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Ken Shackel and David Paige

In a number of tree crops, we have found that the water potential of lower canopy, nontranspiring leaves, measured with the pressure chamber at midday (midday stem water potential), is an excellent index of plant water stress and can be used for irrigation scheduling. Because stem water potential is typically much higher than transpiring leaf water potential, a lower pressure is required for the measurement, allowing us to design and build a lightweight device that could be easily operated by hand. The prototype was designed for pressures up to 2 MPa, which is sufficient for most irrigation conditions. A number of design features were incorporated into the sealing gland to eliminate the need for retightening during the pressurization process, reduce the amount of tissue external to the pressure chamber, and allow a greater visibility of the petiole. Identical values to those obtained with the standard, compressed nitrogen pressure chamber were obtained over the entire 2-MPa range, and the time required using either device under field conditions was the same (about 1 min per measurement). A number of alternative protocols were tested, and we found that even substantial recutting of the petiole had no influence on the measured water potential, contrary to popular belief. We also found that the same sample could be remeasured multiple times (five), with no net change in the water potential, allowing the measurement to be checked if necessary. This device should be of great utility in field irrigation management.