Micronutrient deficiencies are rarely observed in New England soils, especially on soils that have a history of compost or manure applications. For this reason little research has been completed calibrating soil tests for micronutrients, and there are no reliable soil test calibration data to interpret soil micronutrient levels and make recommendations for amounts of micronutrients to apply. Most New England labs offer micronutrient soil testing and present results relative to values typically observed in soils analyzed in their laboratory for comparison.
Calibration data for plant tissue analysis are also limited. When a grower suspects a micronutrient deficiency, the recommended procedure is to collect soil and plant tissue samples from areas in the field with good and poor plant growth, and have the samples analyzed using standard methods. A relative comparison of the concentrations of micronutrient in the soil and plant tissue samples will usually allow a diagnosis to be made. Foliar applications of micronutrients can alleviate nutrient deficiencies observed during the season. Applications of micronutrients to the soil, however, are the best way to solve micronutrient deficiencies when they occur, which is not a common occurrence.
Micronutrient deficiencies are most likely to occur in sandy, low organic matter soils. High soil pH may also bring about micronutrient deficiencies, especially in sandy soils. It may be necessary to maintain pH in the low sixes to avoid problems in coarse textured low organic matter soils. Of all the micronutrients, boron (B) is most likely to be needed to supplement soil levels for vegetable production. Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and beets are most likely to require application of additional B to avoid “hollow heart.” Boron, copper, zinc and molybdenum have small ranges for optimum soil test values, which means the difference between deficient levels and toxic levels in the soil are small. Be careful with applications of these nutrients so toxic amounts are not applied. Vegetable growers must be particularly careful with boron applications since some vegetable crops are sensitive to high levels of boron. Sensitive crops should not be planted on fields following crops that have received boron application. Table 4 lists crops according to their sensitivity to boron.
Table 4: Relative Tolerance of Vegetables to Boron
Adapted from L.V. Wilcox, Determining the quality of irrigation water, USDA Agricultural Information Bulletin 197 (1958) and information from Robert Becker, Cornell University.