Pollination of English Walnuts: Practices and Problems

in HortTechnology

English walnut (Juglans regia, L.) is a monoecious species bearing staminate and pistillate flowers separately on the same tree. Walnuts are generally self-fruitful, cross-compatible and dichogamous, having incomplete overlap of pollen shed and female receptivity. It is this characteristic which led to the recommendation that about 10% of the trees in a commercial planting be a cultivar with a pollen shed period overlapping pistillate flower receptivity of the main cultivar. Excessive pollen load has been implicated in the `Serr' cultivar in pistillate flower abortion (PFA), the loss of the female flowers early in the season before fruit drop due to lack of pollination. PFA can be reduced and yield improved in `Serr' orchards by reducing pollen load. This can be accomplished by pollinizer removal, or catkin removal at the beginning of pollen shed by mechanical shaking. In years of significant bloom overlap between staminate and pistillate bloom, PFA can be further reduced and yield improved by removing `Serr' catkins. PFA occurs to a lesser extent in other cultivars such as `Chico', `Chandler', `Vina' and `Howard'. This information has led to the reevaluation of pollinizer recommendations. Research focused on optimum pollinizer levels in `Chandler', a cultivar of increasing importance to the California walnut industry, has been inconclusive. Lack of pollinizers may impact yields to a greater extent in the in the northern San Joaquin Valley and Sacramento Valley than in the southern San Joaquin Valley. In any case the previously recommended 10% appears to be excessive. Two to three percent is probably adequate to limit losses due to lack of pollination without resulting in excessive PFA, and is currently being recommended by extension farm advisors and specialists. Factors to consider when determining the number of pollinators to plant include: cultivar susceptibility to PFA, walnut pollen load in the area and local pollination and fruit set experiences.

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