Irrigation Levels Affect Plant Growth and Fruit Yield of Drip-Irrigated Bell Pepper

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  • 1 Univ. of Georgia, Horticulture, Tifton, GA 31793-0748
  • | 2 Univ. of Georgia, Horticulture
  • | 3 Univ. of Georgia, Plant Pathology
  • | 4 Univ. of Georgia, Horticulture
  • | 5 Univ. of Georgia, Horticulture

Bell pepper (Capsicum annum L.) plants have a high demand for water and nutrients and are sensitive to water stress during the establishment period and fruit setting. High levels of irrigation are often applied in order to maximize yields. However, field observations suggest that excessive irrigations may negatively affect bell pepper plants. The objective was to evaluate the effects of irrigation rate on plant growth and fruit yield. The trial was conducted in Spring 2003 at the Coastal Plain Experiment Station, Tifton, Ga. Drip-irrigated bell pepper (`Stiletto') plants were grown on black plastic mulch in 1-m wide beds (1.8-m centers). Plants were irrigated with an amount of water that ranged from 33% to 167% the rate of evapotranspiration (ET), adjusted by crop stage of development. Soil moisture content (% by volume) over the season was continuously monitored with time domain reflectometry sensors connected to a datalogger. The results showed that the average soil moisture content for the season increased with increasing rates of irrigation. Vegetative top fresh wt. and marketable fruit yield were reduced at both, low (33% ET) and high (166% ET) rates of water application. However, irrigation rate had a stronger effect on fruit yield than on top fresh wt. Plants supplied with high irrigation rates appeared to be more chlorotic compared to plants irrigated at medium rates (100% ET). There was a tendency for higher incidences of soil borne diseases (Pythium sp., Phytophtora capsici) in plants receiving higher rates of irrigation. The conclusion is high irrigation rates (>166% ET) are not recommended since they waste water and may result in both, higher incidences of soil-borne diseases and reduced bell pepper yields.

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