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Missouri Environment & Garden


Manjula Nathan
University of Missouri
Plant Science & Technology
(573) 882-3250

Use of Plant Analysis for Evaluating the Nutrient Status of Perennial Fruit Crops

Manjula Nathan
University of Missouri
(573) 882-3250

Published: August 1, 2010

Plant analysis has proved to be a very effective means of predicting fertilizer needs for perennial fruit crops. It has been used as a diagnostic tool for many years. To determine nutrient deficiencies, most growers rely primarily on visual symptoms, plant tissue analysis and soil analysis. Plant analysis and soil testing go hand in hand. A soil test provides an index of the nutrient that is potentially available for the crop. Plant analysis tells how much of that potentially available nutrient is actually taken up by the plant.

For perennial fruit crops (blueberries, strawberries, apples, grapes, peach, nectarine, etc.,), plant analysis is the best way by which to monitor the plant’s nutrient needs. Plant analysis can be used to fine tune the efficiency of a fertilizer program before nutrient deficiency symptoms occur and is very useful in improving the fruit quality and yield. Fertilization practices can be monitored by sampling leaves or petioles during mid season and making adjustments for the following year.

Foliar samples for perennial fruit crops are typically taken once the plants start bearing regular crops. Plant tissue sample is taken from plants when the nutrient levels in the leaves are relatively stable. The analysis and interpretations are of little value without the use of standard and consistent sampling procedures. In general, plant samples for perennial fruit crops are taken at mid-season. Usually the leaf plus petioles or just the petiole alone is sampled for plant nutrient analysis. If the level of the nutrients falls outside the optimum range, the corrective measures should be taken. Optimum nutrient ranges are based on samples collected at a particular growth stage. Since the results of the plant analysis will be compared to known standards, it is important that parts of plants are sampled at a certain stage of development.

The leaf nutrient concentrations vary throughout the growing season. The general nutrient status of grape vines and orchards should be evaluated annually. This will help in evaluating the response for applied fertilizer. For plant nutrient analysis for orchards, the leaf sample should be collected between July 15th and August 15th. Table 1 lists the proper time and plant parts to sample for perennial fruit crops.

Submitting Plant Samples for Analysis

Do not include plants affected by insects, disease or pesticide damage. Where a deficiency is suspected, take samples from normal plants in an adjacent area as well as from the affected area. It is important to take a soil sample from each area. Comparing soil and plant analysis results can greatly assist in the interpretations. Collected plant tissue is very perishable and requires special handling to avoid decomposition. Therefore, fresh plant tissue should be placed in clean paper bags left open; partially air dried if possible or kept in a cool environment during shipment to the laboratory. Wash dusty plants before air-drying. Fresh plant samples should not be placed in closed plastic bags unless the tissue is either air-dried or bag and contents are kept cool. Air-drying of fresh plant tissue can be done by placing the plant tissue in an open, dry environment for 12 to 24 hours. Air dried samples can be placed in a clean brown bag or envelope and mailed to the lab. Request a complete analysis of each plant sample including nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), copper, iron, zinc, manganese and boron. The University of Missouri soil and plant testing lab offers this service for $25 per sample. Information on submitting samples to the lab and sample information forms can be obtained from the lab’s website at: http://soilplantlab.missouri.edu/soil/.

Table 1. How and When to Sample Perennial Fruit Crops?
Crop Stage of Growth Plant Part/Location on Plant Number of Samples of Plant Part
Apples July 15 – Aug. 20 Fully-expanded leaf from middle of current terminal shoot 40 leaves and petioles
Blueberries First week of harvest Young mature leaf from current season’s growth 40 leaves detach petioles
Brambles Aug 1 –Aug 21 Select the most recent fully expanded leaf blade of each primocane 40 leaves detach petioles
Fruit Trees (Peach,
nectarine, plums, etc.)
July 15- Sept 1 Select shots at eye level from around the outside of the tree. Select shoots that make a vertical angle of 45-60 degrees to the ground. Remove 1 or 2 leaves from the mid portion of current season’s growth. 30 leaves and petioles
Grapes At full bloom Petiole from leaf opposite to basal fruit cluster 40 petioles
Raspberries First week in Aug. Leaf 18 inches from tip 30 leaves
Strawberries Mid Aug. Mature leaves from new growth at flowering 20 leaves

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REVISED: July 26, 2012