When you see dieback in an avocado it could be due to several reasons, and here are three very common causes of dieback, one of which has been especially common when there is little rain. The first major cause of dieback is an overgrown tree where there is no light that penetrates into the canopy. Branches with leaves in a darkened interior will naturally shut down and dieback, leaving these twiggy dried out branches. This is a natural process whereby the tree just gets rid of leaves that are not performing.
Another cause of dieback is our old friend Avocado Root Rot, Phytophthora cinnamomi. This causes dieback, also called “stag horning” because of the dead branches standing out from the surrounding canopy. This is normally accompanied by a thinning canopy with smaller, yellow leaves and a lack of leaf litter because of lack of energy. It's also hard to find roots and if they are found, they are black at the tips and brittle.
The third major cause of dieback is a result of water stress. This shows up with low water pressure, at the top of the hill where the most wind occurs, where a sprinkler gets clogged, when the irrigation schedule is not meeting tree's needs or when there is not adequate rainfall to get sufficient leaching. And after four years of drought, this is very common. This appears as dead spots in the canopy, a branch here and there where the leaves have died and are still hanging. It's been called “salt and pepper” syndrome, because it can have a few branches here and there that have died back while the rest of the canopy is normal, the leaves are normally sized and green. In young trees, in severe cases, the fungus that causes this blight can work its way down to the graft union and kill the tree. In mature trees, it just causes an unthrifty look to the tree. Although we have always seen this problem in avocado orchards, this has become a very common affliction in orchards these last few years
1) Lack of light dieback
2) Phytophthora cinnamomi dieback
3) Stem and Leaf Blight
Since Greek and Roman times, the appearance of a plant has been used to help identify plant health. The plant speaks through distress signals. The message may be that there is simply too little or too much water. Or the sign may tell us of a disease caused by a microorganism, such as a bacteria, virus or fungus. The plant may show symptoms of attack by nematodes, insects or rodents or from injuries from frost or lightning. According to the plant species these signals may differ slightly, but frequently they can be generalized.
It is also possible to generalize about the signals linked to the nutritional status of a plant. Learning these symptoms can alert us to appropriate steps to correct the toxicity, deficiency or imbalance of nutrients.
There are 17 elements essential for plant growth. Hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon come either from the air or water. The others come from the soil. Depending on the quantity needed by the plant, these are called either primary or trace (micronutrients) nutrients. The micronutrient nickel is required in such small amounts (50 -100 parts per billion) by plants that it was identified only last year as being an essential nutrient. Other micronutrients are iron, manganese, boron, chlorine, zinc, copper and molybdenum. Some other nutrients have been identified as being essential for only certain plants, such as silicon for sugar cane.
The primary nutrients are measured on a percent (parts per 100) dry weight tissue basis. These are nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and sulfur. The trace elements are measured on a part per million dry weight basis. For example, a typical analysis of a dried leaf from a healthy cherimoya might show 2% nitrogen, 1% potassium, 100 ppm (parts per million) iron and 50 ppm boron.
Although plants require more primary than trace nutrients, all the essential elements need to be present for a healthy plant. An excess, deficiency or even an imbalance of these elements will lead to individual symptoms which are characteristic to most plants. Because of our climate and soils, Southern California has different nutritional problems from those of much of the rest of the country. What is a problem in Massachusetts may rarely be a problem here. The following list is a description of the more common nutritional problems in most plants in Southern California.
Excess or toxicity (usually related to irrigation practices)
*Boron - chlorosis (yellowing), leading to tissue death (necrosis) along the margins of older leaves.
*Sodium , Chloride - necrosis of the leaf tips and margins on older leaves.
*Phosphorus - frequently the only symptom is smaller plants, but occasionally the leaves are darker than normal or may have a reddish cast, a common symptom in sweet corn. Phosphorus deficiency in California trees is rare.
*Potassium - scorching or firing along leaf margins that usually first appears in older leaves. Plants grow slowly and have a poorly developed root system. Stalks are often weak and fall over.
*Nitrogen - plants are light green or yellow. Older leaves are often affected first, but in trees the chlorosis may appear on any part of the plant.
*Zinc - depending on the plant there may be interveinal (between the leaf veins) chlorosis on younger leaves, but frequently the leaves are small and appear in a rosette.
*Iron - very sharply defined interveinal chlorosis of younger leaves, with little size reduction. Can often be associated with wet soil conditions.
*Manganese - mild interveinal chlorosis of younger leaves, with no size reduction.
These and other problems can be corrected with appropriate fertilizers, amendments and manures and also by soil and water management. In well-managed plants you may never see these signs, but learning the signals can help direct your activities if you do. Sweet corn is a wonderful indicator plant which develops very prominent symptoms according to the deficiency. Planting a row of sweet corn (not field) is a tasty way to determine if your soil has a generic nutritional problem.
Polyphagous Shot Hole Borer can go to over 100 and counting hosts, but the Fusarium that the ambrosia beetle carries can not reproduce on all tree species. It is this fungus that ultimately kills the tree. There are now though thirty-seven hosts on which the beetle will attack and the Fusarium will grow. Here is the current list, 14 of which are California natives:
Known Suitable Reproductive Host Trees:
*Native species to California
- Author: Cheryl Wilen
One point I always make is that the sooner you control annual weeds, the better. This reduces crop-weed competition, along with a host of other issues caused by weeds (we'll save that for another blog). But the real key to forward-looking weed management is to kill the weed before it produces seeds. Once seeds are produced, they contribute to the seed bank, pretty much ensuring that the weed population will be a continual problem.
But suppose you miss some weeds that are starting to flower but the flowers aren't open yet? I think most growers will just pull or cut the weed and leave it in or near the field.
I want to show you a time-lapse video I took. I cut the flowering stem off of an annual sowthistle plant and took a photo with a special camera every minute for 6 days. As you can clearly see, even though the stem was no longer receiving water or nutrients from the soil, at least the flower bud continued to mature and produce seeds. Now, having said that, I have not germinated the seeds to see if they are viable, but there is a good chance they are. Click HERE for video. It's about 1 1/2 minutes long, but most of the action happens in the first 50 seconds.
So the take home message - if the weeds have flower buds starting to open, remove them to covered piles, trash cans, or other area where they will not be a source of new weed seeds.
There was a lot of odd looking, water-soaked Satsuma fruit showing up this year along the coast. It was showing up as late as March since fruit can hang so much longer along the coast than the Central Valley and hotter areas. It turns out its an abiotic issue and is more associated with the cooler, coastal environment. Recently a "Gold Nugget" mandarin came in that had a very similar look to the rind. This variety doesn't have immediate satsuma parentage, but who knows what is in its past. The disorder is most commonly associated with cool, foggy or rainy conditions. In the fall we had those conditions and maybe that's what set it off. Later, secondary fungi move in to colonize, the depressions that first occur.