Drought Induced Problems in Our Orchards
Abiotic disorders are plant problems that are non-infective. They are not caused by an organism, but through their damage, they may bring on damage caused by organisms. Think of a tree hit by lightning or a tractor. The damage breaches the protective bark which allows fungi to start working on the damaged area, eventually leading to a decayed trunk. It was the mechanical damage, though that set the process in motion.
Too much or too little water can also predispose a plant to disease. Think of Phytophthora root rot or even asphyxiation that can come from waterlogging or too frequent irrigations.
Salinity Effects from Lack of Water
Lack of water and especially sufficient rainfall can lead to salinity and specific salts like boron, sodium and chloride accumulating in the root zone. This happens from a lack of leaching that removes native soil salts from the root zone or the salts from the previous salt-laden irrigation from the root zone. These salts cause their own kind of damage, but they can also predispose a tree to disorders, disease and invertebrate (insect and mite) damage.
Lack of water and salt accumulation act in a similar fashion. Soil salt acts in competition with roots for water. The more soil salt, the harder a tree needs to pull on water to get what it needs. The first symptom of lack of water or salt accumulation may be an initial dropping of the leaves. If this condition is more persistent, though we start to see what is called “tip burn” or “salt damage”. Southern California is tremendously dependent on rainfall to clean up irrigation salts, and when rain is lacking, irrigation must be relied on to do the leaching
As the lack of leaching advances (lack of rainfall and sufficient irrigation leaching) the canopy thins from leaf drop, exposing fruit to sunburn and fruit shriveling.
Leaf drop and fruit shriveling in avocado.
In the case of sensitive citrus varieties like mandarins, water stress can lead to a pithy core with darker colored seeds, almost as if the fruit had matured too long on the tree.
Total salinity plays an important factor in plant disorder, but also the specific salts. These salts accumulate in the older leaves, and cause characteristic symptoms that are characteristic in most trees. Boron will appear on older leaves, causing an initial terminal yellowing in the leaf that gradually turns to a tip burn.
Often times it is hard to distinguish between chloride, sodium and total salinity damage. It is somewhat a moot point, since the method to control all of them is the same – increased leaching. There is no amendment or fertilizer that can be applied that will correct this problem. The damage symptoms do not go away until the leaf drops and a new one replaces it. By that time hopefully rain and/or a more efficient irrigation program has been put in place.
The Impact of Drought on Nutrient Deficiencies
Salinity and drought stress can also lead to mineral deficiencies. This is either due to the lack of water movement carrying nutrients or to direct completion for nutrients. A common deficiency for drought stressed plants is nitrogen deficiency from lack of water entraining that nutrient into the plant.
This usually starts out in the older tissue and gradually spreads to the younger tissue in more advanced cases.
The salts in the root zone can also lead to competition for uptake of other nutrients like calcium and potassium. Apples and tomatoes are famous for blossom end rot when calcium uptake is low, but we have also seen it in citrus. Low calcium in avocado, and many other fruits, leads to lower shelf life. Sodium and boron accumulation in the root zone can lead to induced calcium deficiencies and increased sodium can also further lead to potassium deficiencies. Leaching can help remove these competitive elements.
Drought Effect on Tree Disease
Drought and salt stress can also lead to disease, but in many cases once the problem has been dealt with the disease symptoms slowly disappear. They are secondary pathogens and unless it is a young tree (under three years of age) or one blighted with a more aggressive disease, the disease condition is not fatal. Often times, in the best of years, on hilly ground these diseases might be seen where water pressure is lowest or there are broken or clogged emitters. The symptoms are many – leaf blights, cankers, dieback, gummosis – but they are all caused by decomposing fungi that are found in the decaying material found in orchards, especially in the naturally occurring avocado mulch or artificially mulched orchards. Many of these fungi are related Botryosphaerias, but we once lumped then all under the fungus Dothiorella. These decay fungi will go to all manner of plant species, from citrus to roses to Brazilian pepper.
Another secondary pathogen that clears up as soon as the stress is relieved is bacterial canker in avocado. These ugly cankers form white crusted circles that ooze sap, but when the tree is healthy again, the cankers dry up with a little bark flap where the canker had been.
Drought Effect on Pests
Water/salt stress also makes trees more susceptible to insect and mite attack. Mites are often predated by predacious mites, and when there are dusty situations, they can't do their jobs efficiently and mites can get out of hand. Mite damage on leaves is often noted in well irrigated orchards along dusty picking rows
Many borers are attracted to water stressed trees and it is possible that the Polyphagous and Kuroshio Shot Hole Borers are more attracted to those trees.
And then we have conditions like Valencia rind stain that also appears in other citrus varieties. We know it will show up in water stressed trees, but we aren't sure what the mechanism that causes this rind breakdown just at color break. Could it be from thrips attracted to the stressed tree or a nutrient imbalance, it's not clear?
Water and salt stress can have all manner of effects on tree growth. It should lead to smaller trees, smaller crops and smaller fruit. The only way to manage this condition is through irrigation management. Using all the tools available, such as CIMIS, soil probes, soil sensors, your eyes, etc. and good quality available water are the way to improve management of the orchard to avoid these problems.
Scroll down for Images
Tip Burn, notice sun burn bottom right hand fruit
Endoxerosis with dried out core
Blossom end rot
Bot gumming in lemon
Black Streak in Avocado
Citrus red mite
Polyphagous Shot Hole Borer damage on avocado
Valencia Rind Stain
A recent article in California Agriculture highlights something that we have found in raw organic materials that have been used in mulches for controlling Avocado Root Rot – Phytophthora cinnamomi. The most active stage of a material in the process of composting, is the initial one where all the bacteria and fungi are fighting to consume the easily decomposable sugars and light fraction organics. That's when the material heats up and various gases, such as ethylene, ammonia and others are released. This is the most competitive time in decomposition and Phytophthora just can't compete. In fact, it becomes a food source for the antagonistic fungi, since its cell wall is made of cellulose the material that many leaves are made of. In releasing exudates to decompose cellulose, the Phytophthora is decomposed, as well. As the cellulose is decomposed and disappears more resistant materials remain. A mature compost, is therefore a much more stable material than a raw one. It still has nutritional benefits, as well as physical effects on soil when it is incorporated, but has a lesser impact on Phytophthora.
Compost is used as a soil amendment, largely because it is relatively stable biologically and has nutritional/physical effects. Incorporating raw organic matter into the soil and then planting has its restrictions and should be done cautiously. But as a mulch (material applied to the soil surface) there are fewer problems, as long as some common sense is used. Like don't pile it up against plant stems which keeps moisture and conditions for disease around the plant crown. And there are several other qualifiers, such as don't apply it so thickly that the soil never dries out and becomes a problem in walking across it.
So, read this interesting story of what happens to Phytophthora when introduced into a mature compost:
This is also a great web site to read about other UC related agriculture and natural resource research. Sign up.
I get a call.
He: My trees not doing well.
Me: What's the problem?
He: It's yellow?
Me: Have you looked at the roots? Are there roots?
Me: I'll be out next week, but in the meantime, look at the root system.
This is a pretty common exchange and when I got out, you find out that the emitter is clogged, the ground is soggy, there's weed whack damage, there's gopher damage, there's…………………. All kinds of things that pop up and until you see the context that the poor tree is in, it's hard to diagnose the problem. Too much fertilizer, black drip tubing that had water heated in the sun and burned the roots, the trunk buried in mulch, it's hard to imagine all the possibilities. But start with the roots and then go where that leads you.
So, here's the scenario.
You get a call/email.
He: What's wrong with my young tree? It snapped off in the wind. Here's a picture of what's left. Corroded, bulbous graft union. Incompatibility? Extensive decay that indicates a problem of long standing. The leaves are green though, so it means it was hanging in there until the wind blew. Was the trunk buried at planting leading to asphyxiation and crown rot? Is it some sort of wound that started it off? Oh, and about 1% of the planting is like that.
Me: OK, I better take a look at it. I'll get some samples and send them into Akif Eskalen at UC Riverside and bring our plant pathologist Jim Downer out to look at it with me.
So tune in to find out what we diagnose as the problem. In the meantime, if you have an unknown avocado or citrus problem that looks of root origin. You can contact Akif and send him a sample after following the “Sample Submission Form” at: http://eskalenlab.ucr.edu/
The disease pyramid describes how disease can eventually destroy a plant.
It is comprised of the presents of the pathogen that causes the disease, the plant or host, the environmental conditions that sets up the pathogen to go after the plant and time. It requires all four at the same time to have a disease. So in the case of avocado root rot, it's necessary to have Phytophthora cinnamomi there with a susceptible avocado root, in warm, moist conditions for a period of time for the disease to express itself. For a young tree, the disease may show up within a year but for older trees it may take several years to see the disease symptoms. For avocado crown rot, it may take several years for Phytophthora citricola to appear. In the case of Huanglongbing, not only is the pathogen required, but also the vector for spreading it, the Asian Citrus Psyllid. At this point in California, we have a rapidly spreading vector, but as yet, it appears the psyllid is not infected with the bacteria causing the citrus disease.
Not only time is important, but timing of sampling and point of sampling are important. In the case of avocado root rot, the best sample if from a recently infected root in the spring or summer. A thoroughly destroyed root taken in the winter will often give a negative response. The pathogen has done its ravages and is no longer active. If the wrong leaf or root is sampled for the Huanglongbing bacteria, the assay will show a negative response, even though it is in the plant. (This may have something to do with Einstein's Theory of Relativity in this 100th year of pronouncement, but I doubt it).
And then too, even if a disease is finally diagnosed, it doesn't mean the tree is going to die. If Phytophthora is caught soon enough, it can be treated with phosphites, but the environment needs to be changed at the same time. Meaning, the irrigation needs to be adjusted so that the treatment will work. If the irrigation is changed, the trunk canker will disappear.
It also means that all those terrible disease out there that threatened our trees in other countries won't hurt ours. We have a different environment from Thailand, India, Brazil, etc. and so even though there may be devastating disease there, since we don't have the environment, we wont get those diseases. Yeah, we are going to get huanglongbing and polyphagous shot hole borer fusarium, but we should be happy we aren't getting all the other problems other countries have. This is a way of saying, happy New Year. It could be a whole lot worse and we are doing pretty well.
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