The Significance of Macronutrients in Alternate Bearing ‘Nadorcott’ Mandarin Trees

in HortScience

The significance of macronutrients nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), and magnesium (Mg) in leaves was studied in relation with their possible roles in alternate bearing of ‘Nadorcott’ mandarin (Citrus reticulata) trees over a period of three seasons. Fruit load (“on,” a heavy fruit load, vs. “off,” a light fruit load) affected the leaf macronutrient concentrations, and the amount of macronutrients removed through the harvest of fruit, i.e., the crop removal factor (g·kg−1), was consistent in both seasons. The crop removal factors were higher for each macronutrient in “off” trees—harvest of 1 kg fruit removed ≈2.3 g·kg−1 N, 0.3 g·kg−1 P, 3.1 g·kg−1 K, 1.0 g·kg−1 Ca, and 0.4 g·kg−1 Mg, compared with 1.3 g·kg−1 N, 0.2 g·kg−1 P, 1.7 g·kg−1 K, 0.6 g·kg−1 Ca, and 0.2 g·kg−1 Mg in “on” trees. Fruit load per tree (kg/tree) of 84, 110, and 52 kg/tree in “on” trees, however, removed ≈217 g/tree N, 28 g/tree P, 296 g/tree K, 100 g/tree Ca, and 35 g/tree Mg, which was 1.5–6 times more than that of fruit loads of 14, 71, and 16 kg/tree in “off” trees. In “off” trees, N, P, and K, and in “on” trees, Ca accumulated in leaves to between 20% and 30% higher concentrations in season 1, but the higher macronutrient status did not manifest in or consistently correlate with intensity of summer vegetative shoot development in the current season, or intensity of flowering in the next season, the two main determinants of fruit load in ‘Nadorcott’ mandarin. Apart from some anomalies, the concentrations of macronutrients in leaves were unaffected by de-fruiting and foliar spray applications of N and K to “on” trees, and showed no consistent relationship with treatment effects on parameters of vegetative shoot development and flowering. Leaf macronutrients in alternate bearing ‘Nadorcott’ mandarin trees, fertilized according to grower standard practice, are not related to differences in flowering and vegetative shoot development, and appear to be a consequence of fruit load and not a determinant thereof.

Contributor Notes

We thank Doepie Van Zyl, Kallie Junius, and C.P. Mouton for providing access to orchards in De Doorns, Riviersonderend, and Citrusdal, South Africa; to Dome Citrus, Indigo Fruit Farming, Sitrusrand Boerdery, Suiderland Plase, Sundays River Citrus Company, and Unifrutti for providing leaf analyses and fruit load data of commercial ‘Nadorcott’ mandarin orchards; and to Daan Nel for assistance with statistical analysis.

This work forms part of a Ph.D. study that was funded by the South African Citrus Growers Association and Citrus Research International (Pty) Ltd.

Corresponding author. E-mail: jakkie@sun.ac.za.

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    Spring leaf samples for macronutrient analyses in alternate bearing ‘Nadorcott’ mandarin trees were collected in September (A1 and A2), from vegetative shoots that developed during the previous season’s vegetative shoot flushes; the summer leaf samples were collected in December (B1 and B2), from vegetative shoots that developed during the current season’s spring vegetative shoot flush, and autumn and winter leaf samples were collected in March [C1 and C2 (* = also commercial time of sampling)] and June (D1 and D2), from vegetative shoots that developed during the current season’s summer vegetative shoot flush.

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    The concentrations of leaf nitrogen (A), phosphorus (B), potassium (C), calcium (D), and magnesium (E) determined at 3-month intervals over two seasons in alternate bearing ‘Nadorcott’ mandarin trees. The line graph corresponds to the left Y-axis and represents the concentration of the mineral elements in the leaf expressed as mg·g−1 leaf dry weight (DW), whereas the bar graph corresponds to the right Y-axis and represents the rate and distribution of the annual nutrient application as a percentage of the total annual application. The arrows indicate the time of harvest. Bars denote standard error of the mean and different letters indicate significant differences between values over time (P < 0.05; Fisher’s least significant difference test; n = 8).

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