Highbush blueberry (Vaccinium sp.) area in North America has increased from 27,105 ha in 2003 to 38,690 ha in 2008, a rate of 2,317 ha/year (Brazelton, 2009; Strik and Yarborough, 2005). Blueberry production worldwide has increased 82% in the same time period to 65,990 ha in 2008, a planting rate of 5,950 ha/year (Brazelton, 2009; Brazelton and Strik, 2007). To these fields, growers have generally been applying recommended rates of N fertilizer, 55 kg·ha−1 for newly established fields to 110 kg·ha−1 for mature plantings at 1.2 m × 3 m spacing (Hart et al., 2006; Pritts et al., 1992; Strik et al., 1993; Strik and Hart, 1992) or have been applying much higher rates, depending on production practices (Yang, 2002; Strik, personal observation).
Various studies have been completed on the effect of rate of N fertilization on the growth and yield of mature blueberry plants. In a 5-year study on ‘Bluecrop’ blueberry, plants fertilized with a split application of 75 kg·ha−1 of N had higher yields than unfertilized controls (Hanson and Retamales, 1992). In contrast, Clark et al. (1998) found that yield of ‘Collins’ blueberry was unaffected by fertilization rates of 22 and 112 kg·ha−1 of N, and in fact, applications of 67 and 134 kg·ha−1 reduced yield compared with 22 kg·ha−1 of N over 2 years. In an 8-year study, Cummings (1978) found that yield was not increased at N fertilization rates above the lowest rate of 34 kg·ha−1.
Throop and Hanson (1997) showed that mature blueberry plants absorbed fertilizer N most efficiently during active growth between late bloom and fruit maturity; however, only 8% of the fertilizer was recovered 2 weeks after application. Mature ‘Bluecrop’ plants fertilized with 40 kg·ha−1 of N, as urea, before budbreak recovered a much greater proportion (32%) of the fertilizer N by the next fall (Retamales and Hanson, 1989). These studies suggest that multiple applications of fertilizer N are necessary to maintain sufficient soil N levels throughout the active growth period of blueberry.
No work has been published to date on N fertilizer uptake and partitioning in young, field-grown blueberry plants. The objectives of our study were to determine the impact of N fertilizer application on N uptake, allocation, and growth of young, field-grown blueberry plants during the first 2 years of establishment.
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