Calcium deficiency (plant disorder)
Calcium (Ca) deficiency is a plant disorder that can be caused by insufficient calcium in the growing medium, but is more frequently a product of low transpiration of the whole plant or more commonly the affected tissue. Plants are susceptible to such localized calcium deficiencies in low or nontranspiring tissues because calcium is not transported in the phloem. This may be due to water shortages, which slow the transportation of calcium to the plant, poor uptake of calcium through the stem, or can be caused by excessive usage of potassium or nitrogen fertilizers.
Acidic, sandy, or coarse soils often contain less calcium. Uneven soil moisture and overuse of fertilizers can also cause calcium deficiency. At times, even with sufficient calcium in the soil, it can be in an insoluble form and is then unusable by the plant or it could be attributed to a "transport protein". Soils containing high phosphorus are particularly susceptible to creating insoluble forms of calcium.
Calcium deficiency symptoms appear initially as localized tissue necrosis leading to stunted plant growth, necrotic leaf margins on young leaves or curling of the leaves, and eventual death of terminal buds and root tips. Generally, the new growth and rapidly growing tissues of the plant are affected first. The mature leaves are rarely if ever affected because calcium accumulates to high concentrations in older leaves.
Crop-specific symptoms include:
- 'Bitter pit' – fruit skins develop pits, brown spots appear on skin and/or in flesh and taste of those areas is bitter. This usually occurs when fruit is in storage, and Bramley apples are particularly susceptible. Related to boron deficiency, "water cored" apples seldom display bitter pit effects.
- Cabbage and Brussels sprouts
- Internal browning and "tip burn"
- 'Cavity spot' – oval spots develop into craters which may be invaded by other disease-causing organisms.
- Stunted growth, central leaves stunted.
- Tomatoes and peppers
- 'Blossom end rot' – Symptoms start as sunken, dry decaying areas at the blossom end of the fruit, furthest away from the stem, not all fruit on a truss is necessarily affected. Sometimes rapid growth from high-nitrogen fertilizers may exacerbate blossom end rot.
Calcium deficiency can sometimes be rectified by adding agricultural lime to acid soils, aiming at a pH of 6.5, unless the subject plants specifically prefer acidic soil. Organic matter should be added to the soil to improve its moisture-retaining capacity. However, because of the nature of the disorder (i.e. poor transport of calcium to low transpiring tissues), the problem cannot generally be cured by the addition of calcium to the roots. In some species, the problem can be reduced by prophylactic spraying with calcium chloride of tissues at risk.
Plant damage is difficult to reverse, so corrective action should be taken immediately, supplemental applications of calcium nitrate at 200 ppm nitrogen, for example. Soil pH should be tested, and corrected if needed, because calcium deficiency is often associated with low pH.
- Hopkins, William G., Norman P.A. Hüner. Introduction to Plant Physiology. London: Wiley & Sons, 2009.
- Nguyen, Ivy. “Increasing Vitamin D2 with Ergosterol for Calcium Absorption in Sugarcane.” UC Davis COSMOS. July 2009. 17 October 2010. NGUYEN_IVY.pdf
- Simon, E.W. “The Symptoms of Calcium Deficiency in Plants.” New Phytologist 80 (1978):1-15.
- "Plant Physiology Online: 5.1 Symptoms of Deficiency In Essential Minerals".
- University of Zurich (2011). Blossom end rot: Transport protein identified. http://phys.org/news/2011-11-blossom-protein.html
- E. W. Simon. "The Symptoms of Calcium Deficiency in Plants". pp. 2–4.
- Dr. Harry A. Mills. "The University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Department of Horticulture - Carrot". pp. 3–4.
- Blossom end Rot video
- Example of blossom end rot on Roma tomatoes
- Blossom End Rot - symptoms, cause and management - The Ohio State University Extension