Learning Cannabis Nutrient Disorders
Cannabis Nutrient Disorders
Cannabis Nutrient Disorders Sectional Menu
Cannabis nutrient disorders are caused by too much or too little of one or several nutrients being available. These nutrients are made available between a pH range of 5 and 7 and a total dissolved solids (TDS) range of 800 to 3000 PPM. Maintaining these conditions is the key to proper nutrient uptake.
Nutrients: Over twenty elements are needed for a plant to grow. Carbon, hydrogen and oxygen are absorbed from the air and water. The rest of the elements, called mineral nutrients, are dissolved in the nutrient solution. The primary or macro- nutrients (nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K)) are the elements plants use the most. Calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg) are secondary nutrients and used in smaller amounts. Iron (Fe), sulfur (S), manganese (Mn), boron (B), molybdenum (Mo), zinc (Zn) and copper (Cu) are micro-nutrients or trace elements. Trace elements are found in most soils. Rockwool (hydroponic) fertilizers must contain these trace elements, as they do not normally exist in sufficient quantities in rockwool or water. Other elements also play a part in plant growth. Aluminum, chlorine, cobalt, iodine, selenium, silicon, sodium and vanadium are not normally included in nutrient mixes. They are required in very minute amounts that are usually present as impurities in the water supply or mixed along with other nutrients.
*NOTE: The nutrients must be soluble (able to be dissolved in water) and go into solution.
Nitrogen (N) is primary to plant growth. Plants convert nitrogen to make proteins essential to new cell growth. Nitrogen is mainly responsible for leaf and stem growth as well as overall size and vigor. Nitrogen moves easily to active young buds, shoots and leaves and slower to older leaves. Deficiency signs show first in older leaves. They turn a pale yellow and may die. New growth becomes weak and spindly. An abundance of nitrogen will cause soft, weak growth and even delay flower and fruit production if it is allowed to accumulate.
Phosphorus (P) is necessary for photosynthesis and works as a catalyst for energy transfer within the plant. Phosphorus helps build strong roots and is vital for flower and seed production. Highest levels of phosphorus are used during germination, seedling growth and flowering. Deficiencies will show in older leaves first. Leaves turn deep green on a uniformly smaller, stunted plant. Leaves show brown or purple spots.
NOTE: Phosphorus flocculates when concentrated and combined with calcium.
Potassium (K) activates the manufacture and movement of sugars and starches, as well as growth by cell division. Potassium increases chlorophyll in foliage and helps regulate stomata openings so plants make better use of light and air. Potassium encourages strong root growth, water uptake and triggers enzymes that fight disease. Potassium is necessary during all stages of growth. It is especially important in the development of fruit. Deficiency signs of potassium are: plants are the tallest and appear healthy. Older leaves mottle and yellow between veins, followed by whole leaves that turn dark yellow and die. Flower and fruit drop are common problems associated with potassium deficiency. Potassium is usually locked out by high salinity.
Magnesium (Mg) is found as a central atom in the chlorophyll molecule and is essential to the absorption of light energy. Magnesium aids in the utilization of nutrients, neutralizes acids and toxic compounds produced by the plant. Deficiency signs of magnesium are: Older leaves yellow from the center outward, while veins remain green on deficient plants. Leaf tips and edges may discolor and curl upward. Growing tips turn lime green if the deficiency progresses to the top of the plant.
Calcium (Ca) is fundamental to cell manufacture and growth. Soil gardeners use dolomite lime, which contains calcium and magnesium, to keep the soil sweet or buffered. Rockwool gardeners use calcium to buffer excess nutrients. Calcium moves slowly within the plant and tends to concentrate in roots and older growth. Consequently young growth shows deficiency signs first. Deficient leaf tips, edges and new growth will turn brown and die back. If too much calcium is applied early in life, it will stunt growth as well. It will also flocculate when a concentrated form is combined with potassium.
Sulphur (S) is a component of plant proteins and plays a role in root growth and chlorophyll supply. Distributed relatively evenly with largest amounts in leaves which affects the flavor and odor in many plants. Sulphur, like calcium, moves little within plant tissue and the first signs of a deficiency are pale young leaves. Growth is slow but leaves tend to get brittle and stay narrower than normal.
Iron (Fe) is a key catalyst in chlorophyll production and is used in photosynthesis. A lack of iron turns leaves pale yellow or white while the veins remain green. Iron is difficult for plants to absorb and moves slowly within the plant. Always use chelated (immediately available to the plant) iron in nutrient mixes.
Manganese (Mg) works with plant enzymes to reduce nitrates before producing proteins. A lack of manganese turns young leaves a mottled yellow or brown.
Zinc (Z) is a catalyst and must be present in minute amounts for plant growth. A lack of zinc results in stunting, yellowing and curling of small leaves. An excess of zinc is uncommon but very toxic and causes wilting or death.
Copper (C) is a catalyst for several enzymes. A shortage of copper makes new growth wilt and causes irregular growth. Excesses of copper causes sudden death. Copper is also used as a fungicide and wards off insects and diseases because of this property.
Boron (B) is necessary for cells to divide and protein formation. It also plays an active role in pollination and seed production.
Molybdenum (Mn) helps form proteins and aids the plant’s ability to fix nitrogen from the air. A deficiency causes leaves to turn pale and fringes to appear scorched. Irregular leaf growth may also result.
These nutrients are mixed together to form a complete plant fertilizer. The mix contains all the nutrients in the proper ratios to give plants all they need for lush, rapid growth. The fertilizer is dissolved in water to make a nutrient solution. Water transports these soluble nutrients into contact with the plant roots. In the presence of oxygen and water, the nutrients are absorbed through the root hairs.
The above text is excerpted from George Van Pattens’ excellent book “Gardening: The Rockwool Book”.
To use the Problem-Solver, simply start at #1 below. When you think you’ve found the problem, read the Nutrients section to learn more about it. Diagnose carefully before
making major changes.
a) If the problem affects only the bottom or middle of the plant go to #2.
b) If it affects only the top of the plant or the growing tips, skip to #10. If the problem seems to affect the entire plant equally, skip to #6.
a) Leaves are a uniform yellow or light green; leaves die & drop; growth is slow. Leaf margins are not curled-up noticeably. >> Nitrogen (N) deficiency.
b) If not, go to #3.
a) Margins of the leaves are turned up, and the tips may be twisted. Leaves are yellowing (and may turn brown), but the veins remain somewhat green. >> Magnesium (Mg) deficiency.
b) If not, go to #4.
a) Leaves are browning or yellowing. Yellow, brown, or necrotic (dead) patches, especially around the edges of the leaf, which may be curled. Plant may be too tall. >> Potassium (K) deficiency.
b) If not, keep reading…
a) Leaves are dark green or red/purple. Stems and petioles may have purple & red on them. Leaves may turn yellow or curl under. Leaf may drop easily. Growth may be slow and leaves may be small. >> Phosphorous (P) deficiency.
b) If not, go to #6.
a) Tips of leaves are yellow, brown, or dead. Plant otherwise looks healthy & green. Stems may be soft >> Over-fertilization (especially N), over-watering, damaged roots, or insufficient soil aeration (use more sand or perlite. Occasionally due to not enough N, P, or K.
b) If not, go to #7.
a) Leaves are curled under like a ram’s horn, and are dark green, gray, brown, or gold. >> Over-fertilization (too much N).
b) If not, go to #8…
a) The plant is wilted, even though the soil is moist. >>Over-fertilization, soggy soil, damaged roots, disease; copper deficiency (very unlikely).
b) If not, go to #9.
a) Plants won’t flower, even though they get 12 hours of darkness for over 2 weeks. >> The night period is not completely dark. Too much nitrogen. Too much pruning or cloning.
b) If not, go to #10…
a) Leaves are yellow or white, but the veins are mostly green. >> Iron (Fe) deficiency.
b) If not, #11.
a) Leaves are light green or yellow beginning at the base, while the leaf margins remain green. Necrotic spots may be between veins. Leaves are not twisted. >> Manganese (Mn) deficiency.
b) If not, #12.
a) Leaves are twisted. Otherwise, pretty much like #11. >> Zinc (Zn) deficiency.
b) If not, #13.
a) Leaves twist, then turn brown or die. >> The lights are too close to the plant. Rarely, a Calcium (Ca) or Boron (B) deficiency.
b) If not… You may just have a weak plant.
Nitrogen – Plants need lots of N during vegging, but it’s easy to overdo it. Added too much? Flush the soil with plain water. Soluble nitrogen (especially nitrate) is the form that’s the most quickly available to the roots, while insoluble N (like urea) first needs to be broken down by microbes in the soil before the roots can absorb it. Avoid excessive ammonium nitrogen, which can interfere with other nutrients. Too much N delays flowering. Plants should be allowed to become N-deficient late in flowering for best flavor.
Magnesium – Mg-deficiency is pretty common since marijuana uses lots of it and many fertilizers don’t have enough of it. Mg-deficiency is easily fixed with ¼ teaspoon/gallon of Epsom salts (first powdered and dissolved in some hot water) or foliar feed at ½ teaspoon/quart. When mixing up soil, use 2 teaspoon dolomite lime per gallon of soil for Mg. Mg can get locked-up by too much Ca, Cl or ammonium nitrogen. Don’t overdo Mg or you’ll lock up other nutrients.
Potassium – Too much sodium (Na) displaces K, causing a K deficiency. Sources of high salinity are: baking soda (sodium bicarbonate “pH-up”), too much manure, and the use of water-softening filters (which should not be used). If the problem is Na, flush the soil. K can get locked up from too much Ca or ammonium nitrogen, and possibly cold weather.
Phosphorous – Some deficiency during flowering is normal, but too much shouldn’t be tolerated. Red petioles and stems are a normal, genetic characteristic for many varieties, plus it can also be a co-symptom of N, K, and Mg-deficiencies, so red stems are not a foolproof sign of P-deficiency. Too much P can lead to iron deficiency.
Iron – Fe is unavailable to plants when the pH of the water or soil is too high. If deficient, lower the pH to about 6.5 (for rockwool, about 5.7), and check that you’re not adding too much P, which can lock up Fe. Use iron that’s chelated for maximum availability. Read your fertilizer’s ingredients – chelated iron might read something like “iron EDTA”. To much Fe without adding enough P can cause a P-deficiency.
Manganese – Mn gets locked out when the pH is too high, and when there’s too much iron. Use chelated Mn.
Zinc – Also gets locked out due to high pH. Zn, Fe, and Mn deficiencies often occur together, and are usually from a high pH. Don’t overdo the micro-nutrients- lower the pH if that’s the problem so the nutrients become available. Foliar feed if the plant looks real bad. Use chelated zinc.
Crusty faucets and shower heads mean your water is “hard,” usually due to too many minerals.
Tap water with a TDS (total dissolved solids) level of more than around 200ppm (parts per million) is “hard” and should be looked into, especially if your plants have a chronic problem. Ask your water company for an analysis listing, which will usually list the pH, TDS, and mineral levels (as well as the pollutants, carcinogens, etc) for the tap water in your area. This is a common request, especially in this day and age, so it shouldn’t raise an eyebrow.
Regular water filters will not reduce a high TDS level, but the costlier reverse-osmosis units, distillers, and de-ionizers will. A digital TDS meter (or EC = electrical conductivity meter) is an incredibly useful tool for monitoring the nutrient levels of nutrient solution, and will pay for itself before you know it. They run about $40 and up.
General Feeding Tips – Pot plants are very adaptable, but a general rule of thumb is to use more nitrogen & less phosphorous during the vegetative period, and the exact opposite during the flowering period. For the veg. period try a N:P:K ratio of about 10:7:8 (which of course is the same ratio as 20:14:16), and for flowering plants, 4:8:8.
Check the pH after adding nutrients. If you use a reservoir, keep it circulating and change it every 2 weeks. A general guideline for TDS levels is as follows: seedlings = 50-150 ppm; unrooted clones = 100-350 ppm; small plants = 400-800 ppm; large plants = 900-1800 ppm; last week of flowering = taper off to plain water. These numbers are just a guideline, and many factors can change the actual level the plants will need.
Certain nutrients are “invisible” to TDS meters, especially organics, so use TDS level only as an estimate of actual nutrient levels. When in doubt about a new fertilizer, follow the fertilizer’s directions for feeding tomatoes. Grow a few tomato or radish plants nearby for comparison. PH – The pH of water after adding any nutrients should be around 5.9-6.5 (in rockwool, 5.5-6.1) . Generally speaking, the micro-nutrients (Fe, Zn, Mn, Cu) get locked out at a high pH (alkaline) above 7.0, while the major nutrients (N, P, K, Mg) can be less available in acidic soil or water (below 5.0). Tap water is often too alkaline.
Soils with lots of peat or other organic matter in them tend to get too acidic, which some dolomite lime will help fix. Soil test kits vary in accuracy, and generally the more you pay the better the accuracy. For the water, color-based pH test kits from aquarium stores are inexpensive, but inaccurate. Invest in a digital pH meter ($40-80), preferably a waterproof one. You won’t regret it.
Cold – Cold weather (below 50F/10C) can lock up phosphorous. Some varieties, like equatorial sativas, don’t take well to cold weather. If you can keep the roots warmer, the plant will be able to take cooler temps than it otherwise could.
Heat – If the lights are too close to the plant, the tops may be curled, dry, and look burnt, mimicking a nutrient problem. Your hand should not feel hot after a minute when you hold it at the top of the plants. Raise the lights and/or aim a fan at the hot zone. Room temps should be kept under 85F (29C) — or 90F (33) if you add additional CO2.
Humidity – Thin, shriveled leaves can be from low humidity. 40-80 % is usually fine.
Mold and fungus – Dark patchy areas on leaves and buds can be mold. Lower the humidity and increase the ventilation if mold is a problem. Remove any dead leaves, wherever they are. Keep your garden clean.
Insects – White spots on the tops of leaves can mean spider mites underneath. Sprays – Foliar sprays can have a “magnifying glass” effect under bright lights, causing small white, yellow or burnt spots which can be confused with a nutrient problem. Some sprays can also cause chemical reactions. Insufficient light — tall, stretching plants are usually from using the wrong kind of light..
Don’t use regular incandescent bulbs (“grow bulbs”) or halogens to grow cannabis. Invest in fluorescent lighting (good) or HID lighting (much better) which supply the high-intensity light that cannabis needs for good growth and tight buds. Even better, grow in sunlight.
Clones – yellowing leaves on unrooted clones can be from too much light, or the stem may not be firmly touching the rooting medium. Turn off any CO2 until they root. Too much fertilizer can shrivel or wilt clones – plain tap water is fine.