Posts Tagged: flowering
So, there are peach trees right now that are flower-less and leaf-less. Wisteria which should have flowered in February is bare. The Royal apricot next door has no flower. The Lombardy poplars and birch in Oxnard don't have leaves. Spring is here, grass is growing, but many deciduous trees are still leafless and haven't flowered? What is going on?
Deciduous fruit trees and many landscape trees like poplar, birch, willow and sycamore, etc. must go through a dormant period each winter in preparation for producing fruit and leaves the following spring and summer. This rest period, also known as a chilling period, is directly related to winter temperatures. For many varieties of trees, the most efficient temperature for chilling is 45°F, with little additional chilling effect at temperatures below 32°F. Brief warm spells in winter have a negative effect — temperatures above 70°F for four or more hours offset any chilling that happened in the previous 24-36 hours.
Once chilling is complete, the trees prepare to wake up from dormancy and bud after a certain amount of warming takes place. The amount of required warming is cumulative, measured by counting the number of degrees each day above a threshold temperature, usually 40°F. This cumulative warming, combined with how well the tree met its chilling requirement over the winter, determines whether a tree buds early or late in the spring.
Tables and charts have been developed for different chilling requirements of fruit trees. The number of hours needed at or below 45°F varies with the type of tree:
- Peach: 400 to 1050 hours
- Apple: 800 to 1100 hours
- Cherry: 1000+ hours
But in coastal Southern California, those hours are never achieved. You need to go to Santa Ynez to get close to those hours. More typically in the Santa Paula, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo area, the chilling hours below 45 are close to 200 and lower in many years. Some years there is more, some years less. How temperatures above 70 affect chilling aren't always clear. As a result there are several different ways to account for chilling and none of them work very well for the coast./
Fortunately, we have low-chill varieties of many fruit trees that will produce with lower chilling. So ‘Anna' apple and ‘Royal' apricot do well, and many landscape trees are adapted to the lower winter chilling along the coast and do well. Low chill blueberries thrive to the point that in many years, they don't even go dormant.
This year the warm, cold, warm, cold pattern has mixed trees up. There are some deciduous trees that are doing fine, while others still have not flowered and leafed out. The mix of temperatures is not following the traditional patterns used to calculate chilling requirement. The trees are following their own pattern.
In the last several years in Southern California, winters have seemed shorter and milder, resulting in earlier springs. Trees that have flourished in a location could have decreasing yields in the future, and the favorable locations to grow these fruit trees could shift.
The Fruit and Nut Center at UC Davis has a link to the CIMIS system operated by the CA Dept of Water Resources. The site has various methods of calculating chilling hours, none of them seem adequate though for describing what is happening in the landscape today in Southern California
Look at it to see if you can see a new way of understanding deciduous tree response to the weather.
Just got a call recently that 'Valencia' oranges are splitting. This normally happens to ripe 'Navels' that are over mature and get erratic winter irrigation, especially during drought. In this case, the 'Valencias' are advanced in maturity because of the warm winter, probably advanced by two months. Again erratic watering has probably lead to this splitting.
What a crazy winter.
Splitting coastal 'Valencia' oranges in April, 2018
photo: Peaches without adequate chilling.
Supplemental chill, also known as cold conditioning, takes place after harvest of the transplants, which have gone dormant because of their exposure to the decreasing daylength and lower temperatures of the nursery fields of Northern California where they are grown. Postharvest supplemental chill occurs in a constant near freezing temperature, in the dark and when the transplant has no to very few leaves left on it.
What supplemental chill is actually doing is breaking (reversing) plant dormancy, which sets into motion a series of metabolic events in the plant resulting in a promotion of vegetative growth and inhibition of new inflorescence formation. Petioles grow longer, leaf blades get bigger and more runners are formed as dormancy is broken through supplemental chill. All of this is consistent with the industry understanding that a longer period of supplemental chill results in more plant vigor, again meaning more vegetative growth and less fruiting. The challenge for the berry grower is to strike a balance between the vigor of vegetative growth and the fruiting which is greatly desired.
Growers already know this, but berry cultivars vary greatly in their sensitivity to the dormancy breaking supplemental chill. Generally speaking, short day strawberry varieties need very little – something on the order of one to three days - to break dormancy and in fact most become tremendously vegetative when chilled in excess over the recommended few days. In contrast, day neutral varieties need substantially more days of chill, most often in the range of one to two weeks, to develop the normal balance of vigor and fruiting following planting. Since longer periods of chill are associated with greater vegetative vigor, organic growers tend to chill their plants longer before planting, in the range of 30% longer, so as to enable the plant to handle less hospitable soil environments.
This is a sad time to be an avocado. Winter's gone and temperatures are just ripe for flowering and the trees are going bust. So much so, that those sad leaves that have accumulated salts over the last year are being dropped and only flowers might be seen, especially on young trees. This is time for a little shot of nitrogen to encourage some new vegetative growth. Not a bunch, but a nudge. Several pounds per acre, something less than 10-15 pounds of N for a mature orchard and even less for a new orchard.
A commonly held belief is that if you apply nitrogen at the wrong time, it will push resources into vegetative growth at the expense of flower and fruit. This is somewhat true for annual plants that get most of their nutrients from outside sources (soil, air, fertilizer, water), but trees have a huge buffer in their storage organs (roots, stems, leaves, etc.). Most growth in trees occurs from this storage source and most importantly from photosynthesis and the sun. The more sun captured the more energy for flowering and fruit production.
So it is this competition for photosynthates that becomes the most limiting factor. When there is not enough to go around, the tree sheds fruit. If you see fruit dropping off a tree after applying a slug of fertilizer, it's a salt effect. Too much salt and it causes a water competition and the tree is stressed. It's not the nitrogen, but too much salt. With fertigation this is not so likely to happen as when dry fertilizers were applied and someone got too aggressive with the application
In fact a dose of nitrogen fertilizer is a good idea at this time when there are lots of flowers. This can encourage a flush of leaves that will protect the fruit that does set from sunburn and damage that would cause fruit to drop. A bit of nitrogen to encourage leaf replacement is a good approach to dealing with persea mite damage that occurred the previous season.
For further reading about the competition between vegetative and reproductive growth as affected by nitrogen (or little affected in fruit trees by nitrogen), D.O. Huett wrote a wonderful review of past research on this topic:
Also, if the trees have really defoliated, it might be time to do some whitewashing, south and west sides of branches, to prevent sunburn.
Avocado defoliated and ones in a balanced bloom