilbert, 1948).

Limb on peach tree affected by zinc deficiency showing typical rosetted growth
Limb on peach tree affected by zinc deficiency showing typical rosetted growth (Source: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture,  1976).  

Rosetting or “little leaf” symptoms of zinc deficiency in peaches
Rosetting or “little leaf” symptoms of zinc deficiency in peaches (Source: Johnson, 2008). 

Zinc deficient shoots (left) compared with healthy shoot (right)
Zinc deficient shoots (left) compared with healthy shoot (right) (Source: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture,  1976).

Zinc deficiency on peach in sand culture
Zinc deficiency on peach in sand culture  (Source: Childers et al., 1995).

Zinc deficiency symptoms of interveinal chlorosis on a peach leaf
Zinc deficiency symptoms of interveinal chlorosis on a peach leaf (Source: Johnson, 2008). 

Zinc deficiency in peach leaves.  Crinkling, waving, and chlorosis of peach leaves as a result of zinc deficiency.  The leaf at the far right is normal.
Zinc deficiency in peach leaves.  Crinkling, waving, and chlorosis of peach leaves as a result of zinc deficiency.  The leaf at the far right is normal.  (Courtesy Florida Agricultural Experiment Station) (Source: Gilbert, 1948).

6. Copper (Cu)

Copper deficiency in peach.  Interveinal chlorosis and fine network of green veins resemble iron deficiency.  Mottled greener areas were characteristic as indicated by the second leaf from left.  Chlorosis tended to be whitish.  Tipmost leaves were long, narrow, and with irregular edges.  Normal leaf on right.  Developed in solution culture in greenhouse. (Courtesy Hector R. Cibes, formerly Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J.)
Copper deficiency in peach.  Interveinal chlorosis and fine network of green veins resemble iron deficiency.  Mottled greener areas were characteristic as indicated by the second leaf from left.  Chlorosis tended to be whitish.  Tipmost leaves were long, narrow, and with irregular edges.  Normal leaf on right.  Developed in solution culture in greenhouse. (Courtesy Hector R. Cibes, formerly Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J.) (Source: Childers, 1954).

Copper deficiency on peach.  Left to right – severe to none.  Note mottled chlorosis
Copper deficiency on peach.  Left to right – severe to none.  Note mottled chlorosis (Source: Childers et al., 1995).


7. Molybdenum (Mo)
No symptoms of molybdenum deficiency or toxicity on peach have been observed in the field.  According to LaRue and Johnson (1989), symptoms on plum grown in sand culture include dwarf leaves, some with diffuse mottling, and necrotic tissue on tips and leaf margins.

Other:

Elberta peach leaves showing symptoms of mineral deficiency when trees were grown in sand cultures with indicated element withheld: A, phosphorus; B, manganese; C, nitrogen; D, iron; E, magnesium; F, calcium; G, potassium.  H, comparable leaf from tree grown on a complete nutrient.
Elberta peach leaves showing symptoms of mineral deficiency when trees were grown in sand cultures with indicated element withheld: A, phosphorus; B, manganese; C, nitrogen; D, iron; E, magnesium; F, calcium; G, potassium.  H, comparable leaf from tree grown on a complete nutrient.  (Source: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture,  1976).

Sodium toxicity on peach.  Left to right – severe to none
Sodium toxicity on peach.  Left to right – severe to none (Source: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture,  1976).


Image Sources:
Childers, N.  1954.  Mineral nutrition of fruit crops.  Horticultural Publications, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ.  907 p.
Childers, N., J.R. Morris, and G.S. Sibbett.  1995.  Modern fruit science.  Horticultural Publications, Gainesville, FL.  632 p.
Cline, R.A.  1983.  Nutrient deficiency symptoms in fruit crops.  Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food Factsheet No. 83-041. 4 p.
Gilbert, F.A. 1948.  Mineral nutrition of plants and animals. Univ. of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK.  131 p. 
Hanson, E.  1996. Fertilizing fruit crops.  Michigan State University Extension Bulletin E-852.  20 p.  
Johnson, R.S. 1993.  Stone fruit: peaches and nectarines.  In: W.F. Bennett (Ed.) Nutrient Deficiencies & Toxicities in Crop Plants.  APS Press, St. Paul, MN.  202 p.
Johnson, R.S. 2008.  Nutrient and water management in peach trees.  In:  Layne, D.R. and D. Bassi (eds.) The Peach: Botany, Production and Uses.  CAB International, Wallingford U.K., 615 p.
Larsen, H.J.  http://www.ipmimages.org/browse/detail.cfm?imgnum=5362160 (accessed April 14, 2010).
LaRue, J.H. and R.S. Johnson. 1989.  Peaches, plums, and nectarines: Growing and harvesting for fresh market.  Cooperative Extension, University of California.  Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.  Publication 3331.  246 p.
Nemeth, M. 1986.  Virus, mycoplasma and rickettsia diseases of fruit trees.  Akademiai Kiado, Budapest.  841 p.
Polomski, R.  2007. The South Carolina Master Gardener Training Manual, Clemson Extension EC 678.  812 p.
Stiles, W.C. and W.S. Reid.  1991. Orchard nutrition management. Cornell Cooperative Extension Information Bulletin 219.  22p.
U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.  1976.  Virus diseases and noninfectious disorders of stone fruits in North America.  Agriculture Handbook No. 437. 433 pp.

 

Learn more:

Read the column:  Fertility Management – Implications If Done Incorrectly
Read the column:  Are you stressed?
Read the column:  The importance of nitrogen
Read the column:  Numerous factors affect peach quality
Watch the video: Recognizing Stress Factors in Orchards


For a thorough article with good symptom photos, download “Mineral nutrition. R.S. Johnson, K. Uriu. (1989) Peaches, Plums, and Nectarines: Growing and Handling for Fresh Market, Chapter 13: 68-81, UC ANR Publication 3331.” http://ucanr.org/sites/nm/files/76718.pdf

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