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Peter J. Dittmar, David W. Monks, Jonathan R. Schultheis and Katherine M. Jennings

Most seedless watermelons are grown on black polyethylene mulch to aid crop establishment, growth, yield, and quality and weed control. However, nutsedge is a persistent problem in this production system, as it can easily penetrate the mulch. Halosulfuron-methyl is registered in some crops and provides excellent yellow nutsedge control. The objective of this research was to determine the effects of reduced halosulfuron-methyl contract to the watermelon plant on fruit yield and quality. The seedless watermelon cultivars, Tri-X-313 and Precious Petite, were transplanted into black polyethylene mulch and sprayed 16 days later. Halosulfuron-methyl at 35 g a.i./ha plus 0.25% (v/v) nonionic surfactant was applied at 187 L·ha–1 with a TeeJet 8002 even tip nozzle. Treatments were no spray, 25% of the vine tips, 25% of the crown, and over the top (entire plant). Plants in each treatment were rated (0% = no damage, 100% = fatality) for herbicide injury and the longest vine was measured on four plants. The no-spray treatment had the longest vines (156 cm). The topical halosulfuron treatment resulted in the shortest vines (94 cm) and the highest visual damage rating (63%). The herbicide caused foliage to yellow, internodes to shorten, and stems to crack. Treatments receiving halosulfuron-methyl applied to 25% of the vine (tip end) or 25% of the vine (crown end) resulted in reduced injury compared to the topical application. Generally, the 25% vine tip application was the safest halosulfuron treatment. The total yield (kg·ha–1) and number of watermelons/ha were similar among treatments. The no-spray treatment produced 4450 kg·ha–1 and 8300 watermelons/ha. The over-top treatment produced 3500 kg·ha–1 and 7300 watermelons/ha. Watermelon in the no-spray treatment weighed 4.4 kg, while watermelons weighed 3.9 kg with the over the top treatment. Halosulfuron-methyl is registered to apply to middles between watermelon rows; however, topical applications are prevented due to the possibility of crop injury. This research suggests that reduction of topical application to only 25% contact of the crop may improve crop tolerance. Thus application to nutsedge patches where limited contact to watermelon occurs may be a possibility in the future.

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Chen Jiang, Penelope Perkins-Veazie, Sylvia M. Blankenship, Michael D. Boyette, Zvezdana Pesic-VanEsbroeck, Katherine M. Jennings and Jonathan R. Schultheis

A series of studies were conducted to better understand the occurrence and causes of internal necrosis (IN) in ‘Covington’ sweetpotato (Ipomoea batatas). Assessment of the problem among the industry was done for 2 years and revealed that IN was widespread in commercial storage facilities throughout the state of North Carolina; both incidence and severity were generally low (<10% incidence with minimal severity of symptoms). A few storage rooms had a high percentage of IN with severe storage root symptoms but results were inconsistent across years and among rooms. Preharvest studies with commercially used insecticides did not induce IN, but the harvest aid ethephon consistently induced IN with an incidence higher than 50%. Internal necrosis symptoms were not detectable at harvest, and earliest consistent incidence was observed 6 days after harvest (DAH) during the curing phase. Symptoms became more prevalent and severe at 30 DAH. However, in commercial storage rooms, no relationship was found between IN incidence and postcuring storage temperature or relative humidity (RH) conditions. Sweetpotato storage roots stored in air-tight barrels and exposed to 100 ppm ethylene after curing showed no relationship between the presence of ethylene gas in storage and incidence of IN. Our results indicate that IN incidence of ‘Covington’ is erratic with no obvious cause among storage rooms and that initiation of IN may occur most frequently during the first week following harvest.

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Susan L. Barkley, Jonathan R. Schultheis, Sushila Chaudhari, Suzanne D. Johanningsmeier, Katherine M. Jennings, Van-Den Truong and David W. Monks

Studies were conducted in 2012 and 2013 to compare Evangeline to various sweetpotato (Ipomoea batatas) varieties (Bayou Belle, Beauregard, Bonita, Covington, NC05-198, and Orleans) for commercial production in North Carolina. In another study, microwaved and oven-baked ‘Evangeline’ and ‘Covington’ sweetpotato roots were subjected to analysis of chemical and physical properties [color, dry matter (DM), texture, and sugar] and to sensory evaluation for determining consumer acceptance. ‘NC05-198’ produced the highest no. 1 grade sweetpotato 600 bushels [bu (50 lb)] per acre and total marketable storage root yield was similar to ‘Bayou Belle’ and ‘Beauregard’ (841, 775, and 759 bu/acre, respectively). No. 1 and marketable root yields were similar between ‘Orleans’ and ‘Beauregard’. However, ‘Orleans’ produced more uniform roots than ‘Beauregard’, in which the latter had higher cull production. ‘Evangeline’ was comparable to no. 1 yield of ‘Bayou Belle’, ‘Orleans’, and ‘Covington’, which indicates the ability of this variety to produce acceptable yields in North Carolina conditions. ‘Covington’ had slightly higher DM than ‘Evangeline’, but instrumental texture analysis showed that these varieties did not differ significantly in firmness after cooking. However, microwaved roots were measurably firmer than oven-baked roots for both varieties. In this study, ‘Evangeline’ had higher levels of fructose and glucose, with similar levels of sucrose and maltose to ‘Covington’. Consumers (n = 100) indicated no difference between varieties in their “just about right” moisture level, texture, and flavor ratings, but showed a preference for Evangeline flesh color over Covington. Consumers in this study preferred oven-baked over microwaved sweetpotato (regardless of variety) and indicated that Evangeline is as acceptable as the standard variety Covington when grown in the North Carolina environment.

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Peter J. Dittmar, Jonathan R. Schultheis, Katherine M. Jennings, David W. Monks, Sushila Chaudhari, Stephen Meyers and Chen Jiang

The reason for internal necrosis occurrences in sweetpotato (Ipomoea batatas) storage roots is not well understood. This disorder begins internally in the storage roots as small light brown spots near the proximal end of the root that eventually can become more enlarged as brown/black regions in the cortex. The objective of this study was to determine the effect of ethephon and flooding on the development of internal necrosis in the sweetpotato cultivars Beauregard, Carolina Ruby, and Covington over storage durations from 9 to 150 days after harvest (DAH) when roots had been cured. Soil moisture treatments were no-flooding, and simulated flooding that was created by applying 10 inches of overhead irrigation during 2 weeks before harvest. Ethephon was applied at 0, 0.75, and 0.98 lb/acre 2 weeks before harvest. Overall, ‘Covington’ and ‘Carolina Ruby’ had greater internal necrosis incidence (22% to 65% and 32% to 51%, respectively) followed by ‘Beauregard’ (9% to 22%) during storage duration from 9 to 150 DAH at both soil moistures. No significant change was observed for either internal necrosis incidence or severity for ‘Beauregard’ and ‘Carolina Ruby’ over the storage duration of 9–150 DAH. However, there was an increase of internal necrosis incidence and severity 9–30 DAH in ‘Covington’, with incidence and severity remaining similar 30–150 DAH. Storage roots in treatments sprayed with 0.75 or 0.98 lb/acre ethephon had higher internal necrosis incidence and severity compared with the nontreated, regardless of cultivars at both soil moistures. This research confirms that sweetpotato cultivars differ in their susceptibility to internal necrosis (incidence and severity), ethephon applied to foliage can contribute to internal necrosis development in storage roots, and internal necrosis incidence reaches a maximum by 30 DAH in ‘Covington’ and 9 DAH in ‘Carolina Ruby’ and ‘Beauregard’.

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William B. Thompson, Jonathan R. Schultheis, Sushila Chaudhari, David W. Monks, Katherine M. Jennings and Garry L. Grabow

Studies were conducted in North Carolina to determine the effect of holding durations (HDs) [0, 1, 3, 5, and 7 days before planting (DBP)] of ‘Covington’ sweetpotato (Ipomoea batatas) transplants on plant stand and storage root numbers and yield in production fields. In a second field study, the effect of preplant irrigation (PI) treatments (PI and nonirrigation) were evaluated along with the transplant HD on plant stand, storage root numbers, and yield. Transplants held for 7 DBP did not survive as well as the other treatments (lower plant stands) and had lower no. 1, marketable, and total storage root numbers and yields than other holding treatments. HD of 1 or 3 DBP resulted in higher plant stands, and no. 1, marketable, and total numbers of storage roots and yields than holding for 0, 5, or 7 DBP. This study affirms the importance of soil moisture at and shortly after planting for transplant survival and yield. Holding transplants for 1–3 DBP can improve stand establishment and yields when dry conditions occur either before or soon after planting. However, holding transplants for 7 DBP can result in reduced plant stands and yields when stress/dry conditions occur soon after planting.

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William B. Thompson, Jonathan R. Schultheis, Sushila Chaudhari, David W. Monks, Katherine M. Jennings and Garry L. Grabow

A research gap exists on the effects of irrigation, transplant (nonrooted stem cuttings) size, and planting depth on sweetpotato (Ipomoea batatas) plant survival and storage root yield. Field studies were conducted in 2012 and 2013 to determine the effects of preplant irrigation, planting depth, and transplant size on sweetpotato plant stand, storage root number, and yield. Treatments included four transplant sizes (3.7, 6.3, 8.5, and 10.7 inches), two planting depths (2 and 6 inches), and preplant irrigation or nonirrigation. Overall, plant stand, storage root number, and yield were greater when transplants of size ≥6.3 inches were planted 6 inches deep as compared with transplants planted 2 inches deep. The use of preplant irrigation had an overall positive impact on plant stand, storage root number, and yield under dry soil conditions. When moisture was readily available, neither plant stand nor storage root numbers were affected by the application of irrigation as observed in 2013. However, sweetpotato yields were greater during both years when preplant irrigation was used. Irrigation during the root initiation phase of plant establishment or extended periods of no rainfall would be beneficial for improving plant stands and yields.

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Susan L. Barkley, Sushila Chaudhari, Jonathan R. Schultheis, Katherine M. Jennings, Stephen G. Bullen and David W. Monks

There is a research gap with respect to documenting the effects of sweetpotato (Ipomoea batatas) seed root density and size on transplant yield and quality. Field studies were conducted in 2012 and 2014 to determine the effect of sweetpotato seed root (canner size) density [12, 24, 37, 49, 61, 73, and 85 bushels [bu (50 lb)] per 1000 ft2] on ‘Covington’ and ‘Evangeline’ slip production in propagation beds. Another field study was conducted in 2012 and 2013; treatments included canner, no. 1, and jumbo-size ‘Covington’ roots at 49 bu/1000 ft2, to determine the effect of seed root size on slip production. As seed root density increased in the propagation bed, transplant production increased with no change in slip quality as measured by node counts and slip length except for stem diameter. In 2012, the best marketable slip yield was obtained at root densities of 73 and 85 bu/1000 ft2. In 2014, marketable slip production of ‘Evangeline’ increased as seed root density increased at a greater rate than ‘Covington’. In 2014, the best seed root density for marketable slip production was 49 to 85 bu/1000 ft2 for ‘Covington’ and 85 bu/1000 ft2 for ‘Evangeline’. In 2012, potential slip revenues increased with an increase in seed root density up to 73 bu/1000 ft2. In 2014, revenue trend was similar for ‘Covington’ as 2012; however, for ‘Evangeline’, revenue was greatest at 85 bu/1000 ft2. Seed root size had no effect on marketable slip production when using a once-over harvest system. Results suggest growers would use a seed root density from 49 to 85 bu/1000 ft2 depending on variety, and any size roots for production of optimum marketable slips. Selection of optimum seed root density also depends on grower needs; e.g., high seed root density strategy will have a higher risk due to the upfront, higher seed costs, but potentially have higher profits at harvest time. Lower seed root density strategy would be a lower initial risk with a lower seed cost, but also potentially have lower net revenues.

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Matthew B. Bertucci, Katherine M. Jennings, David W. Monks, Jonathan R. Schultheis, Penelope Perkins-Veazie, Frank J. Louws and David L. Jordan

Grafting watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) is a common practice in many parts of the world and has recently received increased interest in the United States. The present study was designed to evaluate early season growth, yield, and fruit quality of watermelon in response to grafting and in the absence of known disease pressure in a fumigated system. Field experiments were conducted using standard and mini watermelons (cv. Exclamation and Extazy, respectively) grafted onto 20 commercially available cucurbit rootstocks representing four species: giant pumpkin (Cucurbita maxima), summer squash (Cucurbita pepo), bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria), and interspecific hybrid squash [ISH (C. maxima × Cucurbita moschata)]. Nongrafted ‘Exclamation’ and ‘Extazy’ were included as controls. To determine early season growth, leaf area was measured at 1, 2, and 3 weeks after transplant (WAT). At 1 WAT, nongrafted ‘Exclamation’ produced the smallest leaf area; however, at 3 WAT, nongrafted ‘Exclamation’ produced the largest leaf area in 2015, and no differences were observed in 2016. Leaf area was very similar among rootstocks in the ‘Extazy’ study, with minimal differences observed. Marketable yield included fruit weighing ≥9 and ≥3 lb for ‘Exclamation’ and ‘Extazy’, respectively. In the ‘Exclamation’ study, highest marketable yields were observed in nongrafted ‘Exclamation’, and ‘Exclamation’ grafted to ‘Pelops’, ‘TZ148’, and ‘Coloso’, and lowest marketable yields were observed when using ‘Marvel’ and ‘Kazako’ rootstocks, which produced 47% and 32% of nongrafted ‘Exclamation’ yield, respectively. In the ‘Extazy’ study, the highest marketable yield was observed in nongrafted ‘Extazy’, and ‘Kazako’ produced the lowest yields (48% of nongrafted ‘Extazy’). Fruit quality was determined by measuring fruit acidity (pH), soluble solids concentration (SSC), lycopene content, and flesh firmness from a sample of two fruit from each plot from the initial two harvests of each year. Across both studies, rootstock had no effect on SSC or lycopene content. As reported in previous studies, flesh firmness was increased as a result of grafting, and nongrafted ‘Exclamation’ and ‘Extazy’ had the lowest flesh firmness among standard and mini watermelons, respectively. The present study evaluated two scions with a selection of 20 cucurbit rootstocks and observed no benefits in early season growth, yield, or phytonutrient content. Only three of 20 rootstocks in each study produced marketable yields similar to the nongrafted treatments, and no grafted treatment produced higher yields than nongrafted ‘Exclamation’ or ‘Extazy’. Because grafted seedlings have an associated increase in cost and do not produce increased yields, grafting in these optimized farming systems and using fumigated soils does not offer an advantage in the absence of soilborne pathogens or other stressors that interfere with watermelon production.

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Matthew B. Bertucci, David H. Suchoff, Katherine M. Jennings, David W. Monks, Christopher C. Gunter, Jonathan R. Schultheis and Frank J. Louws

Grafting of watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) is an established production practice that provides resistance to soilborne diseases or tolerance to abiotic stresses. Watermelon may be grafted on several cucurbit species (interspecific grafting); however, little research exists to describe root systems of these diverse rootstocks. A greenhouse study was conducted to compare root system morphology of nine commercially available cucurbit rootstocks, representing four species: pumpkin (Cucurbita maxima), squash (Cucurbita pepo), bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria), and an interspecific hybrid squash (C. maxima × C. moschata). Rootstocks were grafted with a triploid watermelon scion (‘Exclamation’), and root systems were compared with nongrafted (NG) and self-grafted (SG) ‘Exclamation’. Plants were harvested destructively at 1, 2, and 3 weeks after transplant (WAT), and data were collected on scion dry weight, total root length (TRL), average root diameter, root surface area, root:shoot dry-weight ratio, root diameter class proportions, and specific root length. For all response variables, the main effect of rootstock and rootstock species was significant (P < 0.05). The main effect of harvest was significant (P < 0.05) for all response variables, with the exception of TRL proportion in diameter class 2. ‘Ferro’ rootstock produced the largest TRL and root surface area, with observed values 122% and 120% greater than the smallest root system (‘Exclamation’ SG), respectively. Among rootstock species, pumpkin produced the largest TRL and root surface area, with observed values 100% and 82% greater than those of watermelon, respectively. These results demonstrate that substantial differences exist during the initial 3 WAT in root system morphology of rootstocks and rootstock species available for watermelon grafting and that morphologic differences of root systems can be characterized using image analysis.