The response of forest ecosystems to increased atmospheric CO2 is constrained by nutrient availability. It is thus crucial to account for nutrient limitation when studying the forest response to climate change. The objectives of this study were to describe the nutritional status of the main European tree species, to identify growth-limiting nutrients and to assess changes in tree nutrition during the past two decades. We analysed the foliar nutrition data collected during 1992–2009 on the intensive forest monitoring plots of the ICP Forests programme. Of the 22 significant temporal trends that were observed in foliar nutrient concentrations, 20 were decreasing and two were increasing. Some of these trends were alarming, among which the foliar P concentration in F. sylvatica, Q. Petraea and P. sylvestris that significantly deteriorated during 1992–2009. In Q. Petraea and P. sylvestris, the decrease in foliar P concentration was more pronounced on plots with low foliar P status, meaning that trees with latent P deficiency could become deficient in the near future. Increased tree productivity, possibly resulting from high N deposition and from the global increase in atmospheric CO2, has led to higher nutrient demand by trees. As the soil nutrient supply was not always sufficient to meet the demands of faster growing trees, this could partly explain the deterioration of tree mineral nutrition. The results suggest that when evaluating forest carbon storage capacity and when planning to reduce CO2 emissions by increasing use of wood biomass for bioenergy, it is crucial that nutrient limitations for forest growth are considered.