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.
Get ready for more rotting avocado fruit if you have leaf blight showing up in your tree canopy. The fungal spores (one of the Botryosphaerias we once lumped as Dothiorella) that create the infection spread in an irregular pattern over the leaf and down the stem (then called “stem blight”). This is often confused with salt or tip burn. The two conditions are caused by the same problem, water and or salt stress. However, in the case of leaf blight, this is a pathogen that can pass to neighboring fruit and begin the process of rot. This starts happening when the fruit starts ripening and softening, so it's often not seen in the orchard, but the packhouse or in the market.
Control is basically gaining control over the soil moisture and salinity in the root zone and when the leaf blight starts showing up in the canopy, cutting as much out back to green tissue as is economically possible.
Leaf blights from this group of fungi have also been reported as infecting other fruits, such as citrus, apple, peach and grape among others. The solution is the same - water right and cut the stuff out when and if it shows up.
Rot spreading to flesh
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.
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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
Some call it tip burn which is often what you see on an avocado as it goes into flowering. The areas where avocado are grown typically have a lot of salts in the water, but also specific salts like sodium and chloride. Over the irrigation season (which is all year long there is little or no rain), the salts in the water/soil are taken up by the tree. In adequate rainfall years, there is enough water to leach those accumulated salts from the root system. When we go for several years with low rainfall and we keep irrigating with the poor quality irrigation water, the trees develop die back at the tips and is conditions worsen more and more of the leaf is called. This can get to the point where you can not call it die back any longer. It's called leaf drop. I've recently seen a number of orchards that are completely defoliated. No leaves. We have had a number of homeowner calls asking what the problem is and what they can do about it. The damage is done and those leaves are not coming back. It's possible to reduce the damage if one acts early on by applying more water than is usually applied to aid the leaching process, but if it is poor quality water, there will still be damage, but possibly not defoliation. With high priced water or where water is being rationed, many growers and homeowners do not have themake the option of putting on the excess water. There is no chemical or equipment that is going to make the situation better. When you trees defoliating, you want to cut out those that are diseased or you know have been poor producers and put what water you have on the remaining trees in better condition.
This advice is good for other evergreen tree crops like citrus, although they are not as sensitive as avocado. Avocado is an indication of how bad it really is.
I've been getting calls and have gone out to see several avocado orchards in the Ventura/Santa Barbara area and the comments are that the trees look worse this year than they normally do. When I see the trees, it's clear that they don't look in the best shape. This time of year, when there are old leaves that have accumulated salt all through the irrigation period and the trees are getting ready to flower, the leaves just don't have much energy. Also, two years of drought with no rain, means that salts have probably accumulated more by this time of year, than in a year when we do have “normal” rain to leach the soil. The accumulated salts can lead to water stress which also brings on stem and leaf blight, along with salt burn. With the bicarbonates in the water, the pH may have rise as well, inducing some iron chlorosis. Compounding the leaf damage is some frost burn, which was not cold enough to kill the leaves. Any dead tissue, also makes the leaves look more ratty, because with Santa Ana winds earlier, those dead areas have often blown out, making them look like they have been nibbled on by insects. Further adding to the stress was a huge crop year that put a lot of stress on the tress. When clearing the leaves to look at roots, it has often been hard to find viable roots. All these stresses are going to make the trees more susceptible to root rot. So it's going to be necessary for growers to keep their eyes out for further disease symptoms and to be ready to treat with phosphites when the soil warms up enough for the roots to start growing again.