During this three year study, irrigation water was withheld from trees in a commercial drip irrigated french prune orchard (Butte County, CA), during different periods within the double sigmoid fruit growth pattern (stage I - III), and postharvest. Tree water stress associated with early season water deprivation was minimal, due to the presence of stored soil moisture and low evaporative demands. For mid and late season water deprivation there was no fruit growth stage that was particularly sensitive to water stress, although severe and prolonged stress caused smaller fruit with lower quality. For the three year average, irrigation treatments caused no statistically significant effects on fruit set or drop relative to the control, however most of the stress treatments increased return bloom relative to the control, resulting in higher fruit loads and higher yields. These results suggest that moderate water stress may enhance economic prune productivity.
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