Problem Identifier / Copper Deficiency in Plants

ABOVE PHOTO CREDIT: John Ruter, University of Georgia,

How to Fix Copper Deficiency in Plants

Copper Deficiency in Cannabis Plant
Copper deficiency in a cannabis plant.

Copper is one of the essential micronutrients required by plants. The normal growing medium range is extremely small at between 0.05 and 0.5 ppm. The normal range for most plant tissues is three to 10 ppm. The ideal range for many of the other nutrients is 20 times greater. Plants are unable to grow correctly without copper. It is important for numerous enzyme processes in addition to forming chlorophyll.

Copper toxicities and deficiencies are rare in plants. Both are extremes, capable of impacting both the quality and growth of the plant. Plant enzymes are activated by copper which play an important role in lignin synthesis. Copper is also necessary for many enzyme systems, the photosynthesis process and plant respiration. Copper is required for plants to metabolize proteins and carbohydrates.

Copper intensifies the color and flavor of vegetables and enhances the color of flowers. Since copper is immobile, the symptoms of the deficiency appear in the new leaves. An excess of some of the other micronutrients is often indirectly responsible for a copper deficiency in plants. If the deficiency is left untreated, it can eventually result in the death of the plant.

How does a Copper Deficiency Affect the Quality of Your Plant?

The most notable copper deficiency in plants occurs during the flowering stage, impacting the photosynthesis of the leaves. The impact on plant quality includes:

  • pH issues at the roots
  • Restricted access to essential nutrients
  • Copper toxicity leading to plant death
  • Unhealthy leaves and buds

What are the Symptoms of a Copper Deficiency?

Copper Deficiency on Plants
Necrotic spots and chlorotic patches on mature leaves.

A copper deficiency in plants starts in the leaves, resulting in darker leaves with purple or blue undertones. The edges and tips begin to turn white or pale yellow. Copper is classified as low mobile. This means it has difficulty moving within the plant. The symptoms include:

  • Shiny dark leaves with a greenish-blue undertone
  • Yellow and brown patches on leaves
  • Leaves become darker with purple or blue undertones
  • The leaves are directly impacted when placed beneath a light
  • A metallic or shiny sheen appears on the leaves
  • Buds grow extremely slowly or will not open
  • The leaves become stiff and begin to turn under

Possible confusion With Other Symptoms

A copper deficiency in plants can be confused with the following.

  • Diseases
  • The leaves turning under can be confused with heat stress
  • An iron deficiency, light burn, or light stress also results in bright yellow leaves
  • Turned down leaves also result from nitrogen toxicity
  • Wind burn can cause the leaves to turn under

What Causes a Copper Deficiency?

A copper deficiency is not a common issue but can be cause for several reasons including:

  • Although it is a possibility, a copper deficiency in the soil or water is rare
  • Copper toxicity is the opposite extreme and results in plant death
  • Copper deficiencies are confused with pH issues at the roots restricting nutrient access

How to Fix a Copper Deficiency in Plants

Copper Deficiency in Cannabis Plant
Copper deficiency in a cannabis plant.

Correcting a copper deficiency is essential for the health of the plants. The most common reason for a copper deficiency is an incorrect pH range at the roots of the plant. Copper tends to become locked at a specific pH level. Plants can absorb copper more easily when the root environment is slightly acidic. If you believe your plants are suffering from a copper deficiency, specific steps are required.

Start with a pH flush of your system containing plant-friendly nutrients. Any nutrient salts potentially impacting the copper uptake of the plants will be restored in addition to helping with the correction of the pH levels. Watch the plants to make certain the issue begins to resolve itself within a couple of days. Old plant growth may never recover, but you should start to see healthy new growth.

If you are growing your plants in soil, copper absorption for the roots is most efficient with a pH range of 6.0 to 7.0. If you are using hydro, the pH range needs to be between 5.5 to 6.5. You probably do not need to add copper because it is abundant in most tap water. Make certain you use high-quality soil containing the correct nutrients.

Copper deficiencies in plants are much more common if you are feeding your plants with reverse osmosis or heavily filtered water because the copper has already been removed. The chances are good the issue is an incorrect pH level. If there are issues with the roots or you are overwatering the plants, the result is often a copper deficiency. This can occur even when there is enough copper, and the pH level is on target.

Numerous issues can be eliminated by making certain the plants are receiving the correct amount of water. Once all the above steps have been completed, watch the plants very closely. The deficiency should be eliminated within three to seven days. Severely damaged leaves might not become green again, but when there are no symptoms appearing on the new leaves or they are green, the issue has been resolved.

  • The pH balance must be adjusted to the appropriate range
  • Use pH water for flushing the system
  • Watch the plants for healthy new growth and leaf recovery
  • Provide plants with the correct nutrients
  • Take care of the plant’s roots
  • Use high-quality soil

How Long Does It Take for a Plant to Recover from a Copper Deficiency?

In most instances, the plant will recover within three days to one week. If the new growth is healthy, the copper deficiency is gone. There is a possibility the older growth will not survive.

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