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nitrogen deficiency in cannabis

Nitrogen Deficiency

Problem: A cannabis nitrogen deficiency will cause the older, lower leaves on your plant to turn yellow, wilt away and eventually die. The plant typically appears pale or lime-colored.

The yellow leaves of a nitrogen deficiency may show signs of brown, and they will usually become soft and sort of “fold” in, before possibly turning crispy but ultimately falling off on their own.

Example of cannabis Nitrogen deficiency – yellow bottom leaves. Almost all plant nutrients contain Nitrogen

Nitrogen-deficient plants often appear pale or lime-colored. The leaves on this marijuana plant don’t have obvious leaf symptoms like spots or markings, but they are pale all over the whole plant. Almost lime green. The light-colored leaves are a sign the plant needs more Nitrogen (and nutrients in general). On the flip side, plants that are receiving too much Nitrogen turn dark.

If the yellowing leaves are at the top of your plant or the yellow leaves are mostly new growth, then you probably don’t have a nitrogen deficiency. Nitrogen deficiencies usually affect the oldest, lowest leaves first, or the entire plant becomes light colored.

Nitrogen is a mobile nutrient, which means it can move throughout the plant as needed. Cannabis needs nitrogen to keep leaves green and make energy from light. All new leaves get plenty of nitrogen to make them green and help with photosynthesis. The leaves that get the most light are the newest, youngest leaves, so the plant “wants” to give those leaves priority for getting light.

If new leaves aren’t getting enough nitrogen, the plant will start to “steal” nitrogen from the older, lower leaves, so that it can give it to newer leaves. This is what causes the yellowing and wilting of a nitrogen deficiency.

It’s relatively normal for your cannabis plant’s leaves to start turning yellow towards the end of your flowering cycle as the plant becomes nitrogen deficient while creating buds.

However, if your cannabis plant is losing lower leaves fast due to yellowing (if yellowing and dying leaves is “climbing” up the plant from the bottom), especially in the vegetative stage before plant is making buds, you have a problem that you will need to fix as soon as possible.

You don’t want a nitrogen deficiency in the vegetative stage!

If you notice your lower cannabis leaves turning yellow in the vegetative stage or in the beginning part of the flowering stage, your plant may be experiencing a nitrogen deficiency which will need to be treated.

It is not good if your cannabis plant is showing signs of an advanced nitrogen deificiency while still in the vegetative stage. It’s normal to lose a few yellow leaves off the bottom of your plant here and there, especially with very big plants. But if you are losing a significant amount of yellow leaves, and the yellowing seems to be moving up the plant quickly, then you have a problem.

As a grower, you’re interested in how much nitrogen to give your plants at what time. The ratio of nitrogen to other nutrients has a huge effect on growth and bud formation.

Vegetative Stage – higher levels of Nitrogen (pretty much any plant food will do)

Most complete plant foods that you get at a gardening store contain high levels of nitrogen (N). These nutrient system tend to work well in the vegetative stage.

Some examples of cannabis-friendly one-part Vegetative nutrient systems…

Pretty much any complete plant food

Flowering Stage – lower levels of Nitrogen (use “Bloom” or Cactus nutrients)

It’s extra important to find a nutrient system with lower levels of nitrogen for the last part of your plant’s life. Many “Bloom” or “Flowering” style base nutrients are just the ticket.

Some examples of good one-part Flowering nutrient systems…

If you can’t order online and can’t find a good one-part base Bloom formula locally, you do have other choices. Though not an ideal choice, most Cactus plant foods will contain good nutrient ratios for growing cannabis during the budding stage. So in a pinch, you can use the cactus nutrients that can be found at most gardening stores.

The first cannabis plant pictured below is showing signs of nitrogen deficiency late in flowering; nitrogen deficiency in late flowering is completely normal and even desired. The last picture is an infographic about nitrogen and your marijuana plant.

It’s normal for plants to show signs of a nitrogen deficiency as the plant gets close to harvest. This is actually a good thing! Too much nitrogen can actually prevent proper budding, and can reduce the overall taste and smell of your plant. This is why all “bloom” and flowering nutrient formulas are relatively low in nitrogen.

Don’t worry about yellow leaves close to harvest! It’s normal to see a few Nitrogen-deficient leaves in the flowering stage. Nothing to worry about unless you see the yellowing leaves start climbing up the plant.

So don’t sweat it if you see your cannabis show some signs of nitrogen deficiency late in the flowering stage! Relatively low levels of nitrogen in the late flowering stage help promote proper cannabis bud development and will increase your yields!

Solution: You can find many pre-mixed nutrients from the store which contain nitrogen or you could use nitrate of soda or organic fertilizer which are both good sources of nitrogen. In fact almost all plant nutrients of any kind will include nitrogen. If you haven’t been providing any nutrient to your plants, try supplementing your regular nutrients with a bit more nitrogen and see if the plant starts recovering.

If you’ve already been using nutrients, then you probably don’t have a nitrogen deficiency. If you’re seeing the signs of spreading nitrogen deficiency even a week or two giving nitrogen to your plants through nutrients, then you need to figure out what else is causing the yellowing so you can stop it.

More About Nitrogen and Your Marijuana Plants

Sometimes you can get the signs of a cannabis nitrogen deficiency if the pH at the plant root zone is too low, even if the nitrogen is there. This is because when the pH at the roots is not right, your plant roots can’t properly absorb nutrients. If you aren’t sure about your root pH, learn more about pH & growing cannabis plants here.

Nitrogen is especially important during the vegetative stage of your cannabis plants. As your plants start flowering, they will need lower amounts of nitrogen.

Nitrogen is one of the 3 nutrients that is included in almost every kind of plant food.

When looking at plant nutrients, you’ll almost always see 3 numbers listed, like 3-12-6 or 5-10-5. These numbers represent the percentage of Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P) and Potassium (K) contained in the bottle. Just about all plant life on Earth needs these 3 elements to grow.

The 3 numbers on the front of plant nutrient bottles list the amount of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium.

The very first number, “3” in the case of the picture to the right, always displays the proportion of nitrogen in this nutrient bottle compared to the other 2 nutrients (Phosphorus and Potassium respectively).

Nitrogen is in all plant nutrient formulations because it’s vital to plant processes.

Note: During the last few weeks before harvest, marijuana plants start pulling all the remaining nitrogen from her leaves as part of the bud-making process. This causes yellowing leaves starting towards the bottom of the plant. This is part of the natural flowering process and you don’t need to fight it. You may notice that marijuana leaves are yellowing in almost all pictures of marijuana plants with big buds that are close to harvest. You tend to get smaller yields from nitrogen-toxic plants with dark green leaves at harvest.

Remember: It’s Normal For Marijuana Leaves To Start Turning Yellow As Harvest Time Approaches

Occassionally a nitrogen toxicity is mistake for a deficiency. Could your plant actually be nitrogen toxic? (pictured below)

This picture shows a Nitrogen Toxicity

Plant Symptoms

  • Bronze or brown patches
  • Brown or slimy roots
  • Brown or yellow leaf tips/edges
  • Buds dying
  • Buds look odd
  • Bugs are visible
  • Curling or clawing leaves
  • Dark leaves
  • Drooping plant
  • Holes in leaves
  • Mold or powder
  • Pink or purple on leaves
  • Red stems
  • Shiny or smooth leaves
  • Spots or markings
  • Twisted growth
  • Webbing
  • Wilting leaves
  • Yellow between leaf veins
  • Yellow leaves

This page is part of our Plant Doctor series. You can use our tool to filter by symptom and help diagnose your plant.

A nitrogen deficiency causes the lower/older leaves of a cannabis plant to start yellowing, wilting, and dropping off on their own. Learn how to fix it.

Nitrogen (N) deficiency is the most commonly occurring nutrient deficiency in cannabis

Nitrogen toxicity in late flowering. Photo: BillyBob

Symptoms

Lower leaves first appear pale green. The leaves then yellow and die as the Nitrogen travels to support new growth. Eventually the deficiency travels up the plant until only the new growth is green, leaving the lowest leaves to yellow and wither. Lower leaves die from the leaf tips inward.

Other symptoms include smaller leaves, slow growth and a sparse profile. The stems and petioles turn a red/purple tinge.

Too much nitrogen causes a lush dark green growth that is more susceptible to insects and disease. The stalks become brittle and break from lack of flexibility.

Mobility

Nitrogen can travel anywhere on the plant. Usually deficiency starts on the lower of the plant because nitrogen travels to new growth.

The role Nitrogen plays in plant nutrition

Nitrogen deficiency. Photo: TheNewGuy

Nitrogen is directly responsible for the production of chlorophyll and amino acids, and it is essential to photosynthesis. It is an essential element of tissue; without it, growth quickly stops.

Any water-soluble nitrogen (especially nitrates, NO3) is quickly available to the roots. Insoluble nitrogen (such as urea) needs to be broken down by microbes in the soil before the roots can absorb it. After fertilization, Nitrogen-deficient plants absorb N as soon as it is available and start to change from pale to a healthy-looking Kelly green. Deficient plants usually recover in about a week, but the most-affected leaves do not recover.

Nitrogen is the first number of the three-number set found on all fertilizer packages, which list N-P-K, always in that order. Any water-soluble fertilizer much higher in N than P and K can be used to solve N deficiencies very quickly. Most hydro “Vegetative Formulas” fall into this category.

Calcium nitrate (CaNO3) is water-soluble and fast acting. It can be used as a foliar fertilizer and in the water/nutrient solution.

Urine, fish emulsion (5-1-1) high-Nitrogen bat or seabird guano also act quickly. In soils high-nitrogen fertilizers such as alfalfa and cottonseed meals, manure, feather meal and fish meal all sup-ply nitrogen fairly quickly but release it over the growing season.

How to support your plants back to healthy nitrogen levels

Nitrogen deficiency. Photo: TheNewGuy

Without high amounts of nitrogen, especially during the vegetative growth stage, the plant’s yield is greatly reduced. Water up-take slows from vascular breakdown in the plants. N issues happen throughout the entire growth cycle. Plants should never experience an N deficiency during vegetative growth. However, over-fertilizing with N causes problems too.

Tapering off the use of nitrogen towards flowering promotes flowering rather than vegetative growth. However, a small amount of N is always necessary in order for the plant to manufacture amino acids, which use N as an ingredient. This supports flower growth and utilization of P and K. Some “Bloom Boosters” have N-P-K ratios of “0-50-30.” While high numbers sound impressive, using this fertilizer too early causes the flowers to be smaller than they could have been. If there is not enough residual N available, the plants are not getting the most out of the fertilizer.

Nitrogen Deficiency in veg. Photo: M&M

In the middle to the end of the flowering stage, plants frequently show a N deficiency. They’re using the nutrients that were stored in the leaves and dropping the their oldest, bottom fan leaves. To prevent the deficiency from getting extreme, switch over to bloom nutrients gradually unless the bloom fertilizer contains some N.

The plants switch to flowering growth over a week. Then they need higher levels of P and K. But they still require N. For this reason, during the first week of flowering use 1 part each bloom and vegetative. The second week use 2 parts bloom, 1-part veg. During the third week use 3-parts bloom and 1-part veg. After that use just bloom formula. Although the plants still need N in flowering, it’s not near the amount they need when they are growing vegetatively. By gradually moving from grow nutrients the plants receive enough N to last through the flowering process.

Learn what the symptoms of Nitrogen (N) deficiency in marijuana plants are, and how to support your plants back to healthy nitrogen levels.