Tropical fruit trees in southern Florida are grown in porous, oolitic limestone soil that has very low organic matter content and water-holding capacity. Thus, trees require frequent irrigation during dry periods. In these soils, a quantitative basis for monitoring soil water content to determine when and how much to irrigate has been lacking. Multi-sensor capacitance probes (EnviroSCAN™, Sentek, Australia) were installed in commercial carambola, lime, and avocado orchards to continuously monitor changes in soil water content at depths of 10, 20, 30, and 50 cm. Eight probes were installed per orchard. Volumetric soil water content was recorded at 15-min intervals with a solar-powered datalogger. Results were downloaded to a laptop computer twice a week. Monitoring the rate of soil water depletion (evapotranspiration) allowed irrigation before the onset of water stress. The time at which soil reached field capacity could be determined after each irrigation (or rain) event. Soil water tension was recorded periodically using low-tension (0–40 cbars) tensiometers placed adjacent to selected capacitance probes at 10- and 30-cm depths. Soil water tension was better correlated with volumetric soil water content at a 10-cm depth than at 30-cm depth. Using multi-sensor capacitance probes is a highly accurate, although relatively expensive, method of monitoring soil water content for scheduling irrigation in tropical fruit orchards. Whereas tensiometers require periodic maintenance, the multi-sensor capacitance probe system has been virtually maintenance free. The correlation between soil water content and soil water tension obtained in situ indicates that tensiometers are a less precise, but considerably cheaper, alternative for scheduling irrigation in tropical fruit orchards in southern Florida.
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