You are herePhosphorus Deficiency

Phosphorus Deficiency

Problem: A cannabis phosphorus deficiency generally appears on leaves from the lower/older parts of the plant. The lower leaves may turn dark green or yellow, and start getting spots or big splotches that look brown, bronze or even a little blue. The leaves may thicken and curl, and the affected leaves feel stiff. Sometimes the stems of the plant turn bright red or purple, but not always.

This marijuana plant leaves are showing signs of a phosphorus deficiency

A cannabis phosphorus deficiency usually appears with some or all of the following symptoms:

  • usually affects the lower and older leaves of the plant
  • leaves darken (turning a dark green, blue or grayish color) and may appear shiny
  • leaves may start turning yellow if the phosphorus deficiency is left untreated, or if the deficiency is combined with other nutrients deficiencies and/or pH problems.
  • leaves get bronze, purple or brown spots and splotches
  • leaves thicken and may feel dry or stiff
  • stems sometimes turn bright red or purple, but not always

Phosphorus deficiencies in the vegetative stage usually appear at the bottom of the plant on some of the oldest leaves, and will progressively climb up the plant if left unchecked. 

The progression of a cannabis phosphorus deficiency

The progression of a cannabis phosphorus deficiency

Cannabis plants tend to love phosphorus in the flowering/budding stage and it is unlikely for a cannabis plant to get too much phosphorus using standard nutrients formulated for a flowering plant like cannabis. Nearly all flowering nutrients will come with an abundance of phosphorus for your plants. So if you're seeing a cannabis phosphorus deficiency while using standard cannabis nutrients, chances are you actually have a root pH problem (explained below in the solution section)!

This cannabis leaf is showing the final fatal signs of a phosphorus deficiency

Phosphorus (P) is used by your cannabis plant in all phases of growth. It is one of the 3 major nutrients (N-P-K) listed on the front of most nutrient bottles, and phosphorus will be represented by the second number that appears. 

When there is a phosphorus deficiency, the lower (oldest) leaves turn dark green. Leaves occasionally get a bluish or bronze tinge, and may thicken or curl downard before exhibiting dark gray, bronze or purplish splotches. Sometimes the stems of the affected leaves will turn bright red or purplish, usually starting from underneath.

Cannabis phosphorus deficiency in vegetative stage - Brown splotches, dark bluish color, curling and affected parts of the leaf turn yellow.

Sometimes you will get a cannabis phosphorus deficiency, and the stems do not appear red or purple at all, or the coloring may not be pronounced. 

Cannabis phosphorus deficiency in vegetative stage -  First lower leaves turn dark, then get brown or bronze spots, stems may turn red or purple starting from underneath, leaves curl and twist downwards and eventually turn yellow.

The leaf below was at the bottom of the plant and turned dark green and shiny, with a bluish tinge. Cannabis phosphorus deficiencies usually appear on the lower/older parts of the plant. The leaf then started showing the spots of a phosphorus deficiency where it was being touched by light (the parts of the leaf working hardest). The leaf began to curl downwards and turn yellow.

Notice that the stems or veins never turned red or purple on this leaf, except for some parts that were actually affected by the phosphorus deficiency.

Cannabis phosphorus deficiency in vegetative stage -  First lower leaves turn dark, then get brown or bronzy spots, leaves curl downwards and will eventually turn yellow.

A common "symptom" of a cannabis phosphorus deficiency is red or purple stems. It's important to remember that some cannabis strains naturally grow with red or purple stems even when all their nutrient needs are being fulfilled, so red or purple stems is not a symptom to worry about on its own. 

Do not mistake natural reddish-purple colored stems for a phosphorous deficiency!

When you notice that stems are turning red or purple starting from underneath, it may be a sign of a phosphorus deficiency only if accompanied by other symptoms. If the only symptom shown by your plant is red or purple stems, and you are not seeing any other signs of splotches or unhealthy leaves, the red or purple stems are likely caused by the genetics of your plant. If that's the case, you have nothing to worry about.

Healthy purple stems on this cannabis plant are caused purely by genetics, not by a phosphorus deficiency

Phosphorus is used heavily by cannabis plants in the flowering phase to produce buds, and is a crucial component of photosynthesis (turning light into energy for the plant). 

Some strains of cannabis use much more phosphorus than others, or be more susceptible to a phosphorus deficiency, and you may have many plants in the exact same setup with only some of the plants showing signs of a phosphorus deficiency.


Solution For Cannabis Phosphorus Deficiency

1.) Adjust pH to Correct Range

Your cannabis plant may show signs of a phosphorus deficiency if the pH at the roots is not in the right range. That is because when the pH of your root zone is off, your cannabis cannot properly absorb phosphorus through its roots. Therefore the first step is to ensure that you have the correct pH for your growth medium. Learn more about pH and cannabis

Phosphorus is best absorbed by cannabis in soil at a root pH of 6.2 - 7.0. Phosphorus is best absorbed by cannabis in hydro at a root pH of 5.5 - 6.2. If you believe you have a cannabis phosphorus deficiency, it's important to check the pH of your root zone to make sure the deficiency isn't caused by the pH being too high or too low.

If you suspect your growing cannabis plant has a phosphorus deficiency, flush your system with clean, pH'd water that contains a regular dose of cannabis-friendly nutrients that includes phosphorus. This will remove any nutrient salts that may be affected the uptake of phosphorus and help restore pH to the proper levels.

  • In soil, phosphorus is best absorbed by the roots in the 6.2 - 7.0 pH range (in soil, it's generally recommended to keep the pH between 6.0 - 7.0, but phosphorus specifically tends to be best absorbed above 6.2 and below 7.0)
  • In hydro, phosphorus is best absorbed by the roots in the 5.5 - 6.2 pH range (in hydro, it's generally recommended to keep the pH between 5.5 - 6.5, but phosphorus specifically tends to be best absorbed below 6.2)


2.) Take Good Care of the Roots

Wet, compact soil or overwatering can trigger a phosphorus deficiency to appear even when all other factors are perfect. So make sure you water your plants properly every time to help prevent a phosphorus deficiency.


3.) Provide the Right Temperature

Cooler temperatures lower than 60°F (15°C), as well as large temperature swings, can make it harder for the plant to absorb phosphorus. Cannabis plants are therefore more likely to show signs of a phosphorus deficiency when the temperature drops too low, or if they go through a cold spell.

Cannabis likes a comfortable room temperature (they like about the same temperatures as we do).

Read the cannabis temperature tutorial


4.) Give the Right Nutrients

Most growers have actually already given plenty of phophorus to their cannabis plants since it is found abundantly in quality soil and cannabis-friendly nutrients. However, even if you are giving phosphorus, it's important to give your cannabis the right ratio of nutrients.

An excess of Fe and Zn may cause the symptoms of a phosphorus deficiency by preventing the plant from being able to absorb phosphorus properly. If you believe there may be a buildup of nutrient salts in your growing medium (or if you are growing in hydro and have not recently flushed or changed your reservoir) you should make sure it's not an excess of other nutrients that is actually causing the phosphorus deficiency to appear. Flush your plant thoroughly with properly pH'ed water containing a regular dose of cannabis nutrients including phosphorus, or completely change your reservoir if you believe that an excess of nutrient salts may be causing the phosphorus deficiency.

Sources of phosphorus:

  • Bat guano (phosphorus is readily available, especially if made into a teat)
  • Bone or blood meal (takes quite a bit of time to break down in soil unless made into a tea first)
  • Worm castings or worm tea
  • Soft Rock Phosphate 
  • Fish meal 
  • Crabshell
  • Most cannabis-friendly "bloom" or "flowering" nutrients contain high levels of phosphorus to aid in flower production, and phosphorus from a liquid nutrient is one of the most readily available forms of phosphorus you can provide to your cannabis plants

If you've tried everything else, then you may try adding a higher percentage of phosphorus to your feeding schedule and see if that helps clear up the problem for your plant. Cannabis plants love phosphorus, and therefore it is unlikely that you will give your cannabis too much phosphorus.

Most nutrient systems that are formulated for a plant like cannabis will carry and abundance of phosphorus, especially in budding/flowering formulas, so it is unlikely that you will see signs of a phosphorus deficiency before other nutrient problems when using nutrient systems formulated for cannabis (as long as you keep your root pH in the correct range and prevent the plants from getting cold or being overwatered). If you've got very high powered lights, or if your plants are growing in direct sunlight, they may be going through a lot more phosphorus in the flowering stage than average and may need you to provide extra phosphorus to make sure buds get as big as they could be.

Just remember that if there's no actual phosphorus deficiency currently appearing on your cannabis plant, adding more phosphorus is probbaly not going to help plants grow better or make bigger buds - in fact adding too much phosphorus may actually hurt your plants by preventing the uptake of other nutrients! While it's difficult to overdose your plants on phosphorus, adding too much compared to other nutrients will often cause other strange & unexpected deficiencies to appear.

5.) Take Good Care of the Roots

Phosphorus deficiencies can show up with the plant is having root problems or if the plant is overwatered, even if the pH is right and the phosphorus is there. Proper watering practices help plants grow healthy and avoid a host of problems!


6.) Watch for Recovery

After going through all the above steps, watch to make sure that the phosphorus deficiency starts to clear up within a few days to a week or so. After a phosphorus deficiency is cleared up, the problem (brown spots, unhealthy lower leaves, red/purple stems, etc) will stop appearing on new leaves, usually within a week.

Please note that leaves which have been damaged by a phosphorus deficiency will probably never recover or turn green, so you want to pay attention to other leaves for signs of recovery.


If you cannot get rid of your phosphorus deficiency, please consult our 7-Step Cure to 99% of Cannabis Growing Problems


Cannabis Phosphorus Deficiency -
Big Symptom Picture: 
Leaf Color: 
Edges Appear Brown or Burnt
Pale Color Leaves
Yellow Leaves - New Growth
Yellow Leaves - Lower, older leaves
Dark or Purple Leaves
Black or Gray Patches on Leaves
Red or Pink Color on Leaves
Brown or Dark Spots
Mottling / Mosaic Pattern
Leaf Symptoms: 
Upper Leaves / Newer Growth Affected
Lower Leaves / Older Growth Affected
Small Inner Leaves Affected
Leaf Edges Appear Burnt
Leaf Tips Appear Burnt
Leaf Tips Die
Thick Growth Tips
Red Stems
Mottling / Mosaic
Old Leaves Dropping Off
Slow Growth
Twisted Growth
Abnormal Growth
Leaves Curl Under
Plant Symptoms: 
Red or Purple Stems
Weak Stems
Old Leaves Dropping Off
Slow Growth
Twisted Growth
Leaves Curl Under
Too Short
Root Symptoms: 
Slow Growing
Other Symptoms: 
Buds Not Fattening