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Iron Deficiency

Hosts:  Freeman maples, silver maple, river birch, Swedish columnar aspen

Authors:  Esther McGinnis and Kasia Kinzer


  • Leaves turn yellow-green or bright yellow but veins remain green (interveinal chlorosis)
  • In severe cases, leaf margins may turn brown and appear scorched
  • Symptoms first appear on newest leaves at branch tips
  • Over time, twigs and branches may die back from the crown
  • Eventually, the tree may die if the iron deficiency persists for years

Fig 1 Iron Deficiency
Figure 1:
River birch leaf with interveinal chlorosis (Esther McGinnis, NDSU)


Fig 2 Iron Deficiency
Figure 2
: Branch dieback on silver maple (Joseph Zeleznik, NDSU Extension)

Management and other important facts

  • This abiotic disorder is caused by an iron deficiency that is associated with alkaline soils, cool temperatures, and wet soils; these conditions render the normally abundant iron in North Dakota soils as unusable by the plant
  • Foliar sprays of chelated iron may provide quick green-up of the foliage but this treatment is temporary and trees do not always respond
  • Iron chelate products may be applied to the soil or injected into trees for longer lasting relief
  • Broadcasting soil acidifiers such as elemental sulfur or iron sulfate onto the soil surface may lower the soil pH; gradually converting the iron in the soil into a usable form by the plant
  • Replace iron-deficient trees with individuals that are better adapted to alkaline soils



This website was supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service through grant 14-SCBGP-ND-0038.
Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USDA.

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