fertilizer, nickel, elements


Ferti-Facts:  Nickel, It Just Makes Good “Cents”


Nickel (Ni) is the 24th most abundant element in the Earth’s crust with concentrations ranging from 80 to 125 ppm. Combined with the estimated 20% Ni content of the Earth’s core, nickel jumps to the fifth most abundant element by weight after iron, oxygen, magnesium, and silicon. In pure form Ni is a lustrous silvery white metal with a gold tinge. Nickel is a group 10 member of the Periodic Table of Elements. Nickel’s position in the Periodic Table places it in a group of transition metals (Mn, Fe, Co, Cu, and Zn) that serve as essential micronutrients for plants.

Nickel is the most recent element to be added to the essential element list for plants. Its presence in plant tissues (ash) was used for biogeochemical nickel prospecting in the mid 1900’s. In 1946 broad beans, potatoes, and wheat grown in the Romney Marsh area in England responded well to applications of nickel, as well as boron, copper, iron, manganese, and zinc. In 1975, nickel was identified as an essential component of the plant enzyme, urease when tissue cultured soybean plants could not grow when urea was supplied as the sole nitrogen source unless nickel was supplied. Other researchers soon demonstrated that a nickel deficiency severely impacted growth of other plants when urea was the sole nitrogen source. In 1983-84, nickel was shown to be essential for nitrogen fixing plants such as legumes. In 1987, it was shown that barley could not complete its life cycle in the absence of nickel, even if a non-urea nitrogen source was provided. Other researchers showed that a nickel deficiency depressed growth of oats and wheat.These findings met the requirements defining essential elements for plants. By 2004, nickel was added to the USDA list of essential plant elements and recognized as an essential micronutrient by the American Association of Plant Food Control.

Nickel in Plants

Nickel concentrations in leaves of plants range between 0.05 to 5 mg/kg dry weight.  However, nickel concentrations between 0.1 to 10 mg/kg dry weight are adequate for most plants.  Different plant tissues as well as certain plants are considered Ni accumulators. Accumulators are able to tolerate higher soil Ni concentrations and usually have higher Ni content in their tissues. For example, 100 mg/kg is the critical concentration of Ni needed for seed germination in barley; shoot growth in oats, barley, and wheat; shoot growth of urea-fed tomato, rice, and zucchini; and for pecan crop production. In Ni sensitive plant species, Ni concentrations of 10 mg/kg dry weight is toxic. In moderately tolerant plants, Ni concentrations greater than 50 mg/kg can be toxic. There are approximately 150 plant species that are known to be Ni accumulators that can have Ni concentrations at least 1000 mg/kg dry weight without exhibiting toxicity symptoms. Some plant tissues are able to accumulate Ni as high as 50,000 mg/kg.

Nickel is mobile in plants so deficiency symptoms appear in older leaves first. This can create a spatial Ni concentration gradient within a plant.  For example, up to 70% of the Ni content in a plant’s shoots can be transported to seeds. Uptake mechanisms of Ni may share some similarities with other metal elements since copper and zinc are effective competitors of nickel.  There are two regulatory systems that manage Ni uptake. There is a low affinity system that can absorb Ni at concentration of 4.4 ppb (0.6 ounces of Ni per million gallons of water), and a high affinity transport system that can absorb Ni at 1.8 ppm (237.7 ounces Ni per million gallons of water. Nickel is readily re-translocated within the plant, probably as a complex with organic acids, such as citrate at pH < 5, or with an amino acid, such as histidine at pH > 6.5.

Nickel in Soils

Nickel is widely distributed in soils originating from soil forming processes, plant decomposition, and pollution. Only the ionic form, Ni2+ is available to plants.  Since these may be chelated to other compounds, total soil Ni concentrations may not be reflective of actual Ni availability. Other ions such as copper and zinc compete directly for carrier sites with nickel.  Other ions such as iron and cobalt compete indirectly. These competitive ions are also Ni limiting in soils.

The lowest amounts of Ni are found in low nutrient acidic soils, sedimentary rocks such as limestone (<5 mg/kg), sandstone (20 mg/kg), and shale (90 mg/kg).  Highest concentrations of nickel are found in basic igneous rocks (2,000 to 6,000 mg/kg) and lands impacted by industrial wastes. Nickel concentrations normally range from 3 to 1000 mg/kg in agricultural soil.  Some of the higher recordings may be due to fertilizer introduced nickel. Healthy productive soils have nickel concentrations ranging from 1 - 20 mg/kg. Deficient levels of Ni are found in low nutrient, acidic soils such as the Romney Marsh in England and in the southeastern United States. Average Ni concentrations run around 50 mg/kg, and range from 5 to 500 mg/kg in most soils. High nickel concentrations have been found near metal refineries (24,000 mg/kg) and in dried sewage sludge (53,000 mg/kg).

Nickel Deficiency Symptoms

Nickel should be at sufficient levels for agriculture since Ni is fairly ubiquitous and continually being deposited from atmospheric pollution generators. Although rare, nickel deficiencies are known to occur in a number of perennial plant species grown in the low nutrient, acidic soils of the southeastern United States, soils with high Ni binding capacity, high pH soils (>pH 6.7), and high lime soils. It can also occur under tightly controlled conditions such as tissue culture. Nickel deficiencies, can appear after three years of tightly controlled fertilization that prevents Ni introduction. The current trend for cleaner air, better fertilizers, and greenhouse and tissue culture based production, may also impact and lead to Ni deficiencies.

Nickel deficiencies can be induced by excessively high levels of zinc, copper, manganese, iron, calcium or magnesium in the soil through the use of fertilizers and zinc and copper containing fungicides. Nickel deficiencies can also be induced by root-knot nematode damage, and by dry or cool soils at the time of bud break.

Nickel deficiency symptoms result from decreased urease activity leading to the buildup of toxic levels of urea which causes  leaflet tip necrosis. In nitrogen-fixing plants receiving nitrate and ammonium fertilizers, Ni deficiency is observed as leaf tip necrosis on pale green leaves. A nickel deficiency can result in a reduction in shoot growth of barley, oats, and wheat. Tissue analyses will show a reduction of tissue iron and malate concentrations. In pecan and in certain other woody perennial crops (e.g., plum, peach and pyracantha, and citrus) Ni deficiency is characterized by early-season leaf chlorosis, dwarfing of foliage, blunting of leaf or leaflet tips, necrosis of leaf or leaflet tips, curled leaf or leaflet margins, shortened  internodes, distorted bud shape, brittle shoots, cold-injury such as  death of overwintering shoots, diminished root system with dead fibrous roots, failure of foliar lamina to develop, rosetting and loss of apical dominance, dwarfed trees, and tree death.

For woody perennials, chlorosis similar to that of iron or sulfur deficiency has been noted as an early indicator of Ni deficiency. Other more severe symptoms that have been observed in pecan trees include a rounding or blunting of the leaflet tips, and dwarfing of foliage to produce what has been termed “mouse ear” or “little leaf” in the southeastern US. This rounding of leaf tips is associated with buildup of urea to toxic levels. With severe Ni deficiency, leaf deformation is often most prominent at the top of the tree canopy. Affected foliage is thicker, less pliable, tends to be brittle, and may exhibit cupping or wrinkling. Severe Ni deficiency results in plant stunting and abnormal growth patterns.

In graminaceous species, deficiency symptoms include chlorosis which appear similar to that induced by iron deficiency, including interveinal chlorosis and patchy necrosis in the youngest leaves. Nickel deficiency also results in a marked enhancement in plant senescence and a reduction in tissue-iron concentrations. In monocotyledons and in dicotyledons, the accumulation of urea  in leaf tips is diagnostic of nickel deficiency.

Fertilizing with Nickel

Fertilization with nickel is usually not needed. Soil plant available Ni or deposition from the air is usually sufficient to meet the critical requirements for most plants.  Trace amounts of Ni are also present in some commonly used fertilizers. However, situations where Ni is deficient, or with crops that have a high requirement for Ni such as pecans, Ni supplementation would be useful if not necessary.

Anhydrous nickel sulfate (NiSO4) or nickel sulfate NiSO46H2O can be used for tissue culture or to address nickel deficiencies when used as a foliar spray (0.03 to 0.06 ppm). Municipal sewage sludge is another good source for Ni. Other Ni containing fertilizers include nickel nitrate (Ni(NO3)2 •6H2O), nickel chloride (NiCl26H2O), nickel EDTA complex (NiC10H16N2O2), and Nickel Plus. Application of foliar sprays of 0.05 to 0.06 ppm Ni, or 0.5 lbs Ni per acre is all that is needed.

Crop Responses to Nickel

Crop responses to nickel are the absence of Ni deficiency symptoms. Approximately 0.03 mg/kg dry weight in leaves for most plants are sufficient. Sufficient Ni has been reported to produce significant increases in nodule weight and seed yield of soybean. Nickel is needed in barley to yield viable seeds. In pecans, Ni alleviates mouse ear symptoms and may be associated with reduced resistance to certain diseases. In other plants, Ni has been associated with increasing disease resistance due to a direct phytosanitary effect of Ni on the pathogens or possibly increased host plant resistance. Nickel is absolutely essential for rice, soybean, and tobacco tissue culture.

Nickel Toxicity Symptoms

Until the recognition of Ni as an essential element, attention was focused on the toxicity of nickel in plants especially lands impacted by industrial pollution. In sensitive plant species (>10 mg/kg dry weight), moderately tolerant plant species(>50 mg/kg dry weight), impaired root and shoot growth without any remarkable defining characteristics can be observed. This can occur in serpentine soils, sewage amended soils, or soils subject to contamination from industrial pollution.  Nickel toxicity symptoms usually occurs in plants grown in soils with high concentrations of iron, zinc, and chromium, or an unfavorable ratio of magnesium to calcium. Severe toxicity results in complete foliar chlorosis with necrosis advancing in from the leaf margins, followed by plant death.

In early or incipient stages of nickel toxicity, no clearly visible symptoms develop, though shoot and root growth may be suppressed. Acute nickel toxicity results in symptoms that have occasionally been likened to iron deficiency (interveinal chlorosis in monocotyledons, mottling in dicotyledons) or zinc deficiency (chlorosis and restricted leaf expansion).


Nickel is the latest element to be classified as essential for plant growth in both laboratory and field conditions. Nickel plays an important role in nodulation and nitrogen fixation so it is an essential nutrient in leguminous nitrogen fixing plants. Nickel deficiencies are usually observed when soil pH is greater than 6.7, or in soils that have received excessive application of Ca, Cu, Fe, Mg, Mn, or Zn. Common symptoms are leaflet tip necrosis or “mouse-ear” leaves. Deficiencies can be remedied with foliar sprays such as NiSO4 or other soluble Ni fertilizers. Municipal biosolids can also be effectively used to address soil Ni deficiencies.

elements, magnesium, manganese


Presented by NSW Agriculture
Author: R. G. Weir, Special Chemist Division of Plant Industries (Reviewed January 2003).


Magnesium deficiency is chiefly a problem of the acid, leached soils of the coast, but it also occurs in citrus orchards along the Murray River, in both acid and alkaline soils.

Symptoms develop on mature leaves at any season of the year, but most usually as the fruit is maturing, especially in limbs bearing a heavy crop. Yellow blotches start near the centre of the leaves, and eventually coalesce to form, the tree becoming heavily defoliated while cropping declines. New leaves are at first a normal green, but in severe cases may yellow before they are one year old.

In moderately acid soil use magnesite (magnesium carbonate) at an initial rate of 1 tonne per hectare. Subsequent applications will depend on the severity of symptoms and size of the trees.

If the soil is very acid some lime may be used with the magnesite; the ratio of lime to magnesite can be varied according to the degree of soil acidity. Dolomite may be used if a good quality material is obtainable. Soil applications can take 2 to 3 years to correct the symptoms, but the treatment is long-lasting and may not need repeating for 3 to 5 years. Liming materials such as magnesite or dolomite are not effective in alkaline or neutral soils.

For quick action or in alkaline soils, use a foliar spray of magnesium nitrate. This is made by mixing 1 kg each of calcium nitrate and magnesium sulphate (Epsom salts) in 100 L of water plus 500 mL white oil or a wetting agent. The spray should be used when spring flush leaves are about half to two-thirds grown (October-November). Foliar spray treatments need to be repeated annually, and should be supplemented by a soil dressing of magnesite to obtain both quick and long-lasting results.


Manganese deficiency is indicated when leaves become mottled with lighter green or yellowish green areas between the major veins. The veins themselves and bands of tissue on each side remain green. Both young and mature leaves may show symptoms. Where the deficiency is mild the pattern gradually disappears as the leaves age, but if the deficiency is severe the pattern persists in mature leaves.

Persistent severe deficiency results in reduced cropping and growth. The leaves are not reduced in size as they are in zinc deficiency. Manganese deficiency occurs in:

  • Acid coastal soils where the manganese content is low
  • Alkaline soils, where manganese may be present but unavailable to the plant

Manganese is best applied as a foliar spray in spring or summer, when new growth is being made.
Where severe, persistent deficiency exists, use 100 g manganese sulphate in 100 L water. Do not spray if rain is expected within 48 hours.

If zinc is also deficient, make up a composite spray with 150 g zinc sulphate and 100 g manganese sulphate in 100 L water.

A more weather-resistant spray can be made from 500 g manganese sulphate, 250 g hydrated lime, 100 L water and 500 mL white oil emulsion. For a mild deficiency 200 to 300 g of manganese sulphate per 100 L of water, plus 100 to 150 g of hydrated lime, is sufficient.

Dissolve the manganese sulphate in the spray tank with most of the water. Mix the hydrated lime to a thin cream and pour through a fine mesh filter into the tank, with the agitator working. The white oil should be broken down with a little water and added last.

Warning: As the manganese/ lime spray produces a dark and persistent residue you should time spray applications to avoid marking the fruit.

Edited by A. T. Munroe
Division of Agricultural Services ISSN 0725-7759

potassium, almonds, elements


The Importance of Potassium (K) in Almonds

Potassium is major nutrient for almonds. It is involved in enzyme activation, photosynthesis, sugar translocation, protein synthesis, starch synthesis, and stomatal function. Approximately 76 pounds of potassium are removed per 1,000 pounds of kernel harvested. Nearly 70% of the harvested potassium is accumulated in almonds by mid-June. Potassium deficiencies can occur if potassium is not replaced and leaf potassium falls below 1% K. Potassium replacement should be initiated after harvest and continue through flowering in the following season. Traditionally potassium chloride, potassium sulfate, potassium thiosulfate, potassium nitrate, potassium carbonate, or potassium magnesium sulfate are used to replace removed potassium. Organic sources of potassium include greensand, langbeinite, manure, compost, potassium sulfate, mined rock powders, seaweed, sylvinite, and wood ash. There are some restrictions, as products may not undergo further processing or purification after mining or evaporation other than crushing or sieving. In California, approximately 50% of the typical potassium fertilizers are applied to almonds in May and June and 50% after Harvest (3).