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  • Author or Editor: H. Thomas James III x
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The prevalence of Huanglongbing (HLB) in Florida has forced growers to search for new management strategies to optimize fruit yield in young orchards and enable earlier economic returns given the likelihood of HLB-induced yield reductions during later years. There has been considerable interest in modifying orchard architecture design and fertilizer and irrigation management practices as strategies for increasing profitability. Our objectives were to evaluate how different combinations of horticultural practices including tree density, fertilization methods, and irrigation systems affect growth, foliar nutrient content, fruit yield, and fruit quality of young ‘Valencia’ sweet orange [Citrus sinensis (L.) Osbeck] trees during the early years of production under HLB-endemic conditions. The study was conducted in Fort Pierce, FL, from 2014 to 2020 on a 1- to 7-year-old orchard and evaluated the following treatments: standard tree density (358 trees/ha) and controlled-release fertilizer with microsprinkler irrigation (STD_dry_MS), high tree density (955 trees/ha) with fertigation and microsprinkler irrigation (HDS_fert_MS), and high tree density with fertigation and double-line drip irrigation (HDS_fert_DD). Annual foliar nutrient concentrations were usually within or higher than the recommended ranges throughout the study, with a tendency for decreases in several nutrients over time regardless of treatment, suggesting all fertilization strategies adequately met the tree nutrient demand. During fruit-bearing years, canopy volume, on a per-tree basis, was higher under STD_dry_MS (6.2–7.2 m3) than HDS_fert_MS (4.3–5.3 m3) or HDS_fert_DD (4.9–5.9 m3); however, high tree density resulted in greater canopy volume on an area basis, which explained the 86% to 300% increase in fruit yield per ha that resulted in moving from standard to high tree density. Although fruit yields per ha were generally greatest under HDS_fert_MS and HDS_fert_DD, they were lower than the 10-year Florida state average (26.5 Mg·ha−1) for standard tree density orchards, possibly due to the HLB incidence and the rootstock chosen. Although tree growth parameters and foliar nutrient concentrations varied in response to treatments, management practices that included high tree density and fertigation irrespective of irrigation systems produced the highest fruit yields and highest yield of solids. Soluble solids content (SSC) and titratable acidity (TA) were lower, and the SSC-to-TA ratio was highest under STD_dry_MS in 2016–17, with no treatment effects on quality parameters detected in other years. Both drip and microsprinkler fertigation methods sufficiently met tree nutrient demand at high tree density, but additional research is needed to determine optimal fertilization rates and better rootstock cultivars in young high-density sweet orange orchards under HLB-endemic conditions in the Indian River Citrus District.

Open Access