Representation of whole-plant nutrient status with select individual leaves at multiple growth stages in maize
Routine testing of nutrient concentrations via plant tissue is an important component of in-season fertilizer management in maize (Zea mays L.) cropping systems. Accuracy of results are critical for nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), potassium (K), and sulfur (S) management, yet there is little scientific guidance on which leaf to sample during mid- to late-vegetative growth stages. Additionally, the whole-plant status of each macro-nutrient may be best represented by a different leaf position due to mobility differences among nutrients. Mobility of each nutrient and allocation within the plant may also be influenced by environmental factors, management strategies, and genotype selection. Field experiments were conducted in West Lafayette and Windfall, Indiana in 2021 and 2022. The objectives were to (1) evaluate N, P, K, and S concentrations of specific leaf positions and whole plants in response to N fertilizer rate (NR), planting density (PD), and genotype (G) treatments at multiple growth stages, and (2) determine the ability of various leaf positions to predict whole-plant concentrations of N, P, K, and S across multiple NR, PD, and G environments. The West Lafayette study compared three NR treatments applied as urea-ammonium nitrate (UAN, 28-0-0) at the V5 growth stage and included (1) Control, no N applied, (2) 151 kg N ha-1, and (3) 241 kg N ha-1. The Windfall study compared two side-dress UAN rates of (1) Control, no N applied, and (2) 224 kg N ha-1 at two planting densities (sub-plot) of 49,400 plants ha-1 and 89,000 plants ha-1 with 4 Pioneer® genotypes (sub-sub-plot) including two historical double-cross hybrids and two modern single-crosses. Tissue sampling included the top-collared leaf and whole-plant at V8, the 8th leaf, top-collared leaf, and whole-plant at V12, and the 8th leaf, 12th leaf, ear-leaf, top-collared leaf and whole-plant at R1. Tissue N concentrations were consistently responsive to NR and PD treatments at all stages, but bottom leaves better reflected NR changes. As a mobile nutrient, N concentrations were highest in the uppermost leaf positions by R1 (ear-leaf and top-leaf), yet regressions between individual leaf and whole-plant N% were highest in the lower leaf positions (8th and 12th leaf positions). This suggested that the more likely a specific leaf was to exhibit nutrient deficiency symptoms, the better it would be at predicting whole-plant concentrations of that nutrient. Regressions between individual-leaf and whole-plant N% (modern genotypes only) increased from V8 to R1 and regressions were best with the 12th leaf position at both V12 and R1. Tissue S concentration responses to NR increased at later growth stages, and top-leaf S was a stronger reflection of whole-plant S than the 8th leaf. Despite S concentration differences among leaf positions at R1, the strength of regressions between each leaf position and whole-plant S were similar. There was no optimal leaf position to represent whole-plant S. While leaf N and S concentrations were above whole-plant concentrations, leaf P and K concentrations exhibited the opposite dynamic. There was little leaf P response to experimental treatment factors, and although regressions for leaf P versus whole-plant P concentrations were far weaker than for N, S or K, the 8th leaf position was preferred at V12 and R1 (R2 of just 0.27 and 0.36, respectively). Potassium concentration response to NR was weak. However, leaf K% and whole-plant K% were highly related via regression, irrespective of NR, at all three stages. Prediction of whole-plant K was strongest with the 8th leaf at V12 and the 12th leaf at R1. In summary, optimum leaf sampling position was shown to vary with individual macronutrients and growth stages in maize. Although more research is essential, these preliminary results indicate that traditional sampling methods involving selection of the top fully-expanded leaf from V8 to silking, and the ear-leaf during post-silking stages, may not be the most reliable indicators of whole-plant nutrient status.
- Master of Science
- West Lafayette