Properly Timed Soil-applied Nitrogen Fertilizer Increases Yield and Fruit Size of `Hass' Avocado

in Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science

To protect groundwater from potential nitrate pollution, `Hass' avocado (Persea americana Mill.) growers in California divide the total annual soil-applied nitrogen (N) fertilizer (N at 56 to 168 kg·ha-1) into small applications made during the period from late January to early November. However, no research had been conducted to test the efficacy of this fertilization practice, and there was concern that the amount of N in the individual applications may be too little to meet the demand of the tree at some stages of its phenology. The research presented herein addressed the question of whether yield of `Hass' avocado could be increased by doubling the amount of N currently applied during specific stages of tree phenology. The control in this experiment was the practice of annually applying N as NH4NO3 at 168 kg·ha-1 (168 trees/ha) in six small doses of N at 28 kg·ha-1 in January, February, April, June, July, and November. From these six application times, five were selected on the basis of tree phenology and additional N as NH4NO3 at 28 kg·ha-1 was applied at each time for total annual N of 196 kg·ha-1. Two phenological stages were identified for which N application at 56 kg·ha-1 in a single application (double dose of N) significantly increased the 4-year cumulative yield (kilograms fruit per tree) 30% and 39%, respectively, compared to control trees (P ≤ 0.01). In each case, more than 70% of the net increase in yield was commercially valuable large size fruit (178 to 325 g/fruit). The two phenological stages were when shoot apical buds have four or more secondary axis inflorescence meristems present (mid-November); and during anthesis to early fruit set and initiation of the vegetative shoot flush at the apex of indeterminate floral shoots (about mid-April). When the double dose of N was applied at either of these two stages, the kilograms and number of large size fruit averaged across the 4 years of the study was significantly greater than the control trees (P ≤ 0.01). Averaged across the 4 years of the study, only the November treatment increased yield compared to the control trees (P ≤ 0.05). Application of the double dose of N at flower initiation (January), during early-stage gynoecium development (February), or during June drop had no significant effect on average or cumulative yield or fruit size compared to control trees. Application of the double dose of N in April significantly reduced the severity of alternate bearing (P ≤ 0.05). Yield was not significantly correlated with leaf N concentration. Time and rate of N application are factors that can be optimized to increase yield, fruit size, and annual cropping of `Hass' avocado. When the amounts of N applied were equal (196 kg·ha-1), time of application was the more important factor.

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