- Author: Ben Faber
This is a sad time to be an avocado. Winter's gone and temperatures are just ripe for flowering and the trees are going bust. So much so, that those sad leaves that have accumulated salts over the last year are being dropped and only flowers might be seen, especially on young trees. This is time for a little shot of nitrogen to encourage some new vegetative growth. Not a bunch, but a nudge. Several pounds per acre, something less than 10-15 pounds of N for a mature orchard and even less for a new orchard.
A commonly held belief is that if you apply nitrogen at the wrong time, it will push resources into vegetative growth at the expense of flower and fruit. This is somewhat true for annual plants that get most of their nutrients from outside sources (soil, air, fertilizer, water), but trees have a huge buffer in their storage organs (roots, stems, leaves, etc.). Most growth in trees occurs from this storage source and most importantly from photosynthesis and the sun. The more sun captured the more energy for flowering and fruit production.
So it is this competition for photosynthates that becomes the most limiting factor. When there is not enough to go around, the tree sheds fruit. If you see fruit dropping off a tree after applying a slug of fertilizer, it's a salt effect. Too much salt and it causes a water competition and the tree is stressed. It's not the nitrogen, but too much salt. With fertigation this is not so likely to happen as when dry fertilizers were applied and someone got too aggressive with the application
In fact a dose of nitrogen fertilizer is a good idea at this time when there are lots of flowers. This can encourage a flush of leaves that will protect the fruit that does set from sunburn and damage that would cause fruit to drop. A bit of nitrogen to encourage leaf replacement is a good approach to dealing with persea mite damage that occurred the previous season.
For further reading about the competition between vegetative and reproductive growth as affected by nitrogen (or little affected in fruit trees by nitrogen), D.O. Huett wrote a wonderful review of past research on this topic:
Also, if the trees have really defoliated, it might be time to do some whitewashing, south and west sides of branches, to prevent sunburn.
Avocado defoliated and ones in a balanced bloom