Unwanted sodium, chloride, and boron ions can accumulate and cause damage to the almond tree. These ions are introduced into the rooting zone through irrigation, and will remain within the rooting zone until they are either removed by the plant or leached beyond the rooting profile.
Where soil salinity is a problem, periodic soil sampling should be performed. This analysis will provide the information to determine if the salts are accumulating to a toxic level and if the applied leaching fractions are adequate. Samples should be taken from areas of the orchard showing uniformity in reduced growth or toxicity symptoms. At each sampling location, soil should be taken for each foot for the top five feet. Do not pool the soil to create a composite sample; rather, take enough samples to represent the growth differences within the orchard. The sample should also take into account the emitter patterns as differing locations may have differing salinity levels. The samples should be submitted to an analytical lab and tested for the salts of concern.
Once the results from the analysis are received, the concentration of salts at the various depths can determine the effectiveness of the applied leaching fractions. If the soil salinitity levels are the lowest near the soil surface and increase with depth, leaching is occurring. This gradient is due to the relatively low salinity of the irrigation water, the movement of salts with the water as the water infiltrates the soil during an irrigation. In contrast, if the salt levels are the highest near the surface, and decrease with depth, no leaching is occurring. The leaching fraction must be adjusted to help move soils below the active rooting zone.
Keep in mind that larger leaching fractions will result in more uniform salinity as depth increases. Inadequate leaching fractions will result in increases in soil salinity as depth increases. Water containing high amounts of salts will require a larger leaching fraction than irrigation water with low salt concentrations.