Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Use of Plant Analysis for Evaluating the Nutrient Status of Perennial Fruit Crops (Part 1)

Plant analysis has proved to be a very effective means of predicting fertilizer needs for perennial fruit crops. It has been used as a diagnostic tool for many years. To determine nutrient deficiencies, most growers rely primarily on visual symptoms, plant tissue analysis and soil analysis. Plant analysis and soil testing go hand in hand. A soil test provides an index of the nutrient that is potentially available for the crop. Plant analysis tells how much of that potentially available nutrient is actually taken up by the plant.

For perennial fruit crops (blueberries, strawberries, apples, grapes, peach, nectarine, etc.,), plant analysis is the best way by which to monitor the plant’s nutrient needs. Plant analysis can be used to fine tune the efficiency of a fertilizer program before nutrient deficiency symptoms occur and is very useful in improving the fruit quality and yield. Fertilization practices can be monitored by sampling leaves or petioles during mid season and making adjustments for the following year.

Foliar samples for perennial fruit crops are typically taken once the plants start bearing regular crops. Plant tissue sample is taken from plants when the nutrient levels in the leaves are relatively stable.  The analysis and interpretations are of little value without the use of standard and consistent sampling procedures. In general, plant samples for perennial fruit crops are taken at mid-season. Usually the leaf plus petioles or just the petiole alone is sampled for plant nutrient analysis. If the level of the nutrients falls outside the optimum range, the corrective measures should be taken. Optimum nutrient ranges are based on samples collected at a particular growth stage.  Since the results of the plant analysis will be compared to known standards, it is important that parts of plants are sampled at a certain stage of development.

The leaf nutrient concentrations vary throughout the growing season. The general nutrient status of grape vines and orchards should be evaluated annually. This will help in evaluating the response for applied fertilizer.   (By Manjula Nathan, MU Extension Associate Professor)

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