Distribution of 15N-Labeled Fertilizer Applied to Pecan: A Case Study

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  • 1 Department of Agronomy and Horticulture, MSC 3Q, New Mexico State University, P.O. Box 30003, Las Cruces, NM 88003-8001

From March through June 1996, 15N-labeled fertilizer was applied to mature pecan trees [Carya illinoinensis (Wangehn.) K. Koch] in a commercial orchard to determine the fate of fertilizer-N in the tree and in the soil directly surrounding the tree. The concentrations of 15N and total N were determined within various tissue components and within the soil profile to a depth of 270 cm. By Nov. 1996, elevated levels of 15N were greatest at depths just above the water table (280 cm), suggesting a substantial loss of fertilizer-N to leaching. Recoveries of 15N from tissue and soil at the end of 1996 were 19.5% and 35.4%, respectively. Harvest removed 4.0% of the fertilizer-N applied, while 6.5% was recycled with leaf and shuck drop. In 1997, with no additional application of labeled fertilizer, the tissue components continued to exhibit 15N enrichment. By the end of the 1997 growing season, 15N levels decreased throughout the soil profile, with the most pronounced reduction at depths immediately above the water table. Estimated recoveries of 15N from pecan tissue (excluding root) and soil at the end of 1997 were 8.4% and 12.5%, respectively. In 1996 and 1997, 15N determinations indicated an accumulation of fertilizer-N in the tissues and a loss of fertilizer-N to the groundwater. Early spring growth, flowering, and embryo development used fertilizer-N applied the previous year, as well as that applied during the current year.

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