Crop Nutrition Strategy for Maximizing Lettuce Plant Health

Maintaining optimal crop health is essential for improving lettuce productivity and quality. Having the right balance of plant nutrients available during the growing season is critical for their defense against plant pathogens and overall plant health. When lettuce crops are not receiving proper nutrition, they are more susceptible to a variety of abiotic and biotic stresses. 

The link between crop nutrition and plant health has been studied for several years. For example, calcium is an essential component in maintaining the cell wall structure of a plant. When poor calcium nutrition occurs, the crop is more susceptible to fungi that will enter the xylem, dissolve cell walls, and cause the plant to wilt.     


Dr. Rob Mikkelsen, Yara Director of Agronomic Services, summarized the mechanisms where proper fertilization can affect disease control into these main categories:

  • Reduction of pathogen activity
  • Changes in the soil environment
  • Increase in plant resistance to diseases
  • Increase in plant tolerance to diseases
  • Assistance in disease escape
  • Compensation for disease damage

For example, crop nutrition and in particular the use of specific nitrogen fertilizer forms, can impact two resistance mechanisms that reduce the incidence of Fusarium in vegetable crops:

  • Reduction of sporulation and spore germination of Fusarium
  • Decrease of crop susceptibility to fusaric acid, released by the pathogen

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Nitrate nutrition (Fig. B) promotes healthier plants by reducing Fusarium disease severity compared with ammonium. Ref: Duffy and Défago - Tomatoes.

During this growing season, the local team at Yara is further exploring the additional benefits of proper crop nutrition for lettuce and the incidence of important plant health issues we are experiencing. Studies show that certain fertilizer choices encourage soil pathogen proliferation (Fusarium, Pythium, Phytophthora, Rhizoctonia) and these disease organisms may exacerbate the challenging INSV (Impatiens Necrotic Spot Virus) condition affecting lettuce in our region. 

Management Strategies

While proper fertilization does not eliminate the risk of diseases, the use of a balanced crop nutrition program for lettuce will assist in achieving productive crops despite adverse conditions. Some key components of the comprehensive crop nutritional program for lettuce include:

YaraLiva® Calcium Nitrate 

Nitrate is the preferred form of nitrogen fertilizer for lettuce. Studies show that susceptibility to several pathogens is much greater in the presence of ammonium nitrogen compared to nitrate nitrogen. Also, many soil pathogens are favored by acidic soil conditions and all ammonium-based nitrogen fertilizers create sites of acidity which increase the risk of several pathogen infections. YaraLiva Calcium Nitrate does not induce a residual acid reaction in the rhizosphere and thus can help suppress disease development. Calcium is essential in formatting disease-resistant cell membranes and stable cell walls. It also inhibits lettuce disorders such as tip burn. When calcium is deficient, the membrane can leak sugars and amino acids, which can stimulate the infection by pathogens.

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Calcium nitrate strengthens the root cells against fungal attacks compared to other nitrogen fertilizers.

YaraTera® NITRAKAL™ MAX is a calcium and potassium nitrate fertilizer. Plants that are deficient in potassium have impaired protein synthesis and therefore accumulate simple N compounds (amides), which are used by invading plant pathogens. Potassium can also prevent disease attacks by promoting the development of thicker outer walls in epidermal cells. Potassium adds caliper and thickness to lettuce leaves.

A balanced crop nutrition program should include both foliar and fertigated applications. An orthophosphate product like YaraVita® MAGPHOS™ (0-29-5, 4Mg) supplies foliar phosphorus to the crop for all energy reactions within the plant. Added magnesium and potassium help in photosynthesis and metabolism.

A deficiency of any nutrient, including micronutrients, will create plant stress and potential plant health problems. Foliar supply of micronutrients have shown to improve plant health while also keeping photosynthesis, carbohydrate production and plant growth at a high level.

Product summary

  • YaraLiva Calcium Nitrate: CALCINIT™, CN-9®, CAN-17™
  • YaraTera NitraKal Max 10-0-7, 9.5 Ca (calcium nitrate with potassium nitrate)
  • Quality Phosphorus: YaraVita MAGPHOS™ for foliar and fertigated application
  • Available phosphate and calcium: YaraVita SENIPHOS™ as a foliar 3-23-0, 3Ca
  • Foliar calcium: YaraVita STOPIT™ Calcium 12%
  • Micronutrients: YaraVita GRAMITREL™ as a foliar 9% Mn, 9% Mg, 4% Zn, 3% Cu
  • YaraVita BIOTRAC™: Nutrient and seaweed-based product: foliar and fertigated

For more information about Yara products, contact your local Yara representative

Contact the crop nutrition team

Patricia Dingus
Patricia Dingus
Regional Sales Manager

Central Coastal California

Eddie Muro
Eddie Muro
Sales Agronomist

Central Coastal California