a1 Department of Crop Science, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya, Peradeniya 20400, Sri Lanka
a2 Postgraduate Institute of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya
a3 Tea Research Institute, Talawakelle, Sri Lanka
The objective of this study was to elucidate the physiological basis of the significant yield decline that occurs during the fourth year of the pruning cycle of tea. Biomass partitioning, which was hypothesized to be a major factor in causing this yield decline, was measured by destructive harvests of entire tea bushes, in two contrasting, mature, field-grown tea cultivars (TRI 2025 and DT1) at the end of different years of the pruning cycle. In both cultivars, yield showed continuous increases from year 1 to 3, followed by reductions of 44% and 35% in TRI2025 and DT1 respectively in the fourth year. Patterns of biomass partitioning to roots, stems or branches did not correlate with the above yield variation whereas harvest index, canopy leaf area index and mature leaf dry weight showed variations which paralleled the yield variation. The fourth-year decline in harvest index was brought about by reductions in both shoot number per m2 and mean individual shoot weight, which indicate a reduction in sink strength. Both cultivars showed reductions in light-saturated photosynthetic rate of maintenance foliage during the second half of the pruning cycle, indicating reduced source capacity. Hence, a combined reduction of both sink strength and source capacity during the fourth year could have brought about the significant yield reduction in tea. A significant increase of root starch in the fourth year indicated a down-regulation of physiological activities of the bush towards the end of the pruning cycle. Mechanisms responsible for this down-regulation need to be elucidated by further research.
(Accepted July 20 2009)