Upcoming CAS/UC/CAC Seminar Addresses
Gibberellic Acid Use
The California Avocado Society will host the first of its 2019 California Avocado Growers Seminar Series with workshops focused on mulch and Phytophthora. Dr. Ben Faber, Dr. Tim Spann and Dr. Carol Lovatt will deliver presentations at the seminars.
Dr. Ben Faber, UC Cooperative Extension Soils/Water/Subtropical Crops Farm Advisor, will speak about the benefits of using mulch in avocado groves. Ben will discuss the various types of mulch that can be used, how and when to apply them and the benefits of using mulch in avocado groves.
Dr. Tim Spann, California Avocado Commission Research Program Director, will cover Phytophthora 101. Tim will discuss what phytophthora species affect avocados, how to recognize symptoms of phytophthora infection in avocados and best management practices for dealing with phytophthora.
Dr. Carol Lovatt, UC Riverside Emeritus Professor of Plant Physiology, will discuss the use of gibberellic acid (GA) plant growth regulator on avocados. A special local needs registration was obtained in early 2018 for use of GA on avocado in California. Carol will discuss the benefits of using GA, and when and how to apply it for those growers interested in trying this new tool.
The seminars will be held as follows:
Tuesday, February 5, 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
SLO Farm Bureau, 4875 Morabito Place, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
Wednesday, February 6, 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
UC Cooperative Extension Office Auditorium, 669 County Square Drive, Ventura, CA 93003
Thursday, February 7, 12: 30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Fallbrook Public Utility District Board Room, 990 East Mission Road, Fallbrook, CA 92028
And read more about Mulch Myths:
“Wood chip mulches will decrease soil nitrogen and spread pathogens” A Misunderstanding that is addressed below by:
Chalker-Scott, L. , Extension Specialist And Associate Professor, Washington State University
Downer, A.J., Farm Advisor, University of California
With chronic drought and/or record-breaking summer temperatures making it increasingly important to conserve water, many gardeners and groundkeepers are using landscape mulches. The ideal landscape mulch not only moderates soil temperature and conserves water, but also:
- reduces compaction;
- provides nutrients;
- enhances plant growth;
- provides habitat for beneficial insects;
- helps control weeds, pests and disease; and
- reduces the need for pesticides and fertilizers.
In addition, landscape mulches should be readily available, affordable, and easy to apply and replace. A review of the literature on landscape mulches (Chalker-Scott, 2007) determined that organic mulches are overall the best choice, with deep layers of coarse woody material providing most or all of the above-listed benefits. Arborist wood chips (created from leaves and branches chipped up by tree service companies) are a particularly good option as they are generally inexpensive and easy to obtain anywhere trees are managed.
Fortunately, none of these concerns are validated by research. Here are some brief explanations (Chalker-Scott, 2007) targeted to our audience:
- Wood chips will not draw nitrogen from the soil unless they are incorporated into it. When used as mulch, arborist chips have no effect on underlying soil nitrogen levels, except to increase them over time.
- Wood chip mulches, even those made from diseased trees, will not transmit pathogens to healthy plant roots. If diseased chips are incorporated into the soil they could infect plant roots, but field evidence of this is rare. Arborist chips that are stockpiled even for a few days undergo severe pathogen reduction through microbial attack within the pile (Downer et al., 2008).
- Wood chips, or any other organic mulch, will not change the pH of the soil. The soil volume is vast, and any acidification would occur only at the mulch-soil interface where it would quickly be neutralized.
- Wood chips, even those made from black walnut or cedar, will not kill landscape plants. There is no reliable evidence that chemical inhibition from decaying wood actually occurs in a landscape situation.
- Wood chip mulches do not lend themselves to tunnel building like landscape fabric and other sheet mulches do: they collapse. Termites do not eat wood chips unless they have no choice; they are negatively affected by some of the chemicals wood contains. In fact, arborist chip mulches house a number of beneficial insects and other species that naturally control pests.
For arborist wood chip mulches to be the most effective (Chalker-Scott, 2007), they should be:
- coarse – no less than ½” diameter – so water and air can move freely through them;
- applied as soon as possible after chipping both to maximize the materials available to microbes and to capture the nutrients released by their activity in the soil; and
- maintained at a depth of at least 4” to prevent weed growth.
Two questions and comments came up last week about the use of mulch in orchards. The first is that mulch is two edged. It serves to combat erosion and root rot, but it can also burn. Mulch and wood piled up against tree trunks and near trunks can cause damage to those trunks. A Fillmore grower actually goes through the orchard with a blower to move mulch away from trunks when alerted to fire. On the other hand, irrigated orchards have been shown to be effective at suppressing fire encroaching on homes.
So where to read more about fire? About mulch? Check out some of the blogs from the past.
Mulch and green waste applied to avocado orchards and More
Avocado growers have been ecstatic at fruit prices and are walking their groves more avidly, checking things out and seeing lots of things they don't normally see. A recent grower find has been a blob of Fulgio septica - ‘Dog Vomit' or ‘Dog Fungus'. It's not vomit, it's not a fungus, but a slime mold that lives off the organic matter littering orchards and in mulched gardens. After the rains and when it starts to warm up, the spores of these non-animal, non-plants germinate and start moving around. They aggregate into a mass, called a plasmodium, a super individual that starts out as a yellowish, spongy mass that can move in a slow, amoeboid-like fashion. It gradually hardens and can take on the brownish-tan coloring seen in the image below. As it dries, it breaks up and blows away. It won't do harm to living plants, simply feeding on dead material. It will gradually disappear. So, as you walk your orchard or your backyard, enjoy the unusual appearance of a rainy year member of the web of nature.
There are 4,000 species of earthworms grouped into five families and distributed all over the world. Some grow uo to 3 feet long, while others are only a few tenths of inches. We call them nightcrawlers, field worms, manure worms, red worms and some people call them little diggers.
In California, we have some native species of earthworms, but in many cases non-native introduced species have come to dominate. The predominant native species belong to the Argilophilus and Diplocardia while many of the non-native are of European in origin in the Lumbricidae family. Many of these non-natives were probably introduced by settlers bringing plants from home, which had soil containing the worms. A survey of California earthworms by the US Forest Service can be found at:
This is a wonderful description of earthworm biology and their occurrence in the landscape.
When digging in citrus orchards, it is common to find earthworms in the wetted mulch under tree canopies. Many of our citrus orchards were initially established by “balled and burlap” nursery trees that brought worms along with the soil. In the case of many avocado orchards, on the other hand, it can be rare to find earthworms in orchards. Most avocado orchards have been established since the 1970s when potting mixes and plastic liners were the standard practice and worms were not part of the planting media. Even though there is a thick leaf mulch in avocado orchards, the worms have not been introduced, and it is rare to find them.
Numerous investigators have pointed out the beneficial effects of earthworms on soil properties. One of the first of these observers was Charles Darwin who published Earthworms and Vegetable Mould in 1881. He remarked on the great quantity of soil the worms can move in a year. He estimated that the earthworms in some of his pastures could form a new layer of soil 7 inches thick in thirty years, or that they brought up about 20 tons of soil per acre, enough to form a layer 0.2-inch-deep each year.
Earthworms, where they flourish, are important agents in mixing the dead surface litter with the main body of the soil. They drag the leaves and other litter down into their burrows where soil microorganisms also begin digesting the material. Some earthworms can burrow as deeply as 5 to 6 feet, but most concentrate in the top 6 to 8 inches of soil.
The worm subsists on organic matter such as leaves and dead roots near the soil surface. The earthworm ingests soil particles along with the organic matter and grinds up the organic matter in a gizzard just as a chicken does. This is excreted in what we call worm casts. The castings differ chemically from the rest of the soil, as they are richer in nitrogen, potassium and other mineral constituents.
Castings are a natural by-product of worms. When added to normal soils in gardens or lawns, they provide the same kinds of benefits as other bulky organic fertilizers. Castings today are not commonly used as fertilizer by commercial plant growers because of their cost relative to other fertilizers. However, castings are used by some organic growers and are sold commercially as a soil amendment or planting medium for ornamental plants grown in pots.
The physical soil churning process also has several important effects:
-Organic residues are more rapidly degraded with the release of elements such as nitrogen, sulfur and other nutrients.
-Some of the inorganic soil minerals tend to be solubilized by the digestive process.
-Extensive burrowing improves soil aeration.
-Burrowing can improve water penetration into soils
-The earthworm carries surface nutrients from the soil surface and imports them into the root zone of the plant.
Although earthworms are considered beneficial to soil productivity, few valid studies have been made to determine whether their presence will significantly improve plant growth. This may seem odd since many of us have learned from childhood that worms are good. It is something like the chicken and the egg analogy. The conditions that are conducive to earthworms are also ideal for plants. Both plants and worms need temperatures between 60 and 100 degrees F for good growth; both need water, but not too much or little; they both require oxygen for respiration; and they do not like soils that are too acid or basic or too salty. By correcting soil conditions that are unfavorable for one will also improve the outlook for the other. The earthworm is a natural component of the soil population. If the soil is properly managed this natural population will thrive. In this sense, the presence or absence or earthworms can be an indicator of the "fertility" of one's soil.