The effect of deficit irrigation and crop load on leaf and fruit nutrition of fertigated Ambrosia/M.9 apple.

Neilsen, G.H., Neilsen, D., Guak, S., and Forge, T.A. (2015). "The effect of deficit irrigation and crop load on leaf and fruit nutrition of fertigated Ambrosia/M.9 apple.", HortScience, 50, pp. 1387-1393.


Mature, fruiting ‘Ambrosia’/‘M.9’ apple [Malus ×sylvestris (L.) Mill. var.domestica (Borkh.) Mansf.] trees were subjected over three growing seasons to a split-plot experimental design involving four irrigation main plot treatments and three subplot crop load treatments with six replicates. This semiarid production region is traditionally irrigated 01 May to 01 Oct. during which time an average of ≈ 15 cm of precipitation occurs. Irrigation treatments were applied through 2 × 4 L⋅h−1 emitters per tree and included I1: daily application of 100% evapotranspiration (ET); or I2: 50% daily ET; or I3: 50% ET applied to one side; and I4: 50%, 25%, or 18% ET-application, applied every second day, 2007–09, respectively. Crop load treatments were imposed annually ≈4 to 5 weeks after full bloom to create low (2.5, 3, and 3.75 fruits/cm2 trunk cross-sectional area (TCSA), medium (4.5, 6, and 7.5 fruits/cm2 TCSA), and high crop loads (9, 12, and 15 fruits/cm2 TCSA), 2007–09, respectively. Leaf and fruit nutrient concentration was affected more by crop load than by any deficit irrigation strategy. Increased crop load increased concentrations of leaf nitrogen (N), calcium (Ca), and fruit Ca in 2 of 3 years and consistently decreased concentrations of leaf and fruit phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) and, in 2 of 3 years, fruit boron (B). Reductions in seasonal water applications (as with I4) reduced leaf P in 2 of 3 years. But, when significant, (usually only 1 of 3 year) increased fruit Ca, magnesium (Mg), P, K, and B concentrations. Crop load also had a dominant effect on fruit nutrient removal rates expressed as kilograms per hectare. High crop load increased removal of all measured nutrients in most years. In contrast, imposition of deficit irrigation strategies often (2 of 3 years) reduced fruit P, Mg, and B removal rates but had little effect on N, Ca, and K. Cumulative evidence suggests that deficit irrigation applied to N, P, K, and B fertigated high density ‘Ambrosia’ apple orchards in combination with crop load reduction to maintain fruit size should usually not create additional nutrient problems. However, low fruit Ca concentrations may occur if the crop is very low. Fertigation of 20 g K/tree/year was insufficient for older trees because inadequate K occurred in all treatments by the third year.

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