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Richard J. Heerema*, Ted M. De Jong, and Steven A. Weinbaum

Spurs are the primary bearing unit in mature `Nonpareil' almond (Prunus dulcis (Mill.) D.A. Webb) trees. Our objective was to determine whether almond spurs behave autonomously with respect to various biological activities throughout the season. If autonomous, a spur's carbohydrate demands are met primarily by its own leaves and, therefore, the sink to source ratio of the spur itself is expected to be closely linked to its growth and development. In these experiments almond spurs differing in leaf area and/or fruit number were monitored for leaf development, fruit set, floral initiation, spur survival and carbohydrate storage. Previous-season spur leaf area had no relation to the number of leaves preformed within the dormant vegetative bud or final spur leaf area in the current season, but spurs which fruited in the previous season began spring leaf expansion later and current-season spur fruiting was associated with lower spur leaf area. There was little or no relationship between final percentage fruit set at the spur level and spur leaf area in either the current or previous seasons. Current-season spur leaf area was positively related to both spur flower bud number and spur winter survival. Carbohydrate storage in dormant spurs increased with increasing previous-season spur leaf area. These data are consistent with the concept of spur autonomy especially with regards to spur activities late in the season. The relationships of some of these same spur parameters to spur light exposure are currently being investigated.

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Marisa Y. Thompson, Jennifer Randall, Richard J. Heerema, and Dawn VanLeeuwen

Successful commercial pecan [Carya illinoinensis (Wangenh.) K. Koch] production relies on mitigation of alternate bearing, which is a function of pistillate flower production. Mechanisms of floral initiation in pecan are not well understood. Our objective was to assess the impact of select plant growth regulators (PGRs) on return bloom for commercial application in pecan trees grown in the Southwestern United States. A 2-year study evaluated effects of ethephon, aminoethoxyvinylglycine (AVG), and gibberellin GA3 (GA3) on subsequent season return bloom in fruiting and nonfruiting pecan shoots. Cultivars used were mature Western and immature Western and Pawnee. Effects of PGRs on return bloom of nonfruiting shoots were different from fruiting shoots. As compared with untreated control, a GA3 treatment on fruiting shoots of mature ‘Western’ trees increased the number of flowers per new shoot by 125%. For nonfruiting shoots on the mature ‘Western’ trees, the number of flowers per new shoot decreased significantly by all PGR treatments and as much as 93% for AVG. In previously nonfruiting shoots on the immature ‘Western’ trees, a GA3 treatment reduced the number of flowers per new shoot in the next season by 88.2%. Results from immature ‘Pawnee’ shoots did not show statistically significant differences. The effects of these PGRs on subsequent season flowering in pecan are complex. This study suggests that PGRs can be used to increase or decrease cropload through effects on return bloom and therefore have potential uses for mitigating alternate bearing.

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Bruce W. Wood, Leonardo Lombardini, and Richard J. Heerema

Insufficient fruit retention limits profitability of certain pecan [Carya illinoinensis (Wangenh.) K. Koch] cultivars. The present study examined efficacy of aminoethoxyvinylglycine (formulated as ReTain®; Valent BioSciences, Libertyville, IL), a natural ethylene inhibitor, for increasing crop-load through increased fruit retention in pecan trees grown at three distinct locations within the U.S. pecan belt. Several years of field studies found that timely postpollination ReTain® sprays [132 mg·L−1 a.i. (11.7 oz./acre)] to canopies could increase fruit retention of ‘Desirable’ and increase crop yield by 16% to 38% in trees carrying a “moderate to heavy” crop. ReTain® did not detectably increase fruit retention on trees carrying a “light” crop-load. The ReTain®-associated increase in yield of “heavy” crop-load trees did not necessarily decrease subsequent year yield. ReTain® appears to offer commercial potential as a crop-load management tool for ‘Desirable’ through regulation of Stage II drop (i.e., June-drop), but may not be efficacious for all cultivars.

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Jay M. Lillywhite, Jennifer E. Simonsen, and Richard J. Heerema

The U.S. pecan (Carya illinoinensis) industry is important to the country in both economic and cultural terms. Although the industry has expanded its export markets considerably, domestic pecan consumption has remained relatively flat. Expanding a domestic market is an important risk management strategy. To diversify, industry stakeholders may need to focus effort on growing domestic demand for pecans and pecan products, yet relatively little is known about U.S. pecan consumers because the majority of available information is garnered from supply side (production) data. This study used a web-based panel survey of 1009 U.S. food consumers to explore the demographics of pecan consumers, gauge their current tree nut nutrition knowledge, and examine the preferences surrounding their pecan purchases. Almost three-quarters (74%) of survey respondents consume pecans; demographic differences were observed between respondents who consume pecans and those who do not. Respondents’ knowledge of general and tree nut nutrition concepts varied. Respondents most frequently purchase pecans from a grocery store, buy them shelled as a raw ingredient for baking/cooking, and consume pecans four to six times per year.

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Joshua Sherman, Richard J. Heerema, Dawn VanLeeuwen, and Rolston St. Hilaire

Southwestern U.S. pecan [Carya illinoinensis (Wangenh.) K. Koch] orchard soils are typically alkaline and calcareous, making micronutrients such as manganese (Mn) poorly available for root uptake. Manganese is essential to the light reactions of photosynthesis (Pn), but the level of leaf Mn for optimum Pn in pecan is unknown. Our objective was to characterize the relationships of foliar Mn fertilizer applications and leaf Mn nutrition with Pn over a broad range of leaf Mn concentrations. Two experiments were conducted from 2011 to 2012 (Expt. 1) and in 2013 (Expt. 2) in immature, nonbearing ‘Pawnee’ and ‘Western’ pecan orchards near Las Cruces, NM. To create differential leaf tissue Mn concentrations, four Mn spray concentrations were applied foliarly: 0.00, 0.34, 0.68, and 1.3 g Mn/L (Control, Low, Medium, and High, respectively). In Expt. 2, we added a higher Mn concentration (2.7 g Mn/L). Repeated measurements of leaf Pn were made beginning 1 week following a Mn application using a portable Pn system. Across treatments in both studies, final leaf Mn concentrations ranged from 21 to 1488 µg·g−1. Leaves treated with 0.68 g Mn/L had higher Pn than the other treatments in each experiment. In 2013, Pn rates of the leaves treated with 0.68 g Mn/L increased 7.1% and 10.4% over the Control for ‘Pawnee’ and ‘Western’, respectively. Our data confirm an association between leaf tissue Mn and Pn; the leaf tissue Mn concentration at which Pn rates are optimized in immature pecan trees was estimated to be 151.64 (±17.3 se) µg·g−1 Mn.

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James L. Walworth, Scott A. White, Mary J. Comeau, and Richard J. Heerema

A field study was conducted to evaluate efficacy of soil-applied zinc (Zn) fertilizer on young pecan [Carya illinoinensis (Wangenh.) K. Koch] trees growing in alkaline, calcareous soils. Chelated Zn ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (ZnEDTA) was applied at rates of 0, 2.2, or 4.4 kg·ha−1 of Zn via injection into irrigation water (fertigation) in microsprinkler irrigated ‘Western’ and ‘Wichita’ trees. Over the 5-year duration of the study, leaf Zn levels were increased from 22 to 35 µg·g−1 in the highest rate of ZnEDTA treatment compared with 7 to 14 µg·g−1 in unfertilized trees. Zn concentrations in shoot and root tissues were also elevated in Zn-treated trees. Zn treatments largely eliminated visible Zn deficiency symptoms, and increased trunk diameter growth compared with untreated trees. Nut yield (in the third through fifth seasons) were also increased as a result of Zn fertilization. No additional benefit in terms of trunk diameter growth or nut yield was observed by adding a higher rate of Zn (4.4 kg·ha−1) vs. the lower rate (2.2 kg·ha−1). ‘Western’ and ‘Wichita’ trees responded similarly to Zn fertigation.

Open access

Marisa Y. Thompson, Jennifer J. Randall, Dawn VanLeeuwen, and Richard J. Heerema

Regarding pecan (Carya illinoinensis), alternate bearing, which is a biennial fluctuation of crop yield, is a major hindrance for the pecan industry. Little is known about the internal cues that trigger pecan shoots to become reproductive. This 2-year study approached the mysteries of alternate bearing of pecan by determining whether pecan homologs of three genes known to control floral initiation in other species are expressed differently at various times of the growing season or in distinct plant tissues, and whether expression of these genes can be manipulated by plant growth regulator (PGR) application when compared with an untreated control group. The flowering genes of interest were pecan homologs of leafy (CpLFY), apetala1 (CpAP1), and flowering locus t (CpFT). During year 1 (2014), PGRs ethephon and gibberellin GA3 were applied at the shoot level 1 week before each of three tissue sampling dates (13 June, 3 July, 29 July). During the following year (2015), two more PGRs were added to the study [a second double rate (2X) of gibberellin GA3 and ethylene inhibitor aminoethoxyvinylglycine (AVG)] for a total of four PGRs (applied on 10 June, 1 July, and 23 July) plus the untreated control. Experimental leaf and bud tissues were sampled from fruiting and nonfruiting shoots on mature ‘Western’ pecan trees and analyzed separately. Normalized expression levels of CpLFY and CpAP1 were significantly higher in buds than in leaves. Normalized expression of CpLFY in bud tissues differed statistically based on the sampling date in 2014, with the earliest date (13 June) having higher expression than the two later dates that year. In 2015, a treatment × date interaction revealed that, compared with the untreated control, CpLFY expression was significantly lower in shoots treated with both gibberellin GA3 dosages on 1 July. A few weeks later (23 July), CpLFY expression was lower in the 2X GA3 treatment group and higher in samples treated with AVG. In 2014, CpAP1 expression in buds was significant, with a treatment × date interaction in which ethephon increased CpAP1 expression, but only on one date (29 July). In 2015, bud CpAP1 expression was significantly higher in fruiting than in nonfruiting shoots; however, again, only on one date. The results reveal differential expression of these key flowering genes based on tissue type, sampling date, and fruiting status of the shoot and PGR treatment. Results suggest that more research of the effects of PGRs is necessary for understanding the flowering behavior of pecan and mitigating the intensity of alternate bearing.

Open access

Cyrus A. Smith, James L. Walworth, Mary J. Comeau, Richard J. Heerema, and Joshua D. Sherman

Many growers fertigating their orchards with zinc–ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (Zn-EDTA) are still using supplemental zinc foliar sprays because of a lack of confidence that soil-applied Zn-EDTA is supplying enough Zn to the trees. A field study was conducted in a pecan orchard located near San Simon, AZ, on 8-year-old ‘Wichita’ trees growing in an alkaline, calcareous Vekol loam soil to evaluate the effectiveness of supplemental foliar Zn sprays. All trees were fertigated with 6.0 kg⋅ha–1 Zn in the form of Zn-EDTA in 2018 and 11.0 kg⋅ha–1 Zn in 2019 and did not exhibit visible signs of Zn deficiency. Foliar treatments of 3.75 mL⋅L–1 urea–ammonium nitrate (UAN), 3.6 g⋅L–1 zinc sulfate monohydrate (ZnSO4·H2O), 3.6 g⋅L–1 ZnSO4·H2O with 3.75 mL⋅L–1 UAN, 11 mL⋅L–1 Zn-EDTA, and water alone were applied to individual fruiting shoot terminals of trees on two dates each in 2018 and 2019. Treatments were sprayed directly onto the leaves of the selected terminals. Zn-EDTA was included as a foliar treatment in 2019 only. Leaf photosynthesis was measured to determine the impact of leaf Zn concentrations on plant function. Midday stem water potential (MDSWP) was measured to verify that water stress was not limiting photosynthesis. Both measurements were taken about 2 to 4 weeks after the application of foliar treatments. MDSWP measurements indicated a lack of water stress and therefore no effect on photosynthesis. Leaf samples collected from untreated branches indicated that the average foliar Zn concentration of untreated leaves was 21.3 mg⋅kg–1 in 2018 and 15.7 mg⋅kg–1 in 2019. No differences were observed in photosynthesis rates of treated branches. No additional benefit to leaf photosynthetic function or appearance was observed from spraying Zn on foliage of trees fertigated with Zn-EDTA.

Open access

Yuqing Wang, Richard J. Heerema, James L. Walworth, Barry Dungan, Dawn VanLeeuwen, and F. Omar Holguin

Pecan (Carya illinoinensis) has high kernel antioxidant activity and unsaturated fatty acid content, which contribute to its nutraceutical properties. In the western United States, where soils are typically alkaline, pecan trees require frequent zinc (Zn) fertilizer applications to maintain normal canopy growth and nut production. Our objective was to investigate the effects of tree Zn fertilization on nutraceutical properties of ‘Wichita’ and ‘Western’ pecan kernels. Trees were fertilized with ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) chelated Zn, which was applied to the soil at one of three seasonal rates for a total of three treatments: 0 (control), 2.2, or 4.4 kg·ha−1 Zn. Nut samples were collected and homogenized for analyses of kernel oil yield, hydrophilic antioxidant capacity, fatty acid profile, and γ-tocopherol content. Although soil Zn treatments did not significantly affect antioxidant capacity of defatted pecan kernels, Zn application had significant positive effects on both total kernel oil yield and γ-tocopherol content compared with the control. In conclusion, soil application of Zn fertilizer may increase the human health-promoting aspects of pecan kernels, a valuable attribute among health-conscious consumers.

Free access

Marisa T. Potter, Richard J. Heerema, Jill Schroeder, Jamshid Ashigh, Dawn VanLeeuwen, and Cheryl Fiore

Pecan [Carya illinoinensis (Wangenh.) K. Koch] growers are advised to control orchard floor vegetation when establishing new orchards, but there is not a set recommendation for vegetation control in mature orchards. The objective of this study was to measure the effect of orchard floor vegetation on water and nitrogen (N) status of flood-irrigated mature pecan trees. Four treatments studied were: completely vegetated orchard floor, vegetation-free inner area directly under the tree canopy with vegetation in the outer area, completely vegetation-free, and vegetated inner area under the canopy with a vegetation-free outer area. Treatments were organized as a 2 × 2 factorial structure with inner and outer treatment factors, both with levels vegetated and vegetation-free. Soil moisture and tree midday stem water potential (MSWP) were measured during irrigation cycles to evaluate the development of water stress in the pecan trees. Soil moisture data showed a significant outer main effect when the soil in the entire orchard was the driest, that is, just before irrigation events. Areas with vegetation cover that were exposed to full sun were significantly drier than shaded vegetated areas and vegetation-free areas in the orchard floor. However, this was not correlated with differences in tree water status as indicated by MSWP. Leaf tissue and soil analyses showed no significant differences in N concentrations among treatments in either year. Treatments with orchard floor vegetation in the outer area had significantly higher yield efficiency and marginally significant improvements in percent kernel fill and number of nuts per kilogram. Our findings suggest that there may be more benefits to maintaining orchard floor vegetation in mature orchards than were previously acknowledged.