The relative sensitivity of plant- and soil-based measures of water availability were compared for prune trees subjected to a range of irrigation regimes under field conditions. Over the growing season, leaf- and stem-water potentials (ψ) measured at midday exhibited clear differences between frequently irrigated trees and unirrigated trees that were growing on stored soil moisture. Stem ψ was less variable than leaf ψ, and the daily variability in stem ψ was closely related to daily variability in evaporative demands, as measured by vapor pressure deficit (VPD). As a result of lower variability, stem ψ reflected the small stress effect of a moderate, 50% soil moisture depletion irrigation interval, whereas leaf ψ did not. The relation between soil water content and estimated orchard evapotranspiration (ET) was influenced by local differences in soil texture within the experimental plot. The relation between stem ψ and ET, however, was not influenced by soil texture and, in addition, was very similar to the relation between stem ψ and leaf stomatal conductance. Both relationships indicated that a 50% reduction in leaf and canopy level water loss characteristics was associated with relatively small reductions (0.5 to 0.6 MPa) in stem ψ. Stem ψ appears to be a sensitive and reliable plant-based measure of water stress in prune and maybe a useful tool for experimental work and irrigation scheduling.
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