- Author: Ben Faber
There is a running debate about whether avocado canopies should be skirted up, raised up so that you can see under the canopy. In doing so, the tree’s tendency is to maintain its bearing volume by increasing a similar amount in height that is lost by removing the bottom layer of canopy. A tree with a full canopy is more cold resistant because it traps heat inside the canopy and is not so prone to cold winds. In an inversion freeze, though, warming air from irrigation, wind machines and orchard heaters is less likely to circulate when the skirts block air movement. A low skirt also impedes a uniform application of water from microsprinklers, and hence fertilizer distribution. A low skirt also has more fruit lying on the ground which is more uneven in coloration and more prone to disease and possibly food safety issues. A raised skirt also promotes more air circulation within the canopy which can reduce the incidence of some other diseases of both fruit, stems and branches.
A raised skirt, though exposes the base to light, and if there is no leaf mulch, there are more weeds to control. In the case of hillsides, because of gravity and wind exposure, leaves tend to blow away. The roots are now more exposed to drying because of increased evaporative loss. Loss of leaves is also a major disease problem, since leaves and organic matter are the first lines of defense (after proper irrigation management) against Phytophthora root rot. It is the microorganisms breaking down the leaves that create a hostile environment for the Phytophthora pathogen. In fact, in releasing enzymes to break down organic matter, the microorganisms also break down the cell walls of Phytophthora which are made of the same material as leaves. An orchard with no leaves is wide open to root rot infection.
So I propose something modest. On flat ground where trees are more prone to frost damage, and less subject to winds blowing away leaves that the trees are skirted. On slopes, though where winds blow away leaves and the trees are less subject to low lying cold, that the skirts are left. To maintain a more even water distribution, though, windows are cut into the canopy on the side facing the microsprinkler so that the canopy does not interfere with water spray.