Oil palm has become an important source of revenue for smallholders in Indonesia, but productivity of smallholder plantations is generally poor. Nutrient limitations have been suggested as an important agronomic constraint to yield. Our research aimed to quantify fertiliser use, soil and tissue nutrient status, and palm growth and yield in a sample of independent smallholder plantations. We selected 49 plantations in Indonesia in two provinces with contrasting soils. For all plantations, we obtained self-reported fertiliser use and yield data, collected soil and tissue samples, and analysed vegetative growth. More than 170 kg N ha−1 year−1 was applied in one site, and P was applied in excess of recommended quantities in both sites, but on average farmers applied less than 100 kg K ha−1 year−1. Soils in the palm circle were poor in N, P and K in 29, 40 and 82% of the plantations, and deficiencies were measured in 57, 61 and 80% of the leaflet samples, respectively. We found statistically significant correlations between tissue nutrient concentrations and vegetative growth, but a large part of the variation in the data remained unaccounted for. Single leaf area was reduced in >80% of the plantations. Average yields were estimated to be 50‒70% of the water-limited potential. Our results demonstrate that widespread nutrient imbalances and deficiencies, especially potassium and phosphorus, occur in smallholder oil palm plantations, due to inadequate and unbalanced fertiliser application practices. These deficiencies may be an important underlying cause of the overall poor productivity, which threatens the economic and environmental sustainability of the smallholder sector.