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Open access

Jianyu Li, Xin Zhao, Gabriel Maltais-Landry, and Bodh R. Paudel

Sunn hemp (Crotalaria juncea L.), as a summer leguminous cover crop, is often grown before fall planting of strawberries (Fragaria ×ananassa Duch.) in Florida. Although sunn hemp has been suggested as a green manure for supplying nitrogen (N) to subsequent crops, limited information is available regarding the contribution of sunn hemp biomass to soil N availability in Florida sandy soils with low levels of organic matter. This is especially true for organic strawberry production where nutrient management remains one of the major yield-limiting factors. This study was conducted in Citra, FL, and assessed the dynamics of N availability after soil incorporation of sunn hemp in organic strawberry production systems established on sandy soils in a subtropical environment. Sunn hemp was planted at a seeding rate of 44.9 kg·ha−1 on 19 July 2017 and 24 July 2018 and terminated 65 days after seeding; a summer weedy fallow was used as the control. Containerized strawberry seedlings of Sweet Sensation® ‘Florida127’ were transplanted on 13 Oct. 2017 (22 days after sunn hemp incorporation) and 4 Oct. 2018 (8 days after sunn hemp incorporation). Immediately after sunn hemp incorporation, anion exchange membranes (AEMs) were buried in the soil to monitor soil NO3-N fluxes, together with traditional soil testing to measure extractable soil NO3-N concentrations. In the 2018 season, soils incorporated with sunn hemp residues were also incubated in the laboratory at 24 °C over 8 weeks to determine the N release pattern by quantifying soil NO3-N and NH4-N. Overall, nitrate fluxes monitored by AEMs in the first 3 weeks after sunn hemp incorporation were significantly higher in the sunn hemp treatment than in the weedy fallow control (by 66% to 185%) in both years. Sunn hemp incorporation also led to a considerable increase in extractable soil NO3-N concentration (by 20% to 94%). The early and fast release of plant available N (PAN) from sunn hemp residues was confirmed by the 8-week laboratory incubation study, which demonstrated that the net N mineralization rate of sunn hemp remained highest over the first 2 weeks of the incubation period. Sunn hemp showed a positive impact on organic strawberry early-season fruit yield in both years, with significant increases in marketable (by 59%) and total (by 52%) fruit weight yields and marketable fruit number (by 46%) in 2017 and total fruit number (by 15%) and weight yield (by 14%) and marketable fruit number (by 13%) in 2018. Given the typical waiting period between sunn hemp residue soil incorporation and strawberry planting as well as the lag in nutrient uptake shortly after transplanting, a large fraction of N released from sunn hemp residues is likely not taken up by strawberry plants. Our findings highlight the challenges of using sunn hemp residues to improve N availability for meeting crop demand and enhance fruit yield in organic strawberry production while minimizing environmental N losses in Florida sandy soils.

Open access

Eduardo Esteves, Gabriel Maltais-Landry, Flavia Zambon, Rhuanito Soranz Ferrarezi, and Davie M. Kadyampakeni

The bacterial disease Huanglongbing (HLB) has drastically reduced citrus production in Florida. Nutrients play an important role in plant defense mechanisms and new approaches to manage the disease with balanced nutrition are emerging. Nutrients like nitrogen (N), calcium (Ca), and magnesium (Mg) could extend the productive life of affected trees, although interactions among these nutrients in HLB-affected citrus trees are still unclear. A 2-year study was established in Florida to determine the response of HLB-affected trees to applications of N, Ca, and Mg. The study was conducted with ‘Valencia’ trees (Citrus sinensis L. Osbeck) on Swingle citrumelo (Citrus paradisi Macf. × Poncirus trifoliata L. Raf.) rootstock on a Candler sand. Applications of N at 168, 224 (recommended rate), and 280 kg⋅ha−1 N were used as the main plots. Split-plots consisted of a grower standard treatment receiving only basal Ca (51 kg⋅ha−1) and Mg (56 kg⋅ha−1); supplemental Ca (total Ca inputs: 96 kg⋅ha−1) only; supplemental Mg (total Mg inputs: 101 kg⋅ha−1) only; and supplemental Ca (total Ca inputs: 73.5 kg⋅ha−1) and Mg (total Mg inputs: 78.5 kg⋅ha−1). The following variables were measured: tree size, fruit yield, and juice quality. Although some differences in tree growth among treatments were statistically significant (e.g., greater canopy volume with Mg fertilization at 168 kg⋅ha−1 N), there was no clear and consistent effect of plant nutrition on these variables. Fruit yield was higher with Ca and Mg relative to the grower standard at the lowest N rate in 2020, and there were no other statistically significant differences among treatments. Juice acidity was significantly higher with Mg fertilization relative to other treatments in 2019. As N rates had no significant effect in this study, unlike secondary macronutrients, N rates could potentially be reduced to 168 kg N⋅ha−1 in HLB-affected citrus without affecting vegetative growth, fruit yield, and juice quality. However, this will require optimizing the supply of secondary macronutrients and all other nutrients to develop a balanced nutritional program. Ultimately, the effects of N, Ca, and Mg obtained in this 2-year study should be confirmed with longer-term studies conducted at multiple sites.