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The Effect of Excess Iron in Plants

Although trace amounts of iron are required for plants to grow properly, exposure to too much of the element can cause just as many problems as its absence. Excessive iron not only proves toxic to plant tissues, but it also displaces other nutrients that plants need.

Causes

Plants that absorb too much iron have inefficient roots and difficulty regulating photosynthesis, the process by which light is converted into usable energy. Unbalanced levels of many other important nutrients like zinc and manganese often arise with iron poisoning, compounding problems in unpredictable ways (Reference 1).

Locations

Areas with wet, poorly-aerated soil, such as swamps and fens, as well as lands subjected to acid rain promote dangerously fast absorption of iron in plants (Reference 1).

Leaves

Leaves stained red, orange or dark green that develop spots of rot are among the first visible symptoms of excessive iron uptake in plants. This reaction begins in the tips of leaves, spreading inward to cover the plant if high-iron conditions persist (Reference 3).

  • Although trace amounts of iron are required for plants to grow properly, exposure to too much of the element can cause just as many problems as its absence.
  • Unbalanced levels of many other important nutrients like zinc and manganese often arise with iron poisoning, compounding problems in unpredictable ways (Reference 1).

Roots

Excessively iron-rich soil causes many plants to develop sparse, ragged root systems. Large sections of the roots will die, and the weakened portions that survive will often be stained brown or black (Reference 3).

Crops

High levels of iron are known to reduce the yield of fruit, vegetable and cereal crops by promoting stunted growth (Reference 2).

Significance

Rice farmers in many portions of western and central Africa experience poor harvests due to iron poisoning. Large amounts of iron from the highlands wash down into the wet valleys where rice would otherwise flourish (Reference 2).

Water With Iron In It Okay To Use On Plants?

There are four different ways that iron can appear in water. Ferric or "red water" iron is not water-soluble and adds red, brown or black sediment to the water. Ferrous iron is the most common type of iron encountered in water, especially in deep wells or other groundwater. Plants use iron as a part of the energy creation process. As plants grow and undergo photosynthesis, they draw iron from the surrounding soil, and in some cases this may leave the soil with a low iron content. Overwatering with iron-rich water can gradually cause a build-up of iron that may begin to damage the plant itself.

  • Excessively iron-rich soil causes many plants to develop sparse, ragged root systems.
  • As plants grow and undergo photosynthesis, they draw iron from the surrounding soil, and in some cases this may leave the soil with a low iron content.
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