Growing Maize crop nutrition advice

Everything you need to know about maize fertilisation, best practice, suitable products, field trials and more.

Crop nutrition advice for growing maize

  • Maize prefers a soil pH between 6.0 and 7.2, but it performs well in calcareous soils too, of up to 8.5

  • Potassium is the nutrient absorbed by maize in the largest amount. The period of intensive uptake of this nutrient begins from the moment of appearance of the 6th leaf (BBCH 16) and continues until full formation of the cob (BBCH 59).

  • Good nutrition of plants with potassium in dry years improves plant resistance to water stress.

Nitrogen deficiency in maize
Yellowing of the leaves showing sulphur deficiency in maize

Nutrient requirements

General Recommendation (Reference RB209)505517550-100

 Table 1. Nutrient uptake by maize grown for grain [Grzebisz, 2007] 

Dynamic of nutrient uptake over a crop season in maize

Source: modified from Buchner and Sturm 1985 and UNIFA 2015; BBCH scale according to Hack 1993.

Role of nutrients

Key parameterNP2O5K2OMgOCaOSO3
Number of grain in cob+++++++
Protein content +++++++++
Vegetative growth +++++++++

Nutrient deficiencies

NitrogenLeaf symptoms: younger leaves turn pale-yellow or light green, uniformly throughout the leaves. Early senescence of tips and mid-ribs. Later, V-shaped yellowing may appear on the leaves’ tips. Yellowing begins on the older lower leaves and progresses up the plant. Stalks are thin and spindly. Flowering- delayed. 
Low vegetative vigor. Root system becomes less prolific, slowing uptake of other nutrients. Reduced yield due to incomplete cob-tip kernel development.
PhosphorousIncidence: Insufficient P availability, and reduced uptake by roots due to cold, wet, or compacted soil.
Leaf symptoms: Dark green leaves; dark purple/yellow chlorosis, advancing along purple color. Reduced yields, delayed maturity. Slow growth rate, severe dieback. 
PotassiumIncidence: Insufficient potassium availability. Generally caused by a soil imbalance between K+, Ca2+ , Mg2+ and NH4+  Leaf symptoms: Dark green plants, show, mainly on their lower leaves, chlorosis along the leaf margins, developing to brown striping and necrosis. In older plants-browning of leaf tips and margins. Yield: Reduced, due to smaller and cob-tip defective kernels. 
CalciumLeaf symptoms: symptoms start on young leaves, which exhibit a light green colour or whitish spots or streaky lesions and are often hooked back. 
MagnesiumLeaf symptoms: Always appear on older leaves. Green-yellow plants with dark yellow interveinal. Chlorosis, advancing to rust-brown or purple necrosis. 
SulphurLeaf symptoms: Yellow striping pattern on the leaves. Firstly, on the newest leaves, without necrosis. Prominent interveinal chlorosis; veins are prominent over the leaves’ length. Low vegetative vigor.
At advanced stages: plant stunting.  
BoronLeaf symptoms: Yellow, white or transparent necrotic spots. Stalks stunted, due to shortened internodes. Yield: much reduced due to smaller and defective cobs. 
CopperLeaf symptoms: young leaves develop a bluish green tint and come out spiraled of the whorl. Old leaves’ tips  and edges wilt, turn white-grey and may die. 
Some necrosis of older leaf edges, like in K deficiency. Growing points: Dieback, often preceded by shortened internodes. Stalk: soft and limp.
IronLeaf symptoms: Chlorosis of interveinal areas, of young leaves of the summer flush, while veins and midrib remain green. At severe cases, the leaves may become almost white. Reduction in size. 
ManganeseLeaf symptoms: Young and medium formed leaves become olive-green, and develop uniform, white-yellow stripes in the midsection of the leaf. The stripes become necrotic with the dead tissue falling out of the leaf. Symptoms are like those for iron, and leaf tissue analysis is needed to confirm Mn deficiency. 
ZincLeaf symptoms: Pale yellowish green chlorotic stripe near the lower half of the leaf, or on each side of the midrib, advancing to pale brown or gray necrosis. Most prevalent at growth stages V2–V8. 


Nitrogen  deficiency                        Phosphorus deficiency


Potassium deficiencies


Magnesium deficiency                   Zinc deficiency


Sulphur  deficiencies                                  


Here are some frequently asked questions we received from farmers regarding growing vineyards.

  • Potassium is the main nutrient for the crop to cope with water stress periods, because it regulated the water balance of the plants.

    Also magnesium. Crop with the right magnesium content on the leaves copes better with picks of high temperatures of the hot summer days.

  • In this case, we may need to apply extra N and Mg in the soil, and on the leaves (foliar application), in order to stimulate biomass production. We need to keep in mind that the export of nutrients at harvest is much higher than in grain maize, specially potassium. We thus need to plan the extra fertiliser needs in order return of nutrients across the crop rotation, and to maintain soil fertility.

  • 33.444 kg of grain per hectare! In 2017, David Hula achieved this world record in his own farm in Virginia, for which it was awarded the National Association of Corn Producers (NCGA) ot he US on that year.

  • “False friends”! The purple colour on this young plants of maize, seems P deficiency, but it is indeed a varietal characteristic. The colouring of the young plants in certain varieties, takes place in response to low temperatures during plant emergence and establishment. In this case there is no nutrient deficiency, as the crop will show at later stages

  • In case we are producing maize under irrigation, the amount of water is directly connected to the evaporative demand in the atmosphere. The evaporative demand is strongly connected to atmosphere humidity, temperatures and wind.

    On the other hand, the crop water demand will increase as the biomass increases. Check with your local crop advisor for your irrigation plan.

    In any case, the supply of water must be done gradually, as the crop uses the soil water reserve. Otherwise, if we supply to much water at once, the crop will be stressed because of

    By the way, satellite imagery, nowadays widely available in many platforms, are very useful tool to check irrigation uniformity, and to identify problematic spots.

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