Commercial blueberry (Vaccinium sp.) growers are encouraged to develop fertilization programs based on recommended starting rates of N fertilizer, which depend on blueberry type and planting age, with adjustments of N and other macro- and micronutrients based on periodic analyses of soil for pH and nutrients and leaf tissue annually (Hart et al., 1992, 2006; Krewer et al., 2007).
Leaf sampling for determination of blueberry plant nutrient status is recommended for the most recent fully expanded leaves from late July to early August in the Pacific northwestern (Hart et al., 2006) and northeastern (Hart et al., 1992) United States or 2 weeks after harvest in the southeastern United States where fruit harvest occurs relatively early in the season (Krewer et al., 2007). Leaf nutrient status, as compared with published sufficiency levels (Hart et al., 1992, 2006; Krewer et al., 2007), coupled with observations of plant growth are used to develop nutrient management programs. The recommended nutrient sufficiency levels are similar among these currently available nutrient management guides.
Leaf nutrient levels have been shown to vary over the growing season in many berry crops including floricane-fruiting blackberry (Rubus sp.) (Clark et al., 1988; Mohadjer et al., 2001), primocane-fruiting blackberry (Strik, 2015), floricane-fruiting raspberry (Rubus idaeus L.) (Hughes et al., 1979; John et al., 1976; Kowalenko, 1994; Wright and Waister, 1980), and in blueberry (Bailey et al., 1962; Ballinger, 1966; Chuntanaparb and Cummings, 1980; Clark et al., 1989; Spiers, 1982). Leaf samples for tissue analysis should be collected at a time when most or all nutrients are relatively stable to allow for comparison purposes among years and development of relevant nutrient sufficiency levels.
Cultivars of blackberry (Fernandez et al., 2015; Harkins et al., 2014; Strik, 2015), raspberry (John et al., 1976) and blueberry (Eaton and Meehan, 1971) have been shown to differ in leaf nutrient levels when sampled in midseason. In contrast, Clark et al. (1988) found no difference among blackberry cultivars that had a similar parentage. When leaf nutrient levels were evaluated over the season, Amling (1958) recommended sampling northern highbush blueberry in Michigan for tissue analysis during a 4-week period before and including the first portion of fruit harvest. Bailey et al. (1962) recommended tissue sampling be done before fruit ripening in ‘Rubel’ in Massachusetts. In North Carolina, when studying ‘Wolcott’, Ballinger (1966) recommended leaf sampling be done during a 2- to 3-week period beginning at the time of last fruit harvest. Clark et al. (1989) recommended ‘Bluecrop’ be sampled in mid-July to mid-August after fruit harvest in Arkansas and found that ‘Bluechip’ and ‘Croatan’ differed in some nutrients but not others (Clark et al., 1994). Sampling blueberry cultivars separately for tissue analysis is recommended; however, there is presently no recommended change in sampling time for cultivars that have different fruiting seasons in the northwestern and northeastern United States (Hart et al., 1992, 2006).
The objectives of this study were to evaluate the impact of sample date over two seasons and production systems (conventional and organic) on leaf nutrient levels in six commonly grown cultivars of northern highbush blueberry differing in fruiting season and productivity. In addition, we evaluated the impact of cultivar on nutrient allocation to fruit, as it is hypothesized that high yield and or fruiting season may affect leaf nutrient concentration.
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