Foliar Nutrition and Its Influence on Productivity in Major Pulse Crops: A review

Foliar Nutrition and Its Influence on Productivity in Major Pulse Crops: A review

Abdulgani Nabooji 1 , Sharanappa4 , Yusufali A.N2 , Santosh3

1Department of Agronomy, College of Agriculture, KSNUAHS, Shivamogga 2ICAR –KVK Kalaburgi, India

2ICAR –KVK Kalaburgi, India

3Department of Soil Science and Agricultural Chemistry KSNUAHS, Shivamogga, India

4Department of Agronomy, College of Agriculture, UAS, Raichur, India

Corresponding Author Email:



Maintaining food and nutritional security for the increasing population of the world is a great challenge for us. Pulses, in spite of being major source of protein to this exponentially growing population of the world and it also involved in biological process called “Nitrogen fixation”. The productivity of pulses are declining year by year due to many reasons. The major one is as they are grown in rainfed areas with low moisture availability combined with low fertile soils and another important physiological constraint which limits the productivity is flower drop. So, it needs earnest attention in adoption of desirable production technologies to exploit the yield potential of the pulses and it can be possible by foliar application of nutrients at critical stage/s of the crop as there is no regional recommendation of foliar spray during crop growth period and foliar nutrition is recognized as an important method since it facilitates easy and rapid utilization of nutrients.


Foliar nutrition, Production, productivity

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Pulse is an important source of dietary protein, energy, mineral and vitamins for the mankind. It plays an important role in agriculture as they restore the soil fertility by fixing atmospheric nitrogen through their nodules. But in recent days pulse growing area decreases due to rapid migration to the commercial crops and also growing in marginal and sub marginal land. To overcome these problems by adopting best management practices to mitigate the pulse production. Hence, nutrient management is the foremost address to the decreased nutrient status of pulse growing areas. Among the nutrient management practices foliar nutrition is more advantage, less time consuming, quick response and more economically feasible [1].

Foliar application of specific nutrients is a method used to increased fertilizer use efficiency, improving growth and yield. The efficiency of foliar fertilizer can be influenced by the type of fertilizer, concentration and pH of the solution, use of adjuvant and compatibility with other agrochemicals. This seminar mainly focuses on foliar nutrition, advantage and limitation and its effect on growth and yield status of pulse production [2].

Materials and Methods

Importance of pulse crop in India

  • Grown on all types of soil and climatic conditions.
  • Improve soil fertility and Add organic matter into the soil -form of leaf litter
  • Play important role in crop rotation, mixed and intercropping.
  • Prevent  the soil erosion under field condition
  • Pulses are mostly cultivated on marginal soil under rain-fed condition
  • These are the drought resistant crop and prevent soil erosion due to their deep rooted system and good land coverage

Pulses scenario of World and India

World contribution:  India – 25%, China – 10 %,   Brazil and Canada – 5 %, Others-60%.

Indian scenario:          Area:  23.47 m. ha

                            Production:  18.34   m. t

                          Productivity:  781   kg ha-1          

Strategies for increasing pulse production

  1. Increasing total acreage under pulses
  2.  Rice fallow lands,
  3. Intercropping
  4. Short duration varieties, etc.

Reducing post harvest losses

  1. Control of storage pests,
  2. Increasing the pulse processing infrastructure

Improving yields of pulses

  1. High yielding varieties.
  2.  Proper crop protection, pest  management
  3.  Crop nutrition management

Crop nutrition management through application of fertilizer

  1. Broadcasting
  2. Placement
  3. Foliar nutrition

Foliar nutrition

            The application of foliar spray of one or more nutrients to plants for supplementing the traditional soil application of fertilizer

Why there is decreasing crop responses to fertilizers?

  1. Continuous and indiscriminate use of conventional fertilizers by farmers.
  2. Increasing multi-nutrient deficiency mainly micronutrients which have some synergistic effect on macronutrients uptake.
  3. Development of high yielding varieties which require high doses of fertilizers.
  4. Decreasing partial productivity factor because of low yields.
  5. Inadequate and imbalance fertilizer use which leads to deficiency of some nutrients.
  6. Intensive system of cultivation-soil with negative balance.
  7. Lack of farmer awareness about balanced plant nutrition due to lack of extension.

From the above figure we can see that among primary nutrients nitrogen is the most deficient nutrient and among secondary nutrients sulphur is the most deficient nutrient and in micronutrients zinc is the most deficient nutrient. The deficiencies of these nutrients are quite widespread in Indian soils.

Increasing deficiency of these secondary and micronutrients have started limiting the crop response to NPK application because we all know that there is some synergistic and antagonistic relationship among the major and micronutrients. For example, phosphorous has synergistic relationship with magnesium viz, magnesium increases phosphorous uptake and vice versa because magnesium is mainly involved in the metabolism of phosphorous. In the same way phosphorous has antagonistic relation with zinc viz, more zinc concentration reduces phosphorous uptake and vice versa.

Components of Foliar Fertilization

  1. Liquid fertilizer
  2. Water soluble fertilizer
  3. Liquid organic Manures
  4. Sticker  
  5. Neutralizing agent

Liquid fertilizers

  1. These materials may be in the form of liquid, aqueous solutions.
  2. Materials added to the soil or applied directly to crop foliage to supply element needed for plant nutrition.

Water soluble fertilizers

Water soluble fertilizers are the fertilizers which are 100 per cent soluble in water and which leaves no residue in water after getting dissolved. These fertilizers are applied to crops through fertigation and foliar spray for efficient use of nutrients leading to better yields and quality. They are available in both powder and liquid form. They are having different soluble nutrients grades. They are generally 100 per cent water soluble materials having very low salt index. WSF are characterized by high purity, applied in lower doses. Easy to make the precise amount of nutrient solution for plant by using water soluble fertilizers. Water soluble fertilizers are used as chemical fertilizer in sprinkler or drip irrigation systems and for foliar spray to augment to increase yield and to improve quality of fruits and vegetable crops. Water soluble fertilizers are generally considered 100 % soluble in water having low salt index to reduce the potential for burning of plant tissue and suitable for foliar application or fertigation. These are mostly combination of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulphur and micronutrients with different ratios. These are high analysis fertilizers developed to suit the matrix of status of soil fertility, type of crop, quality of water to be used and climatic conditions. In water soluble fertilizers it is easy to make the precise amount of nutrient solution for plants. Water soluble fertilizers should meet certain criteria such as 100 % soluble and no inert matter, high purity, driven by R&D, nutrients in readily available form, free from sodium and chloride, low salt index, (EC=0.9-1.2), pH  acidic (5.5 to 6.5), suitable for fertigation and foliar application, improve crop yields and quality of produce and ultimately higher nutrient use efficiency [3].

Use of liquid or water soluble fertilizers in India is meager in comparison to developed countries. In USA during 2009 the consumption of water soluble fertilizers was 17 % of the total fertilizers used in all crops [4]. Adoption of drip irrigation system has led to apply nutrients through fertigation. Generally 100 % water soluble or liquid fertilizers are imported; some of Indian companies have started the import of water soluble or liquid fertilizers. But some Indian manufacturers have also started the production of these fertilizers. A number of water soluble fertilizers have been developed and included by GOI in Fertilizers Control Order, 1985 (FAI 2013).Various water soluble grade fertilizers can be used at different growth stages of crops either alone or in combination to improve the crop productivity. The NPK combination are starter grades (19:19:19; 20:20:20; 18:18:18), nitrogen-potash rich grade (13:5:26) for growth in middle stage and mono-potassium phosphate (0:52:34), mono-ammonium phosphate (12:61:0), potassium nitrate (13:0:45) for sugar conversion and disease resistance. So far sixteen grades of 100 % water soluble fertilizers had been notified in FCO-1985 (Table 2).

Source: Fertilizer control order

NOTE: At present there are 22 water soluble fertilizers listed in schedule 1 of fertilizer control order, 1985.

Consumption of water soluble fertilizers

In India, the production and use of conventional fertilizers started in 1906. However, the use of liquid or water soluble fertilizers is new and their use started with growth of micro-irrigation system 20 years back. Initially growth was slow and confined to Maharashtra. The country has witnessed good growth in last 20 years as their usage started in modest quantities from 1200 million tonnes in 1995 to 130000 million tonnes in 2013-14 [5-6]. Out of which fertigation segments has major share of about 84 % and balance by foliar segments. The growth in consumption increased over the years. Total consumption of water soluble fertilizers is still lower than the other countries which are less than 0.25 % in comparison to the global average is 5-6 %. The India’s share of conventional fertilizers is 14 % at world level, whereas it is about 1 % of water soluble. So there is more scope for the growth of use of liquid or water soluble fertilizers to increase the production of horticultural crops. Maharashtra state was the first to start the use of water soluble fertilizers in 1992, however now their use has spread in other states also [7].

Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Gujarat are the major consumers and account for 75 % of total consumption of water soluble fertilizers in India. Some of water or liquid fertilizers are manufactured in the country for creating niche of NPK fertilizers. But largely country is dependent on import and about 90 % of requirement is imported either as finished product or raw material. Main suppliers of water soluble fertilizers to India are Russia, UAE, Malaysia, Belgium, Israel and China. Manufacturing and use of liquid fertilizers can save considerable energy spent on solidifying the fertilizer in the factory.  National Fertilizers Ltd, Nangal had developed a liquid fertilizer ‘Ankur’ which was found to be as good as urea and calcium ammonium nitrate for wheat (Singh and Prasad, 1985). Urea plants are recycling a part of their effluents at a fairly high cost and even then have to strip off some urea before allowing it to flow in the plant water stream.A 1000 tonnes/day (TPD) plant discharges about 20-25 m3/hr effluent containing 0.8 to 1.5 % urea (by weight) and 4-5% ammonia (by weight). With some more effort, this effluent can be developed into a liquid fertilizer. Urea plant effluent can also be used for developing a slow release nitrogen fertilizer by co-precipitating it with neem oil. This technology was developed at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi and the product was named as Pusa Neem Gold Urea.

Source: Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare

The above table contains some specifications that should be followed by industries while preparing water soluble fertilizers. They can also be called as standards that should be followed while preparing the water soluble fertilizers.

Comparison between the conventional fertilizers and water soluble fertilizers

Methods of applications of water soluble fertilizers

  1. Starter solutions
  2. Foliar application
  3. Drip fertigation
  4. Injection into soil
  5. Aerial application

Water soluble fertilizers through foliar application

  1. Several nutrient elements are readily absorbed by leaves when they are dissolved in water and sprayed on them.
  2. Foliar application is effective for the application of major and minor nutrients like iron, copper, boron, zinc and manganese. Sometimes insecticides are also applied along with fertilizers.
  3. Foliar feeding is a method of fertilising plants through the leaves.

Why it is essential for foliar application:

  1. The application of foliar sprays of one or more mineral nutrients to plants to supplement traditional soil applications of fertilizers.
  2. This enables the farmer to better control nutrient availability and to avoid negative soil interactions.
  3. Foliar feeding is crucial to maximize yield.

Meteorological condition favouring foliar applications

Source:- Midwest Laboratories, Inc., Omaha, Nebraska.

Mechanism of foliar fertilization

  1. In order for a foliar fertilizer nutrient to be utilized by the plant for growth, it must first gain entry into the leaf prior to entering the cytoplasm of a cell in the leaf.
  2. To achieve this nutrient must effectively penetrate the outer cuticle and the wall of the underlying epidermal cell.
  3. Once penetration has occurred, nutrient absorption by the cell is similar to absorption by the roots.
  4. Of all the components of the pathway of foliar-applied nutrients, the cuticle offers the greatest resistance.

How do foliar sprayed nutrients penetrate plant tissue?

  1. Through trachomes
  2. Through cuticle
  3. Through stomata
  4. Translocation

1. Through trichomes

  1. They are hair like organs (Epidermal out growth) from which nutrient penetrates.
  2. Importance of this pathway depends on

  A. Trichomes rate and position

  B. Leaf age and its origin                          

2. Through stomata

  1. There is a cuticle pore in cell walls between guard cells and subsidiary cells.
  2. From this site the nutrients are absorbed.

3. Translocation

After the ions have penetrated, transportation to different parts of plants starts and this is referred to as translocation.

This is done by;

A. Cell to cell (Apoplast movement)

B. Through vascular channels (Symplast movement)

Translocation has been done by two processes

  1. Between the cell  (Apoplast  movement)
  2. Cell to cell (Symplast movement)

Efficiency of foliar application is influenced by

  • Plant growth stage
  • Proper crop condition
  • Proper Meteorological Conditions

The factors affecting the foliar spray depends on

  1. Spray solution like pH, molecule type, solution water tension and spray droplet size
  2. Environmental conditions like humidity, temperature and light
  3. Leaf characteristics like leaf age,  surface, disposition, shape, plant species

Advantages of foliar nutrition

  1.  Immediate results
  2.  Increase crop yields
  3.  Increase storage life of food crops
  4.  Boost growth during dry spells                    
  5.  Increase pest and disease resistance
  6.  Maximize plant health and quality
  7.  Increases the nutrient use efficiency

Disadvantages of foliar nutrition

  1.  If deficiencies are severe timing may be late for maximum production.
  2.  Provides nutrition only to the current season crop.
  3.  Bad weather may delay applications.
  4.  If concentration exceeds, leads to scorching or burning of leaves.

Difference between foliar feeding and soil application

Research findings

Effect of foliar nutrition in pulses

Growth, yield attributes and yield

[8] noticed that application of 0.5% ZnS04 spray at 25DAS + 0.5% ZnS04 spray at 45DAS were significantly higher plant height (47.96 cm), number of braches (2.60), bhush yield (837.36 kg ha-1), pods length (3.70 cm), pods per plant (15.83) and seeds per pod (13.50) as compared to control in cowpea.

[9] revealed that application of DAP 2% + NAA 40 ppm +B 0.2% + Mo 0.05 % were significantly higher in grain yield (10.16 q. ha-1), haulm yield (30.33 q. ha-1) and benefit cast ratio (1.97) as compared to control.

[10] revealed that application of RDF(150:75:40 kg N, P2O5, K2O ha-1) + 25 kg ZnSO4 + 10 kg FeSO4 + 35 kg Vermicompost recorded significantly higher yield and yield components viz., ear length (7.40 cm), ear girth (4.99 cm), ear weight (17.40 g), yield (64.43 q ha-1) and green fodder yield (232.33 q ha-1).

[11] reported that Foliar application of N or N plus micronutrients increased leaf area, specific leaf weight, chlorophyll content, total dry mass, flower number and reproductive efficiency, yield attributes and yield over the control. This increment appeared to be the highest in N plus micronutrients treatment although did not differ from the foliar application of only N. Foliar application of N and N plus micronutrients had no significant influence on harvest index and grain protein content but had significant influence on yield attributes and yield

[12] reported that foliar application of 0.05 per cent sodium molybdate + DAP 2 per cent + 100 ppm salicylic acid was recorded significantly higher number of pods plant-1 (34), number of seed plant-1 (11.6), 100 seed weight (4.2 g) and  grain yield (928 kg ha-1) as compared to control in greengram.

[13] revealed that application of ZnSO4@ 25 kg ha-1 through soil proved to be most effective and increased the seed yield by 43.0 per cent when compared with control followed by the spraying of 0.5 % ZnSO4 at 25 and 45 DAS. The increase in yield was due to increase in number of pods per plant, 100 seed weight and number of branches per plant.

[14] revealed that Panchagayya @ 3 per cent at flower initiation and 15 Days After Flowering (DAF) was recorded higher plant height (37.01 cm), number of branches (5.22), total dry matter production (22.81 g plant-1) at harvest and number of root nodules in chick pea at 60 DAS (20.50) which is on par with foliar application of cow urine @ 10 per cent at flower initiation and 15 DAF (35.78 cm, 4.82, 22.53 g plant-1 and 19.09, respectively).

[15] studied the enrichment of greengram (Vigna radiate (L).) genotypes with iron through fertifortification and concluded that both soil and foliar application of 5.5 kg Zn ha-1 + 0.1 % Zn spray through ZnSO4 7H2O resulted in increased the haulm yield by 56.4 % and seed yield by 57 %.

Application of FeSO4 + ZnSO4 each @ 25 kg ha-1 + borax @ 5 kg ha-1 along with (RDF) recorded the higher plant height, number of branches and dry matter production at all the growth stages followed by FeSO4 + ZnSO4 each @ 10 kg ha-1 + Borax @ 2.5 kg ha-1 along with RDF in chickpea (Mahantesh, 2013).

[16] noticed that application of RDF + foliar spray of 40 ppm NAA & 0.5 per cent chelated micronutrient and 2 per cent DAP was recorded significantly higher in number of pods plant-1 (38.73), number of seeds plant-1(6.47) and test weight (61.90 g) followed by RDF + foliar spray of 2 per cent DAP (31.33, 6.33 and 59.07 g, respectively) and where as lower in control (21.80, 4.93 and 45.67 g, respectively) in chickpea.

[17] reported that application of 1.5 % foliar spray of FeSO4 both at branching and flowering stages improved the quality of grains by increasing protein (6.60 %) and iron contents (46.39 %) in grains as compared to control in mungbean.

[18] revealed that application of FeSO4 also improved the quality of mungbean by increasing protein and iron contents in grains. Application of 1.5 % foliar FeSO4 both at branching and flowering stages gave higher number of pods per plant (44.64 %), number of seeds per pod (45.31 %), 1000 grain weight (18.97 %), and grain yield (38.66 %) and also improved the quality of grains by increasing protein contents (6.60 %) and iron contents (46.39 %) in grains as compared to control.

Foliar application of 2 per cent water soluble fertilizers at flowering and pod development in chickpea produced  higher plant height (36.3 cm), total dry matter (21.37 g plant-1), haulm yield (2230 kg ha-1) and grain yield (1640 kg ha-1) as compared to control. (Sameer Ali, 2014).

[19] noticed that application of soil application of ZnSO4 @ 25 kg ha-1 were significantly higher number of pods (plant-1), number of seeds (3.43 pod-1), hundred seed weight (11.17 g) and seed yield (38.69 g plant-1). Similar trend was followed by application of foliar spray of 19:19:19 @ 0.4 % higher number of pods (251.07 plant-1), number of seeds (3.41 pod-1), hundred seed weight (10.89 g) and seed yield (37.18 g plant-1) in pigeonpea.

[20] noticed that the application of 5.0 kg Zn ha-1, 0.5 kg Mo ha-1 and inoculation of seeds with Rhizobium significantly increased seed and stover yield. Protein content increased with the use of zinc, molybdenum and inoculation of seed with Rhizobium but the increased was not significant.

[21] revealed that significantly higher seed yield of pulses were recorded with application of 2 % urea spray over basal dose of fertilizer application The lowest seed yield was recorded with no basal fertilizer and spray. Without basal dose of fertilizer application, 3% NPK (19-19-19) spray recorded highest seed yield.

[22] reported that the total and effective number of nodules, total chlorophyll content, plant height and number of branches were significantly increased by 24.09, 25.53, 16.59, 26.55 and 29.36 per cent  respectively under Zn2(NP + 10 t FYM ha-1 + 5.0 kg Zn enriched FYM @ 500 kg ha-1) over control (Zn0) and the average improvements in seed yield of mungbean due to zinc-enriched FYM (11.79 q ha-1) and their straight application (10.98 q ha-1) was by 31.86 and 22.83 % over control Zn0 (8.96 q ha-1).

[23] revealed that application of pulse magic @ 10g/l were significantly higher pods per plant (137.67), total dry matter production (139.55 g plant-1) and grain yield (1224.3 kg ha-1) whereas lower in control pods per plant (74.50), total dry matter production (93.18 g plant-1) and grain yield (781.8 kg ha-1) in pigeonpea.

Nutrient uptake

            Foliar application of urea 2 per cent spray at pre flowering, flowering and pod development stages recorded significantly higher uptake of both macro and micro nutrients in black gram over control [24].

            [25] reported that combined application of 2%DAP+100 ppm salicylic acid+0.05% sodium molybdate increased the yield attributes [fertility coefficient 35.99%, partitioning coefficient (49.18%) per plant and grain yield 928kg, haulm yield 1230kg per ha] followed by 2 % urea + 100ppm salicylic acid + 0.05 sodium molybdate treatment.

[26] revealed that significantly higher nutrient uptake was recorded in 1 per cent water soluble fertilizer (WSF) spray (115.1, 23.0 and 93.0 N, P and  K kg ha-1, respectively) followed by 0.75 per cent WSF spray (113.7, 22.3 and 91.2 kg ha-1, respectively) where as lower nutrient uptake in control (105.2, 19.3 and 86.9 kg ha-1, respectively) in pigeonpea.

[27] noticed that the application of 5.0 kg Zn ha-1, 0.5 kg Mo ha-1 and inoculation of seeds with Rhizobium significantly higher nitrogen uptake with the use of zinc 5.0 kg ha-1, Mo 0.5 kg ha-1 and Rhizobium inoculation. Zinc and molybdenum uptake significantly higher with the use of 2.5 kg zinc and 0.5 kg Mo ha-1. Available N, Zn and Mo buildup in soil after harvested of the crop with the application of Zn, Mo and Rhizobium.

[28] reported that soil application of ZnSO4 @ 25 kg ha-1 along with foliar spray of 19:19:19 @ 0.4 % recorded significantly higher leaf area per plant (27.23 dm2 plant-1) and higher chlorophyll content (66.43 %). Interaction effect was significant with soil application of ZnSO4 @ 25 kg ha-1 along with foliar spray of 19:19:19 @ 0.4 % which produced significantly higher number of pods per plant (285.89), seed yield per plant (43.14 g) and seed yield per hectare (1390 kg ha-1) followed by soil application of ZnSO4 @ 25 kg ha-1 along with foliar spray of 00:00:50 @ 0.3 % (1297 kg ha-1). Soil application of ZnSO4 @ 25 kg ha-1 along with foliar spray of 19:19:19 @ 0.4 % recorded significantly higher protein content (22.47%), protein yield (288.75 kg ha-1).


[29] revealed that 2 per cent foliar spray of DAP and NAA 40 ppm twice at 25 and 35 days after sowing significantly increased the number of pods per plant, number of seeds per pod, test weight, number of flowers, fertility coefficient, grain yield, haulm yield, cost of cultivation, total return, net return and benefit cost ratio.

[30] revealed that application of RDF (150:75:40 kg N, P2O5, K2O ha-1) + 25 kg ZnSO4 + 10 kg FeSO4 + 35 kg vermicompost recorded significantly higher gross returns (Rs 96,838), net return (Rs. 76,889 ha-1) and B:C ratio (3.85) as compared to control.

[32] reported that foliar application of 3 per cent panchagayya recorded significantly higher gross returns (Rs. 60559 ha-1) net returns (Rs. 42237 ha-1) and B:C (3.31) as compared other foliar spray of liquid manures in chickpea.

            [33] noticed that 1 % water soluble fertilizer (WSF) spray was recorded higher cost of cultivation (Rs. 20250 ha-1), gross returns (Rs. 66214 ha-1), net returns  (Rs. 45964 ha-1) and B:C ratio (3.27) followed by 0.75 % WSF spray (Rs. 19875 ha-1, Rs. 60100 ha-1, Rs. 40225 ha-1 and 3.02, respectively) as compared to control (Rs. 18750 ha-1, Rs. 54199 ha-1, Rs. 35449 ha-1 and 2.89, respectively) in pigeonpea.

[34] reported that soil application of ZnSO4 @ 25 kg ha-1 along with foliar spray of 19:19:19 @ 0.4 % recorded significantly higher gross returns (Rs. 55,592 ha-1), net returns (Rs. 36,323 ha-1) and BC ratio (2.89) as compared to control.


Proper plant nutrition for optimal crop productivity in crop requires that nutrient deficiencies be avoided however, Foliar application of nutrients can be used to improve the efficiency and rapidity of utilization of a nutrient quickly required by the plant for maximum growth and yield of pulse foliar fertilization is viable means of applying certain fertilizers that can supplement traditional soil methods. Foliar application should be made either early morning or late evening for maximum efficiency, and no foliar application should be made to water-stressed plants. Foliar application is a viable means of applying certain fertilizer that can supplement traditional soil methods. It is more efficient supply of nutrient to the developing pulse for optimum grain yield and protein quality in pigeonpea.

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