Nitrogen Uptake, Efficiency of Use, and Partitioning for Growth in Young Apple Trees

in Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science

Uptake, recycling, and partitioning of N in relation to N supply and dry matter partitioning was determined for 3- and 4-year-old `Elstar' apple trees [(Malus sylvestris (L) Mill. var. domestica (Borkh.) Mansf.] on Malling 9 rootstock in 1994 (year 3) and 1995 (year 4), respectively. Trees received N yearly as Ca(NO3)2 at 20 g/tree applied on a daily basis through a drip irrigation system. The fertilizer was labelled with 15N in year 3 to allow quantification of remobilization and uptake. The trees were not allowed to crop in years 1 and 2 and were not thinned in years 3 and 4, thereby establishing a range of crop loads. Dry matter and N contents were measured in fruit, midseason and senescent leaves and prunings collected in year 3, in midseason leaves, and in components of the whole trees, harvested in fall of year 4. Labelled N withdrawn from leaves in year 3 was less than that remobilized into leaves and fruit in year 4, indicating that senescent leaves were not the only source of remobilized N. Nitrogen uptake efficiency (total N uptake/N applied) in year 3 was low (22.3%). Of the N taken up, ≈50% was removed at the end of the growing season in fruit and leaves. In fall of year 4, the trees contained about 20 g N of which 50% was partitioned into leaves and fruit, indicating that the annual N uptake by young dwarf apple trees is low (≈10 g/tree). Data were pooled to compare dry matter and N partitioning into two major sinks: fruit and shoot leaves. Total fruit dry weight increased, and in year 4, fruit size decreased with fruit number, indicating that growth was carbon (C) limited at high crop loads. The number of shoot leaves initiated in both years was unaffected by fruit number, but leaf size decreased as fruit number increased in year 4. In year 3, the amount of both remobilized and root-supplied N in fruit increased with fruit number, but the N content of the shoot leaf canopy was unaffected. In general, N and C partitioning were coupled and leaf N concentrations were high (2.8% to 3.2%), suggesting that the low uptake efficiency of fertilizer N resulted because the availability of N in the root zone greatly exceeded demand.

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