Sick Garden? Plant Nutrients Are the Cure

26 September 2015  
Symptoms of sick plants lacking nutrients, food, and water. What the experts say about plant health and keeping gardens blooming, green, and productive. The inside scoop to what ails your yard.

Watters Weekly Garden Classes

Sept 26 – Container Designs – Easy as 1-2-3. The fall plants have arrived, and this is the month to transition from summer blooming flowers to winter hardy pansy, viola, mums, kale, dusty miller and more. Expect inspirational color from your container gardens right through the holiday season to come. Students learn the best soils, foods and flowers that keep on blooming. Bring your empty containers and experts will be on hand after the class to help personalize your style. Free.

October Classes

Oct 3 – Choosing, Using & Planting Trees. Learn which trees to plant for privacy, shade, color, evergreen and blooms. We cover trees for every situation, especially small gardens, including trees for country gardens and trees for difficult sites. Plant trees for blossom, bark, fruit and colorful autumn foliage. With so many choices picking the perfect tree can be overwhelming, but not after this class. Our entire horticultural staff will be on-hand after this class to help with individual tree situations. Free tree planting guide to students after this class.

Oct 10 – RepellingAnimals – What’s Eating your Yard? – Deer, javalina, pack rats and gophers are just a few of the vermin covered in this class. Learn the 12 detestable plants animals absolutely will not eat and more. Repellents, fence, plants and techniques are all covered in this fast paced class. You can have an easy to care for yard among the animals, we’ll make sure of it.

Oct 17 – Bringing the Outside In – How to Bring Plants Indoors for Winter. There is a proper technique, unless you like spiders, worms crawling over the carpets and pesky fungus gnats. Students of this class can enjoy their geraniums (all winter), blooming jasmine, citrus and more. It’s easy and will save you money for next spring’s gardens.

Oct 24 – Herbs for the Winter Kitchen. Many plants like the winter season to come, including many culinary herbs. Learn which spices to harvest outdoors and which prefer to be planted in the kitchen window cell. Either way, you will be the kitchen hostess with the freshest herbs. Fun, fragrant and family friendly. This class includes free tastings from Watters non-GMO, all organic culinary herb collection.

Oct 31 – Irrigation and Winter Water. Local irrigation experts are on hand to answer detailed questions on all things irrigation. Do plants need water through winter? How can gardeners prevent freezing and more. This is a technical class, so come prepared with paper and pen. You will leave full of knowledge and lots of details.

November Classes

Nov 7 – Best Evergreens thru Winter – The autumn colors have dropped leaving the landscape naked and bare. As the last leaf drops Watters winter evergreen collection fills the garden center. Late fall is the ideal season for spotting evergreens trees in the naked spots of the yard. The best varieties, planting techniques, and evergreen care are all included in the class. ‘Living Evergreens Indoors as Holiday Decor’ is free for each student who attends.

Nov 14 – Keeping Critters Out – The animals can have a ferocious appetite in the yard, but not in your landscape. These simple steps will keep critters at bay. We will take special care to show plants the furry locals are known to dislike, some may even have a repelling presence to them. All the tricks in the book are shared at this class

Nov 21 – Top 7 Evergreens that Look like Christmas Trees – Go ahead and plant these winter hardy trees, they prefer the season. You can plant these local beauties keep them in their pot, or decorate and plant them after the holiday celebrations are over. Not all trees are created equal, but after this hands on class you will be able to spot the best trees from across the nursery.

Nov 28 – Decorating with Holiday Tropicals, Poinsettia & Christmas Cactus – The most garden fun is had with indoor tropicals and our holiday plant collection. The first of these festive plants arrive this week just for the event. Cooking the turkey dinner is fine, but these plant ideas bring out the kid in even the most avid gardener. Coupons abound for each of the students as we premier this year’s newest poinsettias, amaryllis and blooming cactus.

December Class

Dec 5 – Cut Christmas Trees and Greens & How to Force them to Stay Fresh – This is the week the freshest cut trees of the season arrive. We have a new featured tree that last longer than all the others this year. Students learn which trees stay fresh, care, and some insider secrets that insure your tree stays fresh until the very end. We have locally designed wreaths, swags, and garlands just for the students of this class. Free to all locals with a special coupon just for attending.


Plant of the Week: Fire Alarm Red Mum

  • With a name like Fire Alarm you'd expect large red blooms that take a fire hose to put the glowing peddles out.

  • Just provide a little garden soil for a flaming red that will last and last.

  • But wait there's more . . . this fire alarm mum comes back again for an even bigger show next year and just $3.99.

The advice that follows is good for houseplants as well as outdoor container and landscape plants. It is an outline of the most common local plant problems. Many plant problems have similar symptoms and sometimes plants exhibit combinations of problems and their symptoms. The explanations below are well thought through and should prove helpful the next time garden plants look sick. Print this list and add it to your garden journal or bookmark it for later reference.

When diagnosing a sick plant, first eliminate the obvious by checking for signs of insects or disease. Nutrient-deficient plants often manifest as foliage discoloration or distortion. Foliage discoloration and stunted plants can be caused easily by soil that is too wet and drains poorly, or soil that is too compacted for good root growth. Extreme cold or heat will slow plant growth and affect flowering and fruit set. For definitive diagnoses, consult the plant experts here at Watters Garden Center.

Plants do require a mix of nutrients to remain healthy. Nutrients needed in relatively large amounts are called the macronutrients, which include: nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, sulfur, and magnesium.

The handful of additional nutrients that are required for plant growth, but in much smaller amounts, are called micronutrients; they include boron, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, and zinc.

Plants assimilate all of these nutrients through their roots. As water transfers the nutrients from the soil to the plant roots, an essential requirement of a plant’s absorption of nutrition is sufficient water.

A second requirement is the appropriate soil pH for the plant being grown. Each plant prefers a specific pH range to be able to access the nutrients in the soil. Some plants are fussier than others, but if the soil pH is too acidic or too alkaline most plants will not be able to take in nutrients no matter how rich the soil. It's good to check your soil pH once each growing season.

Symptoms and Treatments of Nutrient-Deficient Plants


  • Calcium (Ca)

    • Symptoms: New leaves are distorted or hook-shaped. The growing tip may die. Contributes to blossom end rot in tomatoes, tip burn of cabbage, and brown/black heart of escarole & celery.

    • Sources for calcium: Any compound containing the word 'calcium'. Also gypsum.

    • Notes: Not often a problem of deficiency, as too much will inhibit other nutrients.

Photo by A13ean

Nitrogen (N)

  • Symptoms: Older leaves, generally at the bottom of the plant, will yellow. Remaining foliage is often light green. Stems may also yellow and may become spindly. Growth slows.

  • Sources for nitrogen: Any compound containing the words: 'nitrate', 'ammonium', or 'urea'. Also manure.

  • Notes: Many forms of nitrogen are water-soluble and wash away quickly. Use an organic or slow-release form of nitrogen like Watters 'All Purpose Plant Food'.

Magnesium (Mg)

  • Symptoms: Slow growth and leaves turn pale yellow, sometimes just on the outer edges. New growth may be yellow with dark spots.

  • Sources for Magnesium: Compounds containing the word 'magnesium', such as Epsom salt.

Released into Public Domain by Karduelis.

Phosphorus (P)

  • Symptoms: Small leaves that may take on a reddish-purple tint. Leaf tips can look burnt and older leaves become almost black. Reduced fruit or seed production.

  • Sources for Phosphorus: Compounds containing the words 'phosphate' or 'bone'. Also greensand.

  • Notes: Very dependent on soil pH range.

Potassium (K)

  • Symptoms: Older leaves may look scorched around the edges and/or wilted. Interveinal chlorosis (yellowing between the leaf veins) develops.

  • Sources for Potassium: Compounds containing the words 'potassium' or 'potash'.

"PotasDed". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Sulfur (S)

  • Symptoms: New growth turns pale yellow, older growth stays green. Stunts growth.

  • Sources for Sulfur: Compounds containing the word 'sulfate'.

  • Notes: More prevalent in dry spring soils.


  • Boron (B)

    • Symptoms: Poor stem and root growth. Terminal (at end of branch) buds may die. Witches’- brooms sometimes form.

    • Sources for Boron: Compounds containing the words 'borax' or 'borate'.

Copper (Cu)

  • Symptoms: Stunted growth. Leaves can become limp, curl, or drop. Seed stalks also become limp and bend over.

  • Sources for Copper: Compounds containing the words 'copper', 'cupric' or 'cuprous'.

Manganese (Mn)

  • Symptoms: Growth slows. Younger leaves turn pale yellow, change often starting between veins. May develop dark or dead spots. Leaves, shoots, and fruit diminished in size. Failure to bloom.

  • Sources for Manganese: Compounds containing the words 'manganese' or 'manganous'

Maganese deficiency on a rose. Photo by Sten, published on Wikipedia.

Molybdenum (Mo)

  • Symptoms: Older leaves yellow, remaining foliage turns light green. Leaves can become narrow and distorted.

  • Sources for Molybdenum: Compounds containing the words 'molybdate' or 'molybdic'.

  • Notes: Sometimes confused with nitrogen deficiency.

Zinc (Zn)

  • Symptoms: Yellowing between veins of new growth. Terminal leaves may form a rosette.

  • Sources for zinc: Compounds containing the word 'zinc'.

  • Notes: Can become limited in higher soil pH.

"This young corn plant shows typical zinc deficiency symptoms.
Note the broad white stripes on both sides of the midrib of the leaf."


Important in October – The most important plant feeding of the year is in the month of October. Feed everything in the yard by the end of the month. I created easy to apply Watters ' All Purpose Plant Food' 7-4-4, a unique blend of nutrients that local plants love. Pay special attention to evergreens like pine, fir, spruce, cedar, and cypress, especially those native pines on your property.


Watters: Website | Facebook | YouTube


Editor’s Note: Some of the photos shown here are published under the Creative Commons licensing. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

Ken Lain, the Mountain Gardener

Ken Lain is attracted to sunshine, beauty, happiness, success and health through gardening, and wishes to point the way to others. Throughout the week Ken can be found at Watters Garden Center located at 1815 W. Iron Springs Rd, Prescott, or contacted through his web site at www.wattersgardencenter.com

Website: www.wattersgardencenter.com