Yellowing of Young Leaves in Sugarcane and Crop Nutrition

The yellowing of young leaves in sugarcane can be a result of diseases or a nutrient deficiency.

The top youngest leaves show symptoms of a sulfur deficiency by the plant foliage turning yellowish-green. As the deficiency gets worse, purple colored margins develop on both sides of the leaves. Stalks are slender and thin and more flexible at the tip than normal. Leaves are shorter and narrower. Symptoms are similar to those seen for nitrogen. However, nitrogen deficiency tends to be first seen in older leaves and leaf tips tend to die back, which is not the case with sulfur deficiency.

If the leaves become yellow and brittle – leaf tips can split and die off – you are probably looking at a boron deficient plant. There may be ladder-like lesions on the leaves and serrations. Translucent lesions – ‘water soaks’ - form between the veins and these may exude water droplets onto the upper leaf surface. Young plants are bunched, with an excessive number of tillers.

If the plant is copper deficient however, the immature leaves become yellow – then form small dark green patches, before eventually becoming chlorotic or bleached. Tillering and vigor is reduced. Stalks become rubbery and flexible and leaves become thin and rolled or wilted.


Yellow to orange chlorosis with scorching of the margins – also known as firing can indicate a potassium deficiency. The mid-ribs may have a red coloration – typically known as mid-rib disease. This effects especially the old leaves, which may turn completely red and senesce, whilst the younger leaves can remain green.

If in doubt whether it is a nutrition deficiency or disease, please asses through leaf analysis.