Bob Hill, a local Ventura PCA, saw an interesting mite he had never seen before and asked if I could id it. Well, I sent it in to Mark Hoddle and UCR and he turned it over to his student Ricky Lara to id it. And this is what he says:
I started finding this type of mite infrequently in 2011, when I was sampling foliage in avocado orchards. Although seldom seen, they have a wide geographic distribution on avocado. I found them in Cambria (SLO), Santa Rosa Valley (Ventura County) and Irvine (Orange County). At the time I narrowed down the mite family to Winterschmidtiidae. I have to double check, but I believe their feeding habit is listed as fungivorous (The Manual of Acarology). They might feed directly on plant material too (no fungus on the avocado leaves I sampled) but no one has really studied them. I tried rearing them in the lab (without other mites as a food source, only pollen) but the colony only lasted for a couple of months. On avocado I have seen these mites at the leaf-vein junctions. This probably provides a natural home ("domatia") for them as it does for other mites (e.g. phytoseiids, tydeids, stigmaeids). On lemons, the calyx structure probably serves the same ecological function for these mites.
The tydeid mites are what I call the "tidy mites" since their basic function is to run around and clean up leaves, although there are some predatory and scavenging members of the family This little guy is just one of the many tidy mites found out there and its recent appearance is just a reflection of the weather/climate we have this time.
The red circled mite is the one we are talking about here. The structures next to it are some egg cases of another animal. The red dots are called opisthonotal glands which produce pheromones, the purpose of which is not clear.
At a recent avocado meeting, Carol Lovatt of the Botany Department at UC Riverside pointed out that avocado fruit take up more potassium than nitrogen, almost twice as much, and that much of that uptake occurs later when the fruit is expanding. She reminds growers that all to often, the potassium needs of the tree are overlooked.
Click on "attached files, potassium nitrogen uptake" to view graphs.
Assessing water quality for Southern California agriculture typically revolves around the total salinity of the water, its total dissolved solids (TDS), and the toxic ions boron, sodium and chloride. Salts are necessary to plants, because it is in the form of diluted salts that all nutrients are taken up by plants- the macro and micronutrients plants extract from the soil. High salinity leads to water imbalance problems much as if the plant were not getting adequate water. A toxicity problem is different from a salinity problem, in that toxicity is a result of damage within the plant rather than a water shortage. Toxicity results when the plant takes up the toxic ions and accumulates the ions in the leaf. The leaf damage that occurs from both toxicity and salinity are similar in that it causes tissue death known commonly as "tip burn." The damage that occurs depends on the concentration of the ions in the soil water around the roots, the crop sensitivity and crop water use, and the length of time the crop experiences the ions. In many cases, yield reduction occurs. Because crops can not excrete salts the way humans do, salts gradually accumulate in a plant. As a result plants need a higher water quality than humans do.
Much study in many countries has gone into evaluating water for crop use. Some of these studies have been on the effects of salts on soil characteristics. Generally, as sodium concentration increases, a soil will lose its aggregation, eventually leading to poor water infiltration. Many more salinity and toxicity studies have been done on plants themselves. Not all crops are equally tolerant of salinity and toxicities, and in general most plants respond to salinity and toxicities in a similar fashion. If a plant is intolerant of salinity, it will be intolerant of chloride, sodium and boron. Most annual crops are less sensitive to salts than tree crops and woody perennials, although symptoms can appear on any crop if concentrations are high enough. The reason for greater sensitivity for perennial crops is that the tree is sitting in the ground absorbing salts for a longer period than the lettuce plant that is harvested 3 months after planting. Furthermore, deciduous trees like walnut shed their leaves each winter, so they can handle salinity better than evergreens like citrus and avocado.
To manage salinity and toxicities, water management is the key. Depending on water quality, an excess of water will be applied to the soil to leach the previously applied salts away from the root zone. The poorer the water quality, the more excess water is applied.
Selecting a less sensitive crop is also an alternative when dealing with poor water quality. Some barley varieties can handle salinity similar to ocean water. Barley nets a grower $400 an acre, avocados $9,000 and $25,000 if the market is right for strawberries. Avocados are salt sensitive, so are strawberries and lemons and cherimoyas and star fruit and blueberries and raspberries and mandarins and nursery crops. We grow these because with our climate, very few other places can grow them and they return enough money for a grower to stay in business in an area where land, water and labor are expensive. We really don't have much in "alternative crops" to grow here.
OK! Let's Strategize. There are four steps for everybody to consider, it doesn't matter if you have a backyard lawn and landscape or if you have 700 acres of avocados.
1. Maintenance: Irrigation System and Cultural Practices
2. Improve Irrigation Scheduling
3. Deficit Irrigation
4. Reduce Irrigated Area
a. Irrigation System.
- Fix leaks. Unfortunately, there are almost always leaks for all kinds of reasons. Pickers step on sprinklers, squirrels eat through polytube, branches drop on valves, coyote puppies like to chew….the system should be checked during every irrigation
- Drain the lines. At the beginning of each year every lateral line should be opened in order to drain the fine silt that builds up.
- Maintain or increase the uniformity of irrigation so that each tree or each area gets about the same amount of water. Common problems include different sized sprinklers on the same line or pressure differences in the lines. Where there are elevation changes, every line should have a pressure regulator, they come pre-set to 30 psi. Having all of your lines set up with pressure regulators is the only way you can get an even distribution of water to all of the trees, and it solves the problem of too much pressure at the bottom of the grove and not enough at the top.
- Clean the filters often. You don't have a filter because you think that the district water has already been filtered? Hah! What happens if there is a break in the line in the street and the line fills with dirt during the repairs? All of your sprinklers will soon be filled with dirt.
- Is water flow being reduced at the end of the lateral line? It could be because scaffold roots are growing old enough to pinch off the buried line. The only cure is to replace the line.
b. Cultural Management.
- Control the weeds because weeds can use a lot of water.
- Mulch? Mulching is good for increasing biological activity in the soil and reducing stress on the trees, but the mulch will not save a lot of water if you are irrigating often….the large evaporative surface in mulches causes a lot of water to evaporate if the mulch surface is kept wet through frequent irrigation. Mulches are more helpful in reducing water use if the trees are young and a lot of soil is exposed to direct sunlight.
2. Improve the Irrigation Scheduling.
- CIMIS will calculate the amount of water to apply in your grove based on last week's water evapotranspiration (ET). You can get to CIMIS by using several methods; for avocado growers the best method is to use the irrigation calculator on the www.avocado.org website. If you need further instruction on this, you can call our office and ask for the Avocado Irrigation Calculator Step by Step paper. You need to know the application rater of your mini-sprinklers and the distribution uniformity of your grove's irrigation system.
- CIMIS tells you how much water to apply, but you need tensiometers, soil probes or shovels to tell you when to water.
- “Smart Controllers” have been used successfully in landscape and we have used one very successfully in an avocado irrigation trial The one we used allowed us to enter the crop coefficient for avocado into the device, and daily ET information would come in via a cell phone connection. When the required ET (multiplied automatically by the crop coefficient) reached the critical level, the irrigation system would come on, and then shut down when the required amount had been applied. Increased precision can be obtained by fine tuning these devices with the irrigation system precipitation (application) rate.
3. Deficit Irrigation.
- Deficit irrigation is the practice of applying less water than the ET of the crop or plant materials. Deficit irrigation is useful for conserving water in woody landscape ornamentals and drought tolerant plants where crop yield is not an issue. Water conserved in these areas may be re-allocated to other areas on the farm or landscape.
- There hasn't been enough research on deficit irrigation of avocado for us to comment. We suspect, however, that deficit irrigation will simply lead to dropped fruit and reduced yield.
- Stumping the avocado tree could be considered a form of deficit irrigation. In this case, the tree should be stumped in the spring, painted with white water-based paint to reflect heat, and the sprinkler can be capped for at least 2 months. As the tree starts to re-grow, some water should be added back, probably about 10-20% of the normal water use of a mature tree.
- Regulated Deficit Irrigation for Citrus is an important method for saving water, and in some cases will reduce puff and crease of the peel. In one orange trial done by Dr. David Goldhammer in the San Joaquin Valley, an application of 25% of ETc from mid-May to Mid July saved about 25% of applied water for the year and reduced crease by 67%, without appreciably reducing yield.
- 3. Reduce Irrigated Area.
- Taking trees out of production. Trees that are chronically diseased and do not produce fruit (or the fruit is poor quality) should be taken out of production during this period. Also consider: trees in frosty areas, trees in wind-blown areas, trees near eucalyptus and other large trees that steal the water from the fruit trees.
- Changing crops. You may want to take out those Valencias during this period and replant to something that brings in more money, like seedless, easy-peeling mandarins. The young trees will be using a lot less water.
- Fallow Opportunities. You may decide to do some soil preparation, tillage or cultivation, or even soil solarization of non-irrigated areas.
We have found that this four step process is a logical way to achieve water cutbacks with least impact. It is possible to achieve a ten percent reduction in water by only improving irrigation system uniformity and scheduling procedures. Often, these two measures also result in better crop performance and reduced runoff. Reducing irrigated area or taking areas out of production should be a last resort and a well thought out decision. Plan for the future, hopefully water will be more available in future years.
I recently went out to an avocado orchard on sandy soil that had had sudden leaf drop after a Santa Ana condition. The problem is that the orchard had had an ongoing leaf blight problem that had been accentuated by two years of drought and with the Santa Ana more pressure had been put on the trees. This is a condition that has become more and more pronounced over the year and with little rainfall is going to be something to watch out for this coming irrigation season.
Stem and leaf blights are symptoms that appear for various reasons – high rainfall or humidity, spray burn, chewing insect infestation. Here in California we can add other causes, such as drought and salinity burn. These conditions can cause wounding of leaf and stems allowing entry of fungal spores that can cause leaf and stem dieback. This condition is most common near the coast where weather conditions can change from mild and low temperatures to extremely high temperature with winds, such as the Santa Anas or the Sundowners in Santa Barbara. Leaves suddenly dry out, causing cracking either at that time or when they are rehydrated with irrigation. This allows spore entry into the wounds and permits the pathogen to grow in the dead tissue. Symptoms appear 7 – 10 days after the stress. These are decay fungi that create these spores and they are the ones that cause decay of dead tissue on the ground. So their spores are everywhere.
The greater part of a tree is dead – the woody part of the branches and trunk. And it is dead tissue that these fungi are feeding on. Most trees will limit the growth of the fungus by sealing off the infection with gums of various sorts. In that case, the disease is limited and you may only see a leaf or small branch dying back. In mature trees it is possible to see a small branch here and there that has died back, but the bulk of the canopy is still green. It has been called “salt and pepper syndrome”, because of that speckled appearance. In the case of young trees with their smaller root systems and a lesser ability to seal of the disease process, a whole tree can die.
Since this is a severe water stress or salt stress induced problem, the most important management issue is to watch the weather forecasts predicting unusual hot, dry weather and make sure the trees are adequately irrigated going into the stressful period. Shallow rooted trees like avocados are more prone to dry out rapidly in these high water demand situations, but it can be occur in other trees (citrus, apple, peach) and shrubs if the weather conditions are severe enough. With poor leaching due to low rainfall, this can be more of a problem
The only solution to the symptoms is to cut out the diseased parts to prevent its further spread. Once the disease starts spreading, the fungus can produce copious amounts of spores, which in the case of avocado can cause cankers and rots on the fruit.
Some symptoms of leaf blight. Spots that progress into marginal necrosis can occur or just general necrosis.