Thanks for the rains that leach the soils of accumulated salts and bring on new fresh growth. Or maybe not. When we apply irrigation water with salts which with few exceptions we do in irrigated agriculture, salts accumulate in the soil. They accumulate in a certain pattern depending on the type of irrigation and soil type. There's a strong tendency for drip and microsprinklers to form a pattern of salt accumulation near the margins of the wetted patterns. This pattern is stronger with drip because the source point is always pushing a front outward from the emission point. This pattern occurs with microsprinklers, as well, although not as strongly. These patterns continue to form and accumulate as long as there is no rainfall to evenly push the salt down below the root zone. The longer the period of no rain, the larger the salt concentration at the margin.
So the way water moves is generally down. It moves in a wetting front drawn by gravity. It moves laterally too, because of the attraction water has for the soil particles. It will move laterally more in a clay soil than in a sandy soil because there are more particles in a clay soil than a sand (actually more surfaces that hold water). It also carries salt with it. Wherever the water moves, the salt moves. The more rain, the more salt is moved down. The more rain, the deeper the salt is pushed.
The problem with rain, is that if there is not enough, the salt tends to move laterally. In this wet soil solution, the salt is moving from where it is concentrated, to where there is a lower one. And if there isn't enough rain to move that salt down, it just moves back along the salt gradient, back to where the water first came from…….towards the roots. And that salt may be at such a high concentration that it can cause plant damage.
We talk about effective rainfall. This is usually about a quarter of an inch of rain. This is the amount of water to do more than just wet the dust, it's the amount to move water into the root zone. It is also moving salts into the root zone which can be a real problem. A good rain will do more than wet the dust, it will also move the salts out of harm's way in the root zone. The amount of rain necessary to do this going to depend on the salt accumulated and the soil texture. The more salt, the more rain needed. The finer the texture, the more rain. So there is no good cookbook, other than you need enough. And the first rains of the year, watch out. This is often when the highest salt accumulation and the most irregular the rains. Small amounts that can move salt into the root zone.
If there is not enough rain……………The solution !!!!!!!! Run the water to make sure there is enough to move that salt down. Crazy, but a few months ago we had just this situation. It was one of the last rains in the winter and it was not enough to move salts down, and within a week many avocados showed leaf damage. It was sad since we had all been wanting rain, and we wanted a good drenching.
So why am I bringing this up now? Well, the other night I woke up to rain, glorious rain. I enjoyed listening to it and then it stopped. I thought O NO, it's not enough. There are going to be problems. Well luckily most places didn't get and where it did, it was a dust settler. But it made me aware that with the first rains we might see this fall, growers should be on their guard.
Get ready to irrigate with the first rains if they are insufficient for adequate leaching.
Photo: Accumulated salts from irrigation water
No matter where they grow in California, June is a month when avocados are being watered on a regular schedule. How regular that schedule is should be carefully reviewed by the irrigator. In 1991-'92, right along the coast in a Ventura irrigation plot, we applied 32" of water, but in '92-'93 we put on only 26". Same trees, nearly the same size, but a 23% difference in applied amounts dictated by differences in water demand due to different weather. The irrigation schedule we use is driven by tensiometers and a CIMIS weather station. The station generates reference evapotranspiration values which tell us how much water to apply at an irrigation, and the tensiometers are used to verify whether the trees are doing well by the schedule. Irrigation on a fixed schedule, such as once a week for 24 hours, is going to guarantee that on average you will be either under or over irrigating at each irrigation. Using some soil-based measure, such as a soil probe or tensiometer can assure an irrigator that trees are getting the appropriate amount of water when they need it. If you haven't done so, the irrigation calculator available at the Avovcadosource.com website can be quite useful in guiding an irrigation schedule - http://www.avocadosource.com/tools/IrrigationCalculator.asp - check it out. You also need to correct for salinity accumulation.
In orchards which have not closed canopy yet, weeding is an ongoing activity. In a research plot, we are using tensiometers to monitor the effects of weeds, bare soil and chipped yard waste mulch around trees. In weedy plots soil moisture profile rapidly show 30-40 cbars of tension at 6", whereas the bare and mulched plots can go much longer before showing 40 cbars. Centibars is a measure of moisture tension, the higher the value, the drier the soil. As trees get older they make their own leaf mulch and shade which limit weed growth. There is no question that a cover crop can improve soil conditions through reduced erosion, improved water infiltration, and possible reduced disease and pest problems. These soil improvements tend to improve tree growth and orchard productivity. But, if water is the primary issue, weeds and a cover crop can add considerably to water use in an orchard, especially a young one. Weed control through the use of mulches and herbicides can effectively reduce the water requirements of trees.
June is still a good time to replant an orchard. The soils are warm enough to give the trees a good start and there is enough fine weather left for them to establish before winter comes. Late plantings (September, October) are discouraged because the root-shocked plant sits in a cold, wet soil through the winter and becomes a prime candidate for root diseases. Especially in a replant situation, it is a good idea to start them off with a fungicide with one of the phosphonate products, to give them some protection until they get established. The best time for to apply the material to do its job on older trees is when there is a good root flush of growth which occurs after the leaf flush in spring and fall.
When replanting, try as much as possible to avoid interplanting between older trees. The different water requirements of the young and old trees is such that one or both will be stressed because they need different schedules - less but more frequent for the young trees. Attempts can be made to put together a system where the older trees remain on the 10 or 15 gpm mircosprinkler and the young trees are put on a 1 gpm dripper. This still cannot be an ideal situation, since the needs for application frequency are still different between the small and big trees. The best thing to do is to clear out trees within an irrigation block and replant, or replumb a block with a new valve so that small new block can be irrigated differently from the older trees. Where clonal rootstocks fail in a root rot replant situation, it is invariably where water control is lacking or poor.
As we all know, this has been a long dry spell in the avocado growing areas along the coast. With the levels of salt in our waters, it's important to have some kind of a leaching program to ensure that salts do not accumulate in the root zone. Each winter, rain leaches the accumulated salts from the previous irrigation season and starts the orchard off to a good start. These years it hasn't happened and one of the things that can affect the trees is a stress. This is a salt stress that is most pronounced at the end of irrigation lines and where low pressure results in low output, often at the top of the hill. Any irrigation system that has poor distribution uniformity is going to have areas where less water than average is applied.
One of the responses of the trees to salt stress is to exhibit cankers in the branches. These can be silver dollar-sized cankers running in a line up the branch or as diffuse white spots in the branches. The first symptom is related to bacterial canker and the second is to black streak. These are not killer diseases, but they are reflective of the tree being under stress. As soon as the irrigation schedule is corrected, these symptoms can clear up in several months. If the schedule is not corrected the tress will begin losing leaves and sunburn can result. The symptoms of these two problems can be viewed at the UC Integrated Pest Management website - http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/r8100611.html and http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/r8100311.html.
Again these are primarily stress-related diseases and the way to correct the situation is to improve irrigation distribution uniformity and the irrigation schedule. If it goes on too long it can cause problems especially in young trees. When you boil down farming to the basics, the most important activity in the orchard is ensuring proper irrigation.
Potassium deficiency in avocado and citrus leaves often looks like salt stress and more specifically sodium toxicity. Plants will often look wilted with curled leaves, yellow areas between leaf veins and dead areas along the margins of the leaves. Salt stress refers to the excessive amount of soluble salts in the root zone which induce osmotic stress (appearance of lack of water) and ion toxicity (growing problems and often symptoms) in the growing plant. Among toxic ions, sodium (Na+) has the most adverse effects on plant growth by its detrimental influence on plant metabolism in inhibiting enzyme activities. An optimal potassium (K+) : Na+ ratio is vital to activate enzymatic reactions in the cytoplasm necessary for maintenance of plant growth and yield development These enzymes control such functions as the stomata which regulate water and photosynthesis control in the plant. Although most soils have adequate amounts of K+, uptake is exacerbated under sodic or saline-sodic soil conditions as a consequence of K+-Na+ antagonism. Here K+ uptake by plants is severely affected by the presence of Na+ in the soil. Due to its similar chemical properties, Na+ competes with K+ in plant uptake It would seem a reasonable assumption therefore that an increase in the concentration of K+ in salt-affected soils may support enhanced K+ uptake. And that has been noted in many plant species including citrus and avocado.
But aside from the role of potassium in drought tolerance there are many functions of potassium in plants:
• Increases root growth and improves drought resistance
• Activates many enzyme systems
• Maintains turgor; reduces water loss and wilting
• Aids in photosynthesis and food
• Reduces respiration, preventing energy losses
• Enhances translocation of sugars and starch
• Produces grain rich in starch
• Increases protein content of plants
• Builds cellulose
• Helps retard crop diseases
In the case of avocado and citrus there is about twice the amount of potassium as nitrogen harvested in the crop, yet many growers do not consider potassium in their normal practices, much less when drought has increased salt stress on the trees. The end of August through September is when leaf analysis is best used to adjust a fertilizer program.
Sodium toxicity and Potassium deficiency in avocado
This little mnemonic, or memory aid, in the title is helpful in remembering the critical levels of toxic constituents in irrigation water. The “one” stands for 1 part per million (ppm) of boron (B), the e” hundred” flags 100 ppm of sodium (Na) and (Cl) and the “thousand” represents the level of total soluble solids (TDS or slats) in water. Levels exceeding the critical values for any of these constituents can present problems for tree growers. The problems typically show themselves as tip-burn and defoliation. The B, Na and Cl are toxic elements at relatively low concentrations, but symptoms appear similar to the damage caused by high salinity.
Water that exceeds the critical levels mentioned in the mnemonic has a greater tendency to cause damage if sufficient leaching is not applied. It doesn't mean the water is impossible to use, only that greater attention needs to be made to ensure that these salts are adequately leached. High levels of these salts accumulate in the soil with each irrigation, and the salts are absorbed by the tree and end up in the leaves where they do their damage.
This promises to be another low rainfall year and the customary leaching we rely upon in winter rainfall is not going to be as effective as in customary years. Irrigation is a necessary evil. Every time we apply irrigation water we apply salts, and unless some technique is used to minimize salt accumulation, damage will result. This damage can be more than just leaf drop, but also the stress that induces conditions for root rot.
Irrigation water has been applied the last four years and many trees looked stressed. Even well irrigated orchards have leaf burn due to the gradual accumulation of salts from irrigation. It is probably necessary to irrigate in many winters. With the lack of rain problem, it may be necessary to irrigate even if there is rain. The wetted pattern that is created by a drip or microsprinkler emitter also creates a ring of salt in the outer band of the wetted patter. If there is less than an inch of rainfall to push this salt down, this salt tends to diffuse towards the tree where it can accumulate back in the root system. Orchards with even good water quality would find it advisable to run the irrigation system with the first rains. Growers with water quality exceeding one, hundred, or thousand should be especially alert to the need to manage water in low rainfall years.
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