Calcium and Boron Deficiencies in Brassica Crops

Gordon Johnson, Extension Vegetable & Fruit Specialist;

Calcium Deficiency
Calcium deficiency is most commonly seen as tipburn of cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. Chinese cabbage (Napa cabbage) is also susceptible to tipburn. This problem can cause severe economic losses. Tipburn is a breakdown of plant tissue inside the head of cabbage and Chinese cabbage, individual sprouts in Brussels sprouts, and on the inner wrapper leaves of cauliflower. It is a physiological disorder which is associated with an inadequate supply of calcium in the affected leaves, causing a collapse of the tissue and death of the cells. Calcium deficiency may occur where the soil calcium is low or where there is an imbalance of nutrients in the soil along with certain weather and soil nutrient conditions, such as high humidity, low soil moisture, high potash or high nitrogen all of which can reduce calcium availability. Secondary rot caused by bacteria can follow tipburn and heads of cauliflower can be severely affected. Some cabbage and cauliflower cultivars are relatively free of tipburn problems. Green cabbage varieties with good resistance to tipburn include Blue Vantage, Bobcat, Cecile, Emblem, Platinum Dynasty, Quick Start, Royal Vantage, Solid Blue 780, Superstar, Thunderhead, Vantage Point and Viceroy. Red cabbage is less susceptible to tipburn. Check with your seed supplier for tipburn ratings for other varieties.

Controlling tipburn starts with managing liming so that soil pH is above 6.0. Limit ammonium forms of nitrogen, and ensure an adequate and even supply of water. Adjust planting date so that head maturation occurs during cooler temperatures. Plant a cultivar that is less susceptible to the disorder. In general, calcium foliar sprays have not been shown to be effective for controlling tipburn incidence.

Severe tipburn in cabbage. Photo credit David B. Langston, University of Georgia,

Boron Deficiency
Cole crops have a high boron requirement. Symptoms of boron deficiency vary with the cole crop. Cabbage heads may simply be small and yellow. Most cole crops develop cracked and corky stems, petioles and midribs. The stems of broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower can be hollow and are sometimes discolored. Cauliflower curds become brown and leaves may roll and curl. It is important to note that cole crops are also sensitive to boron toxicity if boron is over-applied. Toxicity symptoms appear as scorching on the margins of older leaves.

It is recommended in broccoli and kale to apply 1.5-3 pounds of boron (B) per acre in mixed fertilizer prior to planting. In Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards and cauliflower, boron and molybdenum are recommended. Apply 1.5-3 pounds of boron (B) per acre and 0.2 pound molybdenum (Mo) applied as 0.5 pound sodium molybdate per acre with broadcast fertilizer. Boron may also be applied as a foliar treatment to cole crops if soil applications were not made. The recommended rate is 0.2-0.3 lb/acre of actual boron (1.0 to 1.5 lbs of Solubor 20.5%) in sufficient water (30 or more gallons) for coverage. Apply foliar boron prior to heading of cole crops.

Boron deficiency in broccoli causing hollow stem. Photo credit Gerald Holmes, California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo,