Feeding Frenzy

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Feeding Frenzy

Foliar feeding is not intended to completely replace soil-applied fertilization of the macronutrients (nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous). However, macronutrients can be foliarly applied in sufficient quantities to influence both fruit yield and quality. Some crops, such as citrus, can have a large part of the nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous requirements met through foliar applications.

Foliar applications of other plant nutrients (calcium, magnesium, and sulfur) and micronutrients (zinc, manganese, copper, boron, and molybdenum) have proven for many crops to be an excellent means for supplying the plants’ requirements.

Feeding Supplement

Foliar feeding should be used as an integral part of the annual nutritional program. It can be used in other situations to help plants through short, but critical periods of nutrient demand, such as fruit set and bud differentiation. Foliar nutrition may also prove to be useful at times of soil- or environmentally induced nutritional shortages. Foliar application of nutrients is of significant importance when the root system is unable to keep up with crop demand or when the soil has a history of problems that inhibit normal growth.

Foliar feeding is proven to be useful under prolonged spells of wet soil conditions, dry soil conditions, calcareous soil, cold weather, or any other condition that decreases the tree’s ability to take up nutrients when there is a demand. Foliar feeding may be utilized effectively when a nutritional deficiency is diagnosed. A foliar application is the quickest method of getting the most nutrients into plants. However, if the deficiency can be seen, the crop might have already lost some potential yield.

Foliar fertilization is also efficient since it increases the accuracy of fertilizer application. Applications made to the soil can be subject to leaching and volatilization losses and/or being tied up by soil particles in unavailable forms to citrus trees.

Be Careful Of Burns

While foliar feeding has many advantages, it can burn plants at certain rates under certain environmental conditions. It is important, therefore, to foliar feed within the established guidelines. There are a number of conditions that can increase the chances of causing foliar burn. A plant under stress is more susceptible to damage. Stressful conditions include drying winds, disease infestations, and poor soil conditions. The environmental conditions at the time of application are also important factors. Applications when the weather is warm (above 80ºF) should be avoided. This means that during warm seasons, applications should be made in the morning or evening. Additionally, applications should not be at less than two-week intervals to give the plant sufficient time to metabolize the nutrients and deal with the added osmotic stress.

Another important factor when applying a nutrient foliarly is to ensure that the pH of the material is in the proper range. The pH range of the spray solution should be between 6 and 7. Attention should be paid to the pH of the final spray solution. This is significant in areas where water quality is poor.

Dr. Mongi Zekri is a UF/IFAS multi-county citrus Extension agent based in LaBelle.

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