Subtropical Fruit Crops Research & Education
University of California
Subtropical Fruit Crops Research & Education

Posts Tagged: lime

Invasive Scale?

Recently a grower called up with a beautiful scale that the PCA couldn't identify.  I could just marvel at the beauty of it and wondered what in the heck it was. It didn't look like any scale I had seen in the area and others who were queried didn't know either.  

I took it into the Ag Commissioner's office and they sent it off to see if it was a new species. Images were sent off to various entomologists and David Haviland in Bakersfield identified it as a Ceroplastes, possibly a Chinese wax scale or Barnacle scale.  Others had identified it as Florida wax scale.

 It was sent into Paul Rugman-Jones at UC Riverside Entomology for DNA identification.  His identification and that of CA Dept of Food and Ag entolomogists came back as Barnacle scale, Ceroplastes cirripediformis.


All of these scales turned out to have been seen in California before, so there was no quarantine issue.  It also turned out that all of the adults that were turned in for identification had also been parasitized by some wasp.  So there is biological control already in place for it.  The issue at stake here, though, is that it's important to be watching for new visitors in the orchard.  Joe Morse now retired from UC Riverside Entomology lead a team that intercepted avocados coming into the US.  They found a number of scale insects that were new to California and new to the identification world.  A number of these scale are parthenogenic, meaning they can reproduce without males, and just one lone female could possible balloon into a massive population in a short time.  And on a scale like that, trees would have a hard time without some serious intervention.

Posted on Friday, September 29, 2017 at 6:46 AM
Tags: avocado (272), biological control (4), citrus (304), grapefruit (27), invasives (12), lemon (93), lime (5), oranges (6), pests (24), scale (10)

Carbonateceous Soils and Gypsum

Carbonateceous?  Gypsum?  Read on.

Soil pH or the “acidity” or lack of acidity of a soil can be confused by the different uses and chemistries that surround the term pH, or the power of hydrogen. This can be further confused by the terms “alkalinity” or “basicity” of the soil or the soil solution which can further confuse the situation by whether the solid or liquid phase of the soil is being measured.  So, in short, a soil is acid if it has a pH below 7 (more hydrogen ions) and basic when above 7 (fewer hydrogen ions).  Big numbers are more basic, small numbers more acidic. 

The natural world has a pH scale of 1 to 14. Knowing soil pH is important because it can tell you the inherent fertility of a soil. Usually the higher the number between 5 and 8, the more “basic” nutrients are present, like calcium, magnesium and potassium.  When the numbers get lower than 5 and larger than 8, the nutrients may not be there or they may be tied up.  Changing the pH can often release nutrients that are not available. Iron and zinc plant deficiencies are most often controlled by soil pH and once pH is neutralized or made acid, the deficiency disappears.  In a way, pH is one of the most important nutrient indicators of a soil's fertility and managing should be an essential practice.

Soils that have an elevated pH, those above 7, are usually dominated by carbonate and most commonly this is calcium carbonate. As a rock, we call this limestone which is derived from sea shells or coral. As a mineral, it is called calcite.  And in various manipulated forms it is called,calx, lime, calcium hydroxide, calcium oxide,calcined lime, quicklime.  Maybe other names, as well, depending on how it is made and used. Mixed with quartz sand it is made into glass.  When an acid is added to calcium carbonate, like citric acid, sulfuric acid or rain water (yes pure rain water is acidic), the reaction gives off carbon dioxide and water. (When you respire, burning sugar which is a form of carbonate, you do the same thing, giving off CO2and H2O). When calcium oxide or lime is mixed with water and left to harden, it forms cement when it absorbs carbon dioxide from the air.  So, lime, limestone and calcium carbonate are not very soluble.  But it does dissolve. Calcium carbonate is a salt and dissociates into calcium ions and when surrounded by water molecules, the carbonate becomes bicarbonate ions.  When the water dries up, the bicarbonate becomes carbonate again. A soils report may refer to this cement as “free” or “diffuse lime”, indicating that there is a lot present, and it may even be possible to see the old shells there.

A soil that is dominated by calcium carbonate is called a calcareous soil. It is the carbonate that defines the soil, it has an elevated pH, usually between 7.5 and 8, depending on other minerals in the soil (minerals are naturally occurring chemicals).  A high pH leads to plant nutrition problems.  It's not until the soil is acidified to drive off the carbonate as carbon dioxide that the pH will drop and the nutrient deficiency disappears.

One of the problems with the word “calcareous” is that it can be interpreted as meaning dominated by calcium.  A soil or water analysis may reveal high levels of calcium and this can lead to concern.  Calcium is a base cation, necessary for plant and human growth.  In western states, water and soil tend to have calcium as the dominant cation, balancing anions like sulfate and carbonate and in some cases chloride.  The important character to look for, though, is the carbonate or bicarbonate in the soil or water. It's not the calcium that is controlling pH, it's the carbonate.  Very commonly calcium is said “to reduce the acidity of soil.”  But it's not the calcium, it's the carbonate.

So, does this seem like a big semantic problem, how many dancing on the head of the pin sort of debate? No, because one of the most common recommendations for correcting an alkaline water/soil is to add gypsum – calcium sulfate.  In a calcareous soil, calcium is already present, so adding more calcium is not going to change it, but rather increase it. Sulfate does not displace carbonate.  Carbonate just stays there because calcium carbonate is not very soluble.  Remember it is cement.  Actually, adding gypsum is adding more salt which has its own problems - leading to saline soils.

So, this blog all came about because two different people asked me about correcting iron deficient avocado trees in calcareous soils (or a carbonateceous soil as I call it), with gypsum. pH correction is not going to occur with gypsum. An acid needs to be added to drive the carbonate off as carbon monoxide and then the pH comes down.  So, you use acids or elemental sulfur that converts to sulfuric acid or urea-sulfuric acid fertilizer, or long-term use of acid fertilizers like ammonium sulfate or organic mulches that gradually create acid conditions. 

Soil acidification as a practice is a separate subject all together that needs to be discussed, but gypsum is not normally a part of the process of field acidification. Does that mean gypsum does not have a place in soil management?  It does, just not in the case of calcareous soils. And even though you can see bags of lime and dolomite (calcium-magnesium carbonate) on store shelves, for sure don't use that in the calcareous soils of California.

So, what about gypsum and sodic soils – soils dominated by sodium. And what about serpentine soils – soils dominated by magnesium? There is more to tell about gypsum.

Photo:  old shells in the soil

soil shells
soil shells

Posted on Friday, July 28, 2017 at 6:41 AM
Tags: acid (2), alkaline (2), avocado (272), citrus (304), gypsum (2), lime (5), soil acidification (1)

Blossom End Rot in Citrus - Another Result of Drought

Another impact of the drought? There have been reports of a sunken, leathery patch around the blossom end (opposite of the stem end) of citrus fruit. This has been reported on lemons, limes and mandarins, but I am sure growers are seeing it on oranges, as well as other citrus relatives. This is an abiotic problem caused by a lack of calcium to the fruit, a problem with the plant's growing conditions, not a disease. This is a serious disorder found in various fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes, melons, peppers and eggplants

Blossom-end rot begins as small tan, water soaked lesions on the blossom end of the fruit. The lesion enlarges and becomes sunken, dark, and leathery. On peppers, the lesion is more commonly found on the side of the fruit towards the blossom end. Also, on peppers it can be sometimes confused with sun scald. Fruit infected by blossom-end rot ripen often become infected with secondary organisms such as Alternaria spp (most likely the surrounding tissue in the photo below).

This is a physiological disorder of low calcium in the fruit. Calcium is required for normal cell growth and in relatively high concentration for new tissue growth. Rapidly growing fruit will begin to breakdown at the blossom end because that is the last place of the fruit tissue to receive calcium and also the area with the lowest concentration of calcium.

In rapidly growing plants, calcium cannot move to those rapidly growing areas quickly enough. Because calcium moves with water, fluctuations in water supply can cause blossom-end rot. Large fluctuations in soil moisture inhibit uptake and movement of calcium within the plant. Excessive nitrogen promotes rapid plant growth, which can cause low concentrations of calcium to occur in plant tissue. Leaf tissue can often not disclose a low calcium in fruit because of the lag in movement of calcium to the rapidly growing fruit tissue.

Other causes such as low calcium levels in the soil or high amounts of cations in the soil which compete with calcium uptake can also cause blossom-end rot. This is especially true in areas of soils derived from serpentine rock that are high in magnesium. The magnesium competes with calcium uptake.

Proper fertilization and water management help to minimize this problem. Avoid over fertilizing the crop. Also avoid allowing the soil to become too dry and then overly wet. Wide fluctuations in soil moisture inhibit calcium uptake and movement. If calcium is deficient or high salts occur in the soil, gypsum applications can help, but delayed uptake may not help fruit tissue content. Often, foliar applications of calcium may be beneficial.

blossom end rot lemon
blossom end rot lemon

Posted on Monday, November 2, 2015 at 6:43 AM
Tags: blossom end rot (3), calcium (2), citrus (304), lemon (93), lime (5), mandarin (65), nutrient deficiency (3), orange (66)

Pruning Cherimoya for Off-season Fruit


A recent trip to Spain was an opportunity to look at their cherimoya production practices.  One of the most interesting is their ability to manage the tree through pruning to produce fruit off-season (in spring) when the prices are the highest.  IN California our low period of production is in the summer. The climate in Spain along the Mediterranean coast is warmer and more humid than coastal California, so most tree crops are about two months advanced in their production.  So in the text I refer to a period when something is done and then follow it with another date.  The one in parenthesis is the probable time in California if the date in Spain is used.  So, to produce fruit in spring (summer) in March/April when prices are high:

Remove all shoots from the previous year in March (May)

With the new shoots, prune them back 6 inches in length around July 15 (September 15)

Pollinate the flowers that are produced in the period of August to September (Sept/Nov)

Pick fruit in March/April (June/Aug)



Fruit is produced when prices are higher

Generally fewer seeds than at other periods

In some cases there is higher sugar content in the off-season frui



Not always consistent with all cultivars

Off-season fruit often has black spots in the pulp

May see increased leaf drop

In some cultivars, the skin is more prone to abrasion, and this is already a very delicate fruit


There are other fruit species that fruiting date can be manipulated by pruning, such as evergreen blueberries, guava, lime, mango and carambola (star fruit).  Always it is to find a better market for the fruit.



Posted on Monday, April 21, 2014 at 9:58 AM
Tags: Annona (2), carambola (3), cherimoya (14), guava (3), lime (5), mango (4), off-season fruit (1), pruning (15)

New, Yellow Leaf Flush?

Lime-induced Iron Chlorosis:  a nutritional challenge in the culture of several subtropical perennial crops in California

Elizabeth Fichtner, UCCE Tulare County and Rachel Elkins, UCCE Lake and Mendocino Counties 

Spring, and new leaves are coming out, but this could, but yellow could be a sign of iron chlorosis, as well.

Although iron (Fe) is the 4th most abundant element in the lithosphere, Fe deficiency is among the most common plant micronutrient deficiencies. Fe deficiency in plants is common in calcareous soils, waterlogged soils, sandy soils low in total Fe, and in peat and muck soils where organic matter chelates Fe, rendering the element unavailable for plant uptake. In California, lime-induced Fe deficiency is often observed in soils and irrigation water containing free lime, and is exacerbated by conditions that impede soil drainage (ie. compaction, high clay content), resulting in reductive conditions. Given that over 30% of the world's soils are calcareous, lime-induced Fe deficiency is a challenge in numerous perennial cropping systems including:  grapes, pears, apple, citrus, avocado, pecans, and stone fruit (prune, almond, apricot, peach, nectarine, cherry).

In most soils, Fe oxides are the common source of Fe for plant nutrition. Solubility of Fe oxides is pH dependant; as pH increases, the free ionic forms of the micronutrient are changed to the hydroxy ions, and finally to the insoluble hydroxides or oxides.  In calcareous soils, the bicarbonate ion inhibits mobilization of accumulated Fe from roots to foliage and directly affects availability of Fe in soil by buffering soil pH. When irrigation water is also high in bicarbonate, probability of Fe deficiency is enhanced because bicarbonate is continuously supplied to the soil, and more importantly, the roots may become crusted with lime as water evaporates, thus inhibiting root growth and function. Inside the plant, bicarbonate inhibits nutrient translocation from roots to aboveground plant parts. The adverse effects of high bicarbonate levels are exacerbated in very saturated, very dry, or compact soils, where bicarbonate levels increase concurrent with diminished root growth and nutrient uptake.

Symptoms of Fe deficiency in plants

Fe is immobile in plants; therefore, symptoms appear in young leaves. Interveinal chlorosis (Figure 1) is the main symptom associated with Fe deficiency, followed by reduced shoot and root growth, complete foliar chlorosis, defoliation, shoot dieback, and under severe conditions may result in tree mortality. Overall productivity (yield) is reduced, mainly from a reduced number of fruiting points.

Plant Adaptation

Plant species and cultivars vary in their sensitivity to Fe deficiency, and are categorized as either "Fe-efficient" or "Fe-inefficient".  Fe-efficient plants have Fe uptake systems that are switched on under conditions of Fe deficiency. Fe-inefficient plants are unable to respond to Fe deficient conditions.  All Fe-efficient plants, except grasses, utilize a Fe-uptake mechanism known as Strategy 1.  Strategy 1 plants decrease rhizosphere pH by release of protons, thus increasing Fe solubility.  Some plants may excrete organic compounds in the rhizosphere that reduce ferric iron (Fe3+) to the more soluble ferrous (Fe2+) forms or form soluble complexes that maintain Fe in solution.  Additionally, roots of Strategy 1 plants have specialized mechanisms for reduction, uptake, and transfer of Fe within the plant.  Strategy 2 plants (grasses) produce low molecular weight compounds called phytosiderophores which chelate Fe and take up the chelated Fe with a specific transport system. 

Amelioration of Fe chlorosis

Planting sites in calcareous soils should be well drained to provide optimal conditions for root growth and nutrient uptake. Waterlogged and compact soils contain

more carbon dioxide, which reacts with lime to form even more bicarbonate. These conditions, as well as very dry soils, also inhibit microbial activity which aids in

solubilization and chelation of Fe. Prior to planting, soils and water should be tested to determine the pH, lime equivalent, and bicarbonate concentration.  Bicarbonate concentrations greater than 3 meq/L in irrigation water increase the hazard of lime accumulation on and around roots.  If high bicarbonate water must be used, the pH must be adjusted to 6.0-6.5 to dissolve the bicarbonate and prevent it from negating the effects of soil-based treatments. In microsprinker and drip systems, acidification of irrigation water will also reduce the risk of emitter clogging, a common problem at bicarbonate levels over 2 meq/L. The cost of reducing the pH of irrigation water will more than compensate for the savings incurred from avoiding wasted investment in failed soil- and plant-based remedies.  Systems can be set up to continuously and safely inject water with acids such as sulfuric, urea-sulfuric, or phosphoric during irrigations. Specific choice and rate will depend on crop, soil type, other nutrient needs, availability, and cost.  Downstream pH meters are available to continuously adjust rate of acid use.  Acetic and citric acid can be utilized by organic growers.

Soil based pre-plant treatments to reduce pH include elemental sulfur (S) and acids as mentioned above. It is only necessary to treat a limited area near the root zone to ameliorate symptoms because the tree only needs to take up a small amount of Fe. Material can be shanked in or banded and incorporated in the prospective tree row. One ton of elemental sulfur per treated acre is needed to mitigate three tons of lime, and may need to be re-applied every 3 to 5 years after planting. The addition of organic matter such as well-composted manures will benefit poorly drained or compact soils by increasing aeration for better root growth, fostering chelation of nutrient cations, and reducing pH (depending on source material).

If possible, choose a Fe efficient species or cultivar. In perennial systems, lime-tolerant rootstocks may be the first line of defense in combating Fe deficiency. Some rootstocksmentioned are peach-almond and Krymsk-86 for stone fruit, Gisela 5 for cherry, and Pyrus communis for pear. Ongoing research studies in Europe focus on screening rootstocks of grape and olive for lime tolerance. 

Once soil and water quality improvements are made, post-plant management strategies may also be implemented to ameliorate lime-induced Fe chlorosis in the short term. Soil can be acidified as described above. Individual trees can be treated by digging four to six 12-24 inch

holes around the drip line and burying a mixture of sulfur and Fe fertilizer. Historically, two principal methods have been utilized:  1) foliar application of inorganic Fe salts (ie. ferrous sulfate), and 2) soil or foliar application of synthetic chelates.  Application of Fe salts to foliage may have mixed results due to limited penetration of Fe into leaves and inadequate mobilization within the plant.  Use of Fe chelates may be of benefit; however, they are expensive and pose an environmental concern due to their mobility within the soil profile.  Because soil lime interferes with Fe mobility with the plant, repeat application of inorganic Fe salts or Fe chelates may be necessary throughout the growing season.

Choice of nitrogen (N) fertilizer may also influence solubility of rhizosphere Fe.  When N is applied in the ammonium form (NH4+), the root releases a proton (H+) to maintain a charge balance, thus reducing rhizosphere pH.  Alternately, fertilization with nitrate (NO3-) results in root release of hydroxyl ions (OH-), resulting in an increase in rhizosphere pH. Solubility of Fe3+ increases 1000 fold with each one unit decrease in pH; therefore, fertility-induced rhizosphere pH changes may significantly influence Fe availability. 

New methods for amelioration of Fe chlorosis are under investigation.  For example, container studies have demonstrated that inter-planting sheep's fescue, a Strategy 2 plant, with a Fe-inefficient grape rootstock may ameliorate Fe chlorosis in grape.  In this system, the grass produces a phytosiderophore that enhances Fe availability to the grape. Additionally, soil amendment with Fe3(PO4)2• 8H2O), a synthetic iron(II)-phosphate analogous to the mineral vivianite, has been effective at preventing Fe chlorosis in lemon, pear, olive, kiwi, and peach.  Vivianite has a high Fe content (~30%) and serves as a slow release source of Fe in calcareous soils. 


Figures below: 1) Shoot dieback in citrus, 2) Interveinal chlorosis in citrus and 3) Various stages of iron chlorosis in avocado.

iron dieback citrus
iron dieback citrus

interveinal chlorosis citrus
interveinal chlorosis citrus

avocado chlorosis
avocado chlorosis

Posted on Wednesday, August 15, 2012 at 2:50 PM
  • Author: Elizabeth Fichtner and Rachel Elkins
Tags: abiotic (13), avocado (272), bicarbonates (1), cherimoya (14), citrus (304), iron chlorosis (1), lemon (93), lime (5), mandarin (65), mango (4), ornage (4), pH (6)
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