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  Section: Plant Nutrition » Macronutrients » Magnesium
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Nutrient Imbalances and Symptoms of Deficiency

Historical Information
  Determination of Essentiality
Function in Plants
  Metabolic Processes
  Fruit Yield and Quality
Diagnosis of Magnesium Status in Plants
  Symptoms of Deficiency and Excess
    - Symptoms of Deficiency
    - Symptoms of Excess
  Environmental Causes of Deficiency Symptoms
  Nutrient Imbalances and Symptoms of Deficiency
    - Potassium and Magnesium
    - Calcium and Magnesium
    - Nitrogen and Magnesium
    - Sodium and Magnesium
    - Iron and Magnesium
    - Manganese and Magnesium
    - Zinc and Magnesium
    - Phosphorus and Magnesium
    - Copper and Magnesium
    - Chloride and Magnesium
    - Aluminum and Magnesium
  Phenotypic Differences in Accumulation
  Genotypic Differences in Accumulation
Concentrations of Magnesium in Plants
  Magnesium Constituents
    - Distribution in Plants
    - Seasonal Variations
    - Physiological Aspects of Magnesium Allocation
  Critical Concentrations
    - Tissue Magnesium Concentration Associations with Crop Yields
    - Tabulated Data of Concentrations by Crops
Assessment of Magnesium in Soils
  Forms of Magnesium in Soils
  Sodium Absorption Ratio
  Soil Tests
  Tabulated Data on Magnesium Contents in Soils
    - Soil Types
Fertilizers for Magnesium
  Kinds of Fertilizers
  Effects of Fertilizers on Plant Growth
  Application of Fertilizers
Magnesium deficiency symptoms may be associated with an antagonistic relationship between magnesium ions (Mg2+) and other cations such as hydrogen (H+), ammonium (NH4 +), calcium (Ca2+), potassium (K+), aluminum (Al3+), or sodium (Na+). The competition of magnesium with other cations for uptake ranges from highest to lowest as follows: K>NH4 +>Ca>Na (85,86). These cations can compete with magnesium for binding sites on soil colloids, increasing the likelihood that magnesium will be leached from soils after it has been released from exchange sites. Within the plant, there are also antagonistic relationships between other cations and magnesium regarding the affinity for various binding sites within the cell membranes, the degree of which is influenced by the type of binding site (lipid, protein, chelate, etc.), and the hydration of the cation (87). These biochemical interactions result in competition of other cations with magnesium for absorption into the roots and translocation and assimilation in the plant (88-92).

Potassium and Magnesium
Increased potassium fertilization or availability, relative to magnesium, will inhibit magnesium absorption and accumulation and vice versa (34,35,90,93–99). The degree of this antagonistic effect varies with potassium and magnesium fertilization rates, as well as the ratio of the two nutrients to one another. This phenomenon has been documented in tomato (62,96), soybean (Glycine max Merr.), (93,100), apple (101), poplar (Populus trichocarpa Torr. & A. Gray) (102), Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon Pers.) (103–105), perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) (18), buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum Moench) (93), corn (Zea mays L.) (98), and oats (Avena sativa L.) (93). Potassium chloride fertilization increased cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) plant size and seed and lint weight and increased efficiency of nitrogen use, but had suppressive effects on magnesium accumulation in various plant parts (106). Fontes et al. (107) reported that magnesium concentrations of potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) petioles declined as potassium fertilization with potassium sulfate increased from 0.00 to 800 kg K ha-1. Legget and Gilbert (100) noted that with excised roots of soybean, magnesium uptake was inhibited if calcium and potassium were both present but not if calcium or potassium was present alone. The opposite also holds true in that potassium and calcium contents of roots were depressed with increasing rates of magnesium fertilization (100). Similar results were obtained in potatoes (Solanum tuberosum L.) where increasing magnesium fertilization from 0.05 to 4.0mM decreased the potassium concentration in shoots from 76.6 to 67.6 mg g-1 shoot dry weight (34).

Calcium and Magnesium
High rhizosphere concentrations of calcium, relative to magnesium, are inhibitory to the absorption of magnesium and vice versa (34,35,37,86,90,108–110). In the early 1900s, the importance of proper ratios of magnesium to calcium in soils was emphasized through studies conducted by Loew and May (4) on the relationships of lime and dolomite. High calcium concentrations in solution or in field soils sometimes limit magnesium accumulation and may elicit magnesium deficiency symptoms (111–113). In tomato, the magnesium concentration in shoots (62) and fruits (114) decreased as the calcium fertilization rate increased. Similarly, it was shown that increased calcium concentrations inhibited magnesium uptake in common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) (86). On the other hand, decreased accumulation of calcium in birch was directly correlated with the decreased absorption and accumulation of calcium as magnesium fertilization rates increased (36). The absorption of calcium decreased from 1.5 to 0.3 mmol g-1 root mass as magnesium fertilization increased (36). Morard et al. (115) reported a strong antagonism between calcium and magnesium, suggesting that calcium influenced magnesium translocation to leaves. Optimum leaf Ca/Mg ratios are considered to be approximately 2:1; however, Ca/Mg ratios >1:1 and <5:1 can produce adequate growth without the expression of magnesium deficiency (36,85). In a study with tomato, the root, stem, and leaf calcium concentrations decreased as fertilization rates increased from 0.50 to 10.0 mM Mg in solution culture (37). Similarly, with woody ornamentals, high fertilization rates of calcium relative to magnesium inhibited the accumulation of magnesium and decreased root and shoot growth, and inversely, high magnesium decreased calcium accumulation and plant growth (35,109). Clark et al. (116) used flue-gas desulfurization by-products to fertilize corn in greenhouse experiments. They noted that the materials needed to be amended with magnesium at a ratio of 1 part magnesium to 20 parts of calcium to avoid magnesium deficiency in the corn.

In containerized crop production, general recommendations indicate sufficient calcium and magnesium additions to produce an extractable Ca/Mg ratio of 2:5 (117). Navarro et al. (118) reported an antagonist effect of calcium on magnesium accumulation in melon (Cucumis melo L.), regardless of salinity levels imposed by sodium chloride. In other studies (119–121), it was shown that even with the use of dolomitic lime, magnesium deficiency might occur. This occurrence is due to the different solubilities of magnesium carbonate (MgCO3) and calcium carbonate (CaCO3) in the dolomite. Therefore, during the first 4 months, both magnesium and calcium solubilized from the dolomite. However, after 4 months, all of the magnesium had dissolved from the dolomite, leaving only Ca from the CaCO3 available for dissolution and availability to the plant (119,120). Based on these studies, it appears that the use of solid calcium and magnesium fertilizers with similar solubility rates may be important so that both elements are available in similar and sufficient levels throughout the entire crop production cycle (119–121).

Nitrogen and Magnesium
Nitrogen may either inhibit or promote magnesium accumulation in plants, depending on the form of nitrogen: with ammonium, magnesium uptake is suppressed and with nitrate, magnesium uptake is increased (35,101,122–124). In field soils, the chances of ammonium competing with magnesium for plant uptake are more likely to occur in cool rather than warm soils because in warmer soils, most ammonium is converted into nitrate by nitrification processes. In forests, high inputs of ammoniacal nitrogen amplified latent magnesium deficiency (125). In conditions of sand culture, ammoniumnitrogen of Norway spruce (Picea abies Karst.) resulted in significantly lower magnesium and chlorophyll concentrations in current-year and year-old needles compared to fertilization with nitrate-nitrogen (126). Similarly, in herbaceous plants such as wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) (127) and bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) (128), ammoniacal nitrogen reduced shoot accumulation of magnesium (127). In cauliflower (Brassica oleracea var. botrytis L.), increasing nitrate-nitrogen fertilization from 90 to 270 kg ha-1 increased yield response to increased magnesium fertilization rates (22.5 to 90 kg ha-1) (129). Similarly, in hydroponically grown poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima Willd.), magnesium concentrations in leaves increased as the proportion of nitrate-nitrogen to ammoniumnitrogen increased, even though all treatments received the same amount of total nitrogen (130). In a similar way, magnesium fertilization increased the plant accumulation of nitrogen, which was applied as urea, in rice (Oryza sativa L.) (131). As with other nutrients, the degree of impact of nitrogen on magnesium nutrition is influenced by the concentrations of the nutrients, relative to each other. For example, Huang et al. (71) demonstrated with hydroponically grown wheat that nitrogen form had no significant effect on shoot magnesium levels when magnesium concentrations in solutions were relatively high (97 mg L-1); however, at low magnesium concentrations (26 mg L-1) in solutions, increasing the proportion of ammonium relative to nitrate significantly decreased shoot Mg concentrations. In another study, Huang and Grunes (68) also noted that even though magnesium uptake rates were significantly higher for plants supplied with nitrate rather than ammonium, increasing the proportion of the nitrogen supply as nitrate decreased net magnesium translocation to the shoots.

Sodium and Magnesium
High soil or nutrient-solution salinity levels (with NaCl), relative to magnesium supply, may inhibit magnesium accumulation in plants (132–135). However, results are variable since salinity often inhibits plant growth; therefore, there may be a reduction in the total uptake of a nutrient into a plant. However, since the plant is smaller, the magnesium level, expressed in terms of concentration, may be higher. Application of sodium-containing fertilizers (chloride or nitrate) lowered the concentration of magnesium in white clover (Trifolium repens L.) leaves but increased the magnesium in perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) (133). In hydroponically grown taro (Colocasia esculenta Schott.) (136) and wheat (137), sodium chloride treatments resulted in a suppression of leaf magnesium. Use of sodium chloride to suppress root and crown rot in asparagus (Asparagus officinalis L. var. altilis L.) also suppressed magnesium accumulation in the leaves (138). Even in a halophyte such as Halopyrum mucronatum Stapf., increasing sodium chloride concentrations in nutrient solutions from 0.0 to 5220mg L-1 significantly decreased magnesium concentrations in the shoots and roots (134). However, in hydroponically grown bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.), sodium chloride increased leaf concentrations of magnesium, perhaps as a result of growth suppression (139). Growth suppression of rice was associated with salinity, but the levels of magnesium in the leaves were unaffected (140). Other research (141) found that sodium chloride increased accumulation of magnesium in shoots but suppressed magnesium accumulation in roots of strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis Duchesne var. ananassa Bailey). In fact, some (142) have attributed the salt tolerance of some soybean cultivars to the ability to accumulate potassium, calcium, and magnesium, in spite of saline conditions.

Iron and Magnesium
Uptake and accumulation of iron may be inhibited or unaffected by increased magnesium fertilization. In addition, the translocation of magnesium from the roots to the shoots may decrease in irondeficient plants relative to iron-sufficient plants (143). The antagonistic relationship of iron with magnesium has been demonstrated in tomato (62) and radish (Raphanus sativus L.) (144). Nenova and Stoyanov (143) noted that the uptake and translocation of magnesium was reduced in iron-deficient plants compared to iron-sufficient plants. However, Bavaresco (145) reported that under lime-induced chlorosis, chlorotic grape (Vitis vinifera L.) leaves did not differ from green leaves in nutrient composition, but the fruits of chlorotic plants were different in that they had higher magnesium than fruits from normal plants. Iron concentrations did not differ among any of the tissues.

Manganese and Magnesium
Manganese, as a divalent cation, can compete with magnesium for binding sites on soil particles as well as biological membranes within plants (146). However, manganese is required in such small quantities (micromolar concentrations in nutrient solutions resulting in Manganese, as a divalent cation, can compete with magnesium for binding sites on soil particles as well as biological membranes within plants (146). However, manganese is required in such small quantities (micromolar concentrations in nutrient solutions resulting in ≈ 20 to 500 ppm in most plant tissues) that manganese toxicity usually occurs before quantities are high enough to significantly inhibit magnesium uptake to physiologically deficient levels (62,85). However, some experiments (147,148) have demonstrated that manganese can inhibit magnesium uptake. However, Alam et al. (147) and Qauartin et al. (148) did not indicate if the inhibition of magnesium was substantial enough to induce magnesium deficiency symptoms. On the other hand, increased magnesium fertilization has been shown to decrease manganese uptake and accumulation (34,80), and in some cases, magnesium fertilization may mitigate manganese toxicity (149,150). In one study (151), the tolerance of certain cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) cultivars to manganese appeared to be related to the ability to accumulate more magnesium than by the manganese-sensitive cultivars.

Zinc and Magnesium
As with manganese, zinc is a divalent cation that is required in minuscule quantities for normal plant growth. Therefore, plants usually suffer from zinc toxicity before concentrations are high enough to inhibit magnesium uptake. However, some research has indicated that as zinc increases to toxic levels in plants, the accumulation of magnesium is suppressed, but not to the degree of inducing magnesium deficiency symptoms. In hydroponically grown tomato (62), increasing zinc concentrations from 0.0 to 1.58mg L-1 did not affect magnesium concentrations in shoots. Similarly, nontoxic levels of zinc applications through zinc-containing fungicides or fertilization (soil or foliar applied) did not affect magnesium concentrations in potato leaves, although zinc concentrations increased in leaves (152). However, at higher zinc concentrations (30 vs. 0.5 mg L-1), magnesium accumulation in tomato leaves and fruit was inhibited (153). Similarly, with blackgram (Vigna mungo L.) grown in soil, accumulation of zinc in plants led to a suppression of magnesium, calcium, and potassium in leaves (154). Bonnet et al. (155) also reported that zinc fertilization of ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) lowered magnesium content of leaves, in addition to lowering the efficiency of photosynthetic energy conversion, and elevating the activities of ascorbate peroxidase and superoxide dismutase. Conversely, pecan (Carya illinoinensis K. Koch) grown under zincdeficient conditions had higher leaf magnesium than trees grown under zinc-sufficient conditions (156). However, in nutrient film-grown potatoes (Solanum tuberosum L.), increased levels of magnesium fertilization (1.2 to 96.0 mg L-1) did not affect zinc concentrations in tissues.

Phosphorus and Magnesium
Phosphate ions have a synergistic effect on accumulation of magnesium in plants, and vice versa. This phenomenon is associated with the ionic balance related to cation and anion uptake into plants as well as the increased root growth sometimes observed with increased phosphorus fertilization. For example, with hydroponically grown sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.), phosphorus accumulation increased in tissues from 9.0 to 13.0 mg g-1 plant dry weight as magnesium concentrations in nutrient solutions were increased from 0.0 to 240 mg L-1 (35). Likewise, increasing phosphorus fertilization increases magnesium accumulation, as demonstrated in field-grown alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) (157). The effect of phosphorus fertilization increasing magnesium uptake has also been documented in rice (Oryza sativa L.), wheat (Triticum aestivum L.), bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.), and corn (Zea mays L.) (158). Reinbott and Blevins (82,159) reported that phosphorus fertilization of field-grown wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) and tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea Shreb.) increased leaf calcium and magnesium accumulation and concluded that proper phosphorus nutrition may be more important than warm root temperatures in promoting magnesium and calcium accumulation, particularly if soils have suboptimal phosphorus concentrations. Reinbott and Blevins (160) also showed a positive correlation between calcium and magnesium accumulation in shoots with increased phosphorus fertilization of hydroponically grown squash (Cucurbita pepo L.).

Copper and Magnesium
Like other micronutrients, copper is a plant nutrient, which is required in such low concentrations relative to the requirements for magnesium that high copper fertilization is more likely to induce copper toxicity before causing magnesium deficiency symptoms. However, some studies have shown that copper may competitively inhibit magnesium accumulation in plants (161,162). In taro (Colocasia esculenta Schott), increasing the nutrient solution copper concentrations from 0.03 to 0.16 mg L-1, significantly decreased the accumulation of magnesium in leaves from 5.5 to 4.4 mg g-1 dry weight (161). In a study (162) using young spinach (Spinacia oleracea L.), where copper concentrations in nutrient solutions were increased from 0.0 to 10.0 mg L-1, which is two orders of magnitude greater than the copper concentrations used in the study conducted by Hill et al. (2000), copper toxicity symptoms did occur, and there was a significant suppression in magnesium accumulation in the leaves and roots from 322 and 372 mg kg-1 to 41 and 203 mg kg-1, respectively (162). However, the magnesium concentration reported in this study (162) is an order of magnitude lower than what is found typically in most herbaceous plants (85). On the other hand, effects of magnesium fertilization on copper uptake are not documented, although one study (34) indicated that increasing rates of magnesium fertilization did not significantly reduce the uptake and accumulation of copper.

Chloride and Magnesium
The effects of chloride on magnesium accumulation in plants have been studied in relation to the effects of salinity on growth and nutrient accumulation. In many of these studies, it is difficult to separate the effects of chloride from those of sodium ions; hence, many of the results show a depression of magnesium accumulation with increases in sodium chloride concentration in the root zone (132–135). In grapes (Vitis vinifera L.), salinity from sodium chloride did not affect magnesium concentrations in leaves, trunk, or roots (163). With tomato, increased magnesium fertilization rates did not increase the accumulation of chlorine in the leaves, stems, or roots (37). With soybean, uptake of chloride by excised roots was low from magnesium chloride solutions but was enhanced by the addition of potassium chloride (100).

Aluminum and Magnesium
Free aluminum in the soil solution inhibits root growth, which in turn will reduce ability of plants to take up nutrients (164). Research with red spruce (Picea rubens Sarg.) indicated that magnesium concentrations in roots and needles of seedlings were suppressed by exposure to ≈400 μM aluminum in nutrient solutions (165,166). Increasing concentrations of free aluminum have also been shown to reduce magnesium accumulation in taro (167), maize (Zea mays L.) (168,169), and wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) (170). Aluminum-induced magnesium deficiency may be one mechanism of expression of aluminum toxicity in plants, and aluminum tolerance of plants may be related to the capacity of plants to accumulate magnesium and other nutrients in the presence of aluminum (67,95,168,170–172). Some studies (173) have shown that the toxic effects of aluminum were reduced when magnesium was introduced into the nutrient solution and subsequently increased the production and excretion of citrate from the root tips. The authors (173) hypothesized that the citrate binds with free aluminum, forming nontoxic aluminum–citrate complexes. Keltjens (168) also reported that aluminum chloride in solution culture restricted magnesium absorption by corn but that aluminum citrate or organic complexes did not inhibit magnesium absorption and were not phytotoxic.

Sensitivity to aluminum toxicity may or may not be cultivar-specific. In a study (170) with wheat, differences in magnesium accumulation occurred for different cultivars, with a significantly greater accumulation of magnesium in the leaves of the aluminum-tolerant ‘Atlas 66’ compared to the aluminum-sensitive ‘Scout 66’ and increasing the magnesium concentration in nutrient solutions relative to aluminum and potassium concentrations increased the aluminum tolerance of ‘Scout 66’ (170). However, in another study (174) with aluminum-tolerant and aluminum-sensitive corn cultivars, increasing concentrations of aluminum resulted in higher nutrient concentrations in the shoots of aluminum-sensitive than in the aluminum-tolerant cultivar, probably the result of a greater suppression of growth in the sensitive cultivar.

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