- Author: Ben Faber
Foliar fertilizer application is sometimes promoted as an effective means of supplying nutrients to avocado. On the market are various products being promoted as foliar nutrients for avocado, some proponents even suggest that their products do away with the need for soil applied nutrients. The nature of the avocado leaf severely limits its capacity to absorb foliar sprays.
The structure of plant leaves has evolved primarily to capture sunlight and exchange gases, roots have evolved to absorb nutrients and water and anchor the plant. Any absorption of nutrients by leaves is therefore likely to be more fortuitous than by design. In some crops passive nutrient absorption by leaves is occasionally sufficient to supplement the supply of nutrients taken up by the roots. Most often this involves trace elements, which as their name suggests are required in very small amounts (eg. copper and zinc). However if non-mobile elements or elements with limited mobility in the plant (eg. calcium, phosphorus, zinc, boron and iron) are absorbed when foliar sprayed they are not likely to make it down to the roots where they are also needed. Most nutrients will move freely in the water stream but the movement of many is restricted in the phloem, hence leaf applications don't meet the requirements of deficient trees. Occasionally major elements (such as nitrogen and potassium) are applied to make up for a temporary shortfall or provide a boost at a critical time. Citrus is an example of a crop where some benefits from foliar applied nutrients have been reported.
The ability of the leaf to absorb nutrients from its surface must depend to some degree on the permeability of its epidermis (outer layer) and the presence and density of stomates (pores for the exchange of gases). Scanning Electron Microscope studies of mature leaves and floral structures in avocado show the presence of a waxy layer on both the upper and lower surfaces of mature avocado leaves (Whiley et al, 1988). On the upper surface the wax appears as a continuous layer and there are no stomates. On the lower surface the wax layer is globular and stomates are present. Blanke and Lovatt (1993) describe the avocado leaf as having a dense outer wax cover in the form of rodlets on young leaves and dendritic (branching) crystals on old leaves including the guard cells (guard cells surround stomates). The flower petals and sepals in avocado have stomates on their lower surfaces and no wax layers on either surface, which might explain why floral sprays of boron might work.
Blanke, M.M. and Lovatt, C.J. 1993. Anatomy and transpiration of the avocado inflorescence. Annals of Botany, 71 (6): 543-547.
Whiley, A.W., Chapman, K.R. and Saranah, J.B. 1988. Water loss by floral structures of avocado (Persea americana cv. Fuerte) during flowering. Australian Journal of Agricultural Research, 39 (3): 457-467.
The avocado leaf, water beading up on the waxy cuticle.
An avocado leaf with its cuticle (white, paperlike surface) being exposed by underlying leaf fungi.
- Author: Ben Faber
I was recently in an orchard looking at what appeared to be avocado root rot. I was checking on the symptoms and quizzing the grower on the other cultural practices. The grower was prepared with soil, leaf and water reports. I asked how much nitrogen was being applied and it was something in the 50 pounds nitrogen per acre. When I saw the water report it listed nitrate in the water at the level of 84 ppm. Rarely do you see a yield response in plants when soil nitrogen exceeds 90 ppm nitrate. The soil nitrogen would pretty rapidly take on the nitrogen level of the water. So this grower was very close to the level at which no yield improvement would occur, and in fact would be increasing vegetative growth and hence increasing pruning problems. I looked at the leaf nitrogen levels and they were quite high, as well. I suggested that it would be a good idea to cut back significantly the amount of fertilizer applied, if not stopping application all together. There are many areas along the coast where avocados are grown where there are high nitrates in the water. Water can be a significant source of nutrients, as well as toxics, such as boron, chloride, sodium and total salts. Learn to read all your reports – soil/leaf/water – and figure out the puzzle of fertilizing appropriately.
- Posted By: Chris M. Webb
- Written by: Mary Bianchi
We’d like to challenge you to take the following quiz. Take a minute to place a check mark next to all the practices you regularly employ in your operation. Go ahead – we won’t be collecting them!
Yes/ No I know what the nitrogen requirements (lbs actual N/acre/year or /tree/year) are for my crops
Yes/ No I know what the nitrogen levels are in soil amendments I use in my operation (compost, manure, crop residues, etc.)
Yes/ No I have lab analysis of my well/irrigation water.
Yes/ No I monitor tissue levels of nitrogen in my crops to help with fertilizer decisions.
Yes/ No I have put together a nutrient budget that considers all sources of nitrogen for the crops I produce.
Yes/ No When I do apply nitrogen, applications are timed according to crop requirements.
Yes/ No I use fertigation to apply nitrogen.
Yes/ No Applications of nitrogen are split into smaller doses to improve efficiency of uptake.
Yes/ No I use cover crops that help manage nitrogen availability.
Yes/ No I manage irrigations to avoid nutrient loss below the rootzone of the crop.
If you marked yes to these as regular activities, you’ve just taken steps in showing how your production decisions can protect water quality. The combined activities noted in Part 1 constitute a Management Practice that protects water quality by developing a nutrient budget to help apply only the appropriate amounts of fertilizer. Activities in Part 2 may alone or in combination constitute Management Practices that help ensure fertilizers are applied efficiently.
Every grower uses ‘management practices’, many of which are meant to generate the best possible product for market. Depending on who you’re talking with, the term ‘management practice’ can be something your Farm Advisor recommends (i.e., pruning to control tree height), your produce buyer suggests (protect avocados in bins from sun scald), or the term can have regulatory connotations.
You’ve all probably heard the term Best Management Practices. Best Management Practice (BMP) is defined in the Federal Clean Water Act of 1987, as “a practice or combination of practices that is determined by a state to be the most effective means of preventing or reducing the amount of pollution generated by nonpoint sources to a level compatible with water quality goals.” The term “best” is subject to interpretation and point of view. In recognition of this, the Coastal Zone Reauthorization Amendment (2000) substituted the terms Management Measures and Management Practices.
How can you tell if any individual activity constitutes a Management Practice that meets the needs of a regulatory program to protect water quality? Ask yourself this question: Can the activity stand alone and result in water quality benefits? Just knowing the nitrogen requirements of your crop doesn’t result in any water quality benefits – developing and using a nitrogen budget for your crop can. A nitrogen budget that takes into account the nutrients applied in amendments, irrigation water, and fertilizers in meeting the requirements of your crop does have the potential to protect water quality from nitrogen pollution from your operation.
Some Management Practices can have water quality benefits as a stand alone activity. Cover crops are recognized as a Management Practice that can help manage both sediment and nutrients to reduce the potential of pollution when used appropriately.
Water quality protection is being asked of all industries in California. You have the opportunity to take credit for all of the activities you already do, like the ones listed above, that protect your local water bodies and/or groundwater from nonpoint source pollution from your operation. Look for additional articles in the coming issues to help you in this effort.
For additional background information on water quality legislation, and nonpoint source pollution from agriculture you can download the following free publications from the University of California’s Farm Water Quality Program: