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  • Author or Editor: Gabriel T. LaHue x
  • HortScience x
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Irrigation water productivity is a priority for sustainable orchard management as water resources become more limiting. This study evaluated reduced irrigation (RI) as a management strategy for cider apple (Malus domestica Borkh.) production in 2019 and 2020 in northwestern Washington, which has a Mediterranean climate and averages 14.1 cm of precipitation from June to September. RI was evaluated on three cider apple cultivars, Dabinett, Porter’s Perfection, and Golden Russet, in their third and fourth leaf. Stem water potential (stem ψ) was measured weekly throughout the growing season to monitor water stress and implement the RI treatment: irrigation would be applied when stem ψ values dropped below −1.5 MPa, a threshold indicative of moderate water stress in apples. Soil water potential was monitored throughout the season, vegetative growth was assessed by measuring shoot length and non-destructive imaging of the plant canopy using lateral photography, and yield, fruit quality, and juice quality were measured at harvest. Moderate water stress as indicated by stem ψ did not occur either year, thus irrigation was never applied to the RI treatment plots. There was a negative relationship between average stem ψ and both yield and air temperature (P < 0.0001 for each); as yield increased by 5.9 kg per tree or temperature increased by 3.3 °C, stem ψ decreased by 0.1 MPa. The juice quality attributes of the three cultivars in this study were similar to their historic measures at this site and there were no differences due to irrigation treatment, likely because trees did not reach the threshold to induce physiological stress. Both years, trees in the RI treatment did not differ from the control treatment in vegetative growth, fruit yield, juice yield, or any juice quality attribute, but weight per fruit decreased by 7 g, and fruit firmness (measured only in 2020) increased by 2 N. Results from this study indicate that fruit yield and quality in an establishing orchard can be maintained when irrigation is reduced relative to crop water requirements that are estimated from a calculated water balance or relative to conventional grower practices for this region. This finding highlights the benefits of using plant water status to schedule irrigation.

Open Access