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Increases in leaf nitrogen concentration and leaf area did not enhance spur survival and return bloom in almonds (Prunus dulcis [Mill.] DA Webb)

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Mature almond trees bear fruit mainly on short shoots called spurs, with only a small percentage of fruit produced laterally on long 1-year-old shoots. As a result, maintenance of large numbers of healthy spurs per tree is critical for fruit production. However, spurs that bear fruit have lower leaf area, leaf nitrogen content, and CO2 assimilation rate than non-fruiting spurs. This has been correlated with reduced percentages of spur survival and return bloom the following season. Thus, we hypothesized that spur leaf area, and ultimately spur health could be enhanced through application of foliar sprays and soil nitrogen treatments that would enhance leaf nitrogen content and spur leaf area. To test our hypothesis, we selected almond trees exhibiting significant yield differences as a consequence of differential soil rates of nitrogen fertilization (N rate) for three prior years (140, 224, and 392 kg/ha). In each tree, three spur types [non-fruiting spurs (F0); spurs with one fruit (F1); spurs with two fruit (F2)] were selected on the east side of the canopy and tracked for one complete season (2011–2012). Four foliar treatments (nutrient replacement, nutrient replacement with biostimulant, nitrogen, and non-spray) were directly applied to individual spurs in each N rate in the spring of 2011 and characteristic such as leaf nitrogen, and fruit quality were recorded throughout the season. In winter of 2012, spur survival and return bloom were addressed through individual visual inspection of the tagged spurs. In this experiment, soil and foliar N treatments effectively increased spur leaf area, fruit, and leaf nitrogen concentration. In the high N treatment, the leaf nitrogen values exceeded the critical nitrogen concentration established for almond trees and the critical leaf area for spur survival and blooming thresholds established by past research in this area. However, none of these positive changes in leaf N or leaf area improved spur survival and/or return boom of any spur type. Indeed, survival and hull + shell weight tended to be lower in the population of fruiting spurs with the highest leaf area and leaf nitrogen concentration and the return bloom probabilities were always lower in fruiting spurs than in non-fruiting spurs, independent of the nitrogen rate. These results and the relationship between nitrogen rate and spur survival are discussed.

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