Bolting causes significant economic losses in sweet onion (Allium cepa L.) production. Although temperature and photoperiod are considered to be the main factors that initiate bolting in onions, preliminary results suggested that low N fertilization rates increased bolting. The objective of our study was to determine the relationships of bolting, yield and bulb decay with N fertilization rates. The N fertilization rates applied ranged from the infraoptimal to the supraoptimal (from 102 to 302 kg·ha-1 N). Shoot and bulb N content increased with increasing N rates, but there were no differences in the respective shoot and bulb N contents among cultivars. Bolting incidence declined steadily with increasing N fertilization rates up to 197 kg·ha-1 N. Bolting incidence was among the highest in the cultivar Pegasus. The percent of decayed bulbs also increased at a steady rate with the rate of N applied. Total (14.7 t·ha-1) and marketable (0.8 t·ha-1) yields at the lowest N rate (102 kg·ha-1 N) were lower (P ≤ 0.01) than those at higher N rates. Rates of N ≥145 kg·ha-1 had no significant effect on either total (mean = 33.6 t·ha-1) or marketable (mean = 21.6 t·ha-1) yields. Losses in marketable yield were primarily a combination of bolting and bulb decay and were minimized at 162 kg·ha-1 N. Yield losses at low N rates were mostly due to bolting while yield losses at high N rates were mostly due to decay. Thus, excess applications of N fertilizer should be avoided since they have little effect on yields or bolting but they increase bulb decay.
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