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Foliar phosphorus application enhances nutrient balance and growth of phosphorus deficient sugarcane
Although it is well known that nutrient imbalance in shoot tissues may impair plant performance, the interactive effect between foliar phosphorus (P) application and varying P availability in the rooting medium on the nutritional status of sugarcane has not been well studied. To fill this research gap, four sugarcane varieties (IAC91-1099, IACSP94-2101, IACSP94-2094 and IACSP95-5000) were evaluated using a combination of two concentrations of P in nutrient solution (P-deficient, PD = 0.02 mmol L^(−1) and P-sufficient, PS = 0.5 mmol L^(−1)) and foliar P application (none and 0.16 mol L^(−1)). The spray was applied until drip point three times during the experiment with 15 days intervals, after which the plants were harvested to quantify growth and shoot concentration of nitrogen (N), P, magnesium (Mg), sulphur (S) and manganese (Mn). The responses of sugarcane plants to foliar P spray at different levels of P supply in the rooting medium was not genotype-dependent. It was demonstrated for the averaged values across varieties, that foliar P application enhanced sugarcane performance under low P, as revealed by improvements of leaf area and dry matter production of shoot and root of PD plants. Under P limitation we also observed diminished shoot concentration of N, P, Mg, S and increased concentration of Mn. However, foliar P spray increased the concentrations of N, P, S and reduced shoot Mn. Furthermore, shoot P:N, P:Mg, P:S, P:Mn and Mg:Mn concentration ratios exhibited a positive relationship with shoot dry matter production. In conclusion, low P supply in the rooting medium impairs nutrient balance in shoot tissues of sugarcane at early growth; however, this effect was ameliorated by foliar P application which merits further study under field conditions.