Nitrogen and Potassium Leaf Content: Is There Such Thing as Too Much?

I have received a few questions regarding results of mid-July leaf tissue analysis. In many cases, when reviewing the leaf samples, I have noticed that levels of nitrogen and potassium are often much higher than the recommended mid-July levels. Having leaf nutrient contents well above adequate levels does not necessarily increase yield, but can increase fertilizer costs and hull rot incidence.

Rationale for “pumping” up the trees above the adequate value is to address the “silent hunger” that may be taking place within the field. In other words, by overfeeding some trees, we are assuring that we are maintaining trees that may be borderline above the level of sufficiency. Performing this action may increase yields as some trees that are deficient will perform better; however, too much fertilizer will lead to waste.

Assuming that the leaf samples were collected properly, the UC-established mid-July leaf values should be used for comparison.With nitrogen, leaves with 2.2-2.5% leaf nitrogen content indicate that the sampled trees are receiving enough nitrogen. Being a few tenths of a percent over this value (3.0%) is a good indication of over-fertilization, increasing the risk for hull rot.

Regarding potassium, the sample is considered sufficient if it is above 1.4%. Most growers attempt to maintain their potassium leaf levels around 1.8-1.9% within their samples, buffering for the tree use and compensating for the spatial variability of potassium within the tree. I have seen several leaf analysis with potassium levels greater than 2% and have heard from growers that trees need to be above 2% to maintain production. This is not true. Research by Roger Duncan (Farm Advisor, Stanislaus County) found that orchards with potassium leaf levels greater than 2% did not have greater yields than orchards with leaf levels above 1.4%.

If leaf samples are well above the sufficient levels, plan to reduce, not eliminate, the amount of the specific nutrient applied in the post harvest period. For example, if the nitrogen leaf value is around 3.0%, plan to reduce the post harvest application of nitrogen by 25-30%. Leaf sampling in the spring can be used to determine if tissue levels of nitrogen are still adequate.

It is important to note that young trees (nonbearing) leaf tissue values will be above these ranges since there is not a crop acting as a nutrient sink.

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2 thoughts on “Nitrogen and Potassium Leaf Content: Is There Such Thing as Too Much?

  1. I have read your findings for almonds and am wondering if they could apply to Pistachios. I am concerned about the amounts of NP and K to apply to my small 5 ac. orchard. Any help is appreciated.


    1. Gene,
      The concepts are similar, but the values may change. Here is the link to the nutrition chapter from our developing pistachio production manual: http://fruitsandnuts.ucdavis.edu/files/73696.pdf

      Also, our presentations from our recent production course are available online. Here is the link: http://fruitsandnuts.ucdavis.edu/pistachiopages/PistachioSH_nov2014videolinks/

      Review those materials, and please let me know if there are any other questions.

      David


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