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Ken Shackel

Field experiments have been performed on grapevine as well as a number of woody tree species (almond, prune, pear, cherry) to determine the relation of plant water potential to a number of indices of plant physiological activity (leaf conductance, vegetative growth, and fruit growth and composition). Horticultural benefits of regulated deficit irrigation (RDI) have been documented in several crops (grapevine, almond, prune, cherries), but management of irrigation to achieve these benefits is difficult without a reliable plant-based measure of stress. Midday stem water potential (SWP) has proven to be a robust, reliable, and practical measure of stress and closely related to physiological responses at the leaf and whole plant level [stomatal conductance (g S), vegetative growth, and fruit growth and composition such as soluble solids and fruit color].

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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.

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David Goldhamer, Mario Viveros, and Ken Shackel

Previously well irrigated mature `Nonpareil' almond trees (Prunus dulcis) were subjected to varying periods of water deprivation prior to harvest and then to either full or no postharvest irrigation. Eight preharvest water deprivation (PWD) lengths ranging from 14 to 63 days were evaluated on a sandy loam soil with a rooting depth of about 1.5 m.

Development of tree water deficits occurred rapidly following PWD. Predawn leaf water potential decreased to about -1.8 and -3.1 MPa after 10 and 20 days, respectively. Defoliation began about 30 days after PWD and trees subjected to more than 50 days completely defoliated. The rate of hull split was directly related to the PWD duration. With early cutoffs, the size of the hull split-arrested nuts at harvest was large compared with the same nut type in later cutoffs suggesting that as nuts develop, large nuts are preferential sinks for assimilates. Kernel size was only mildly reduced by PWD during the first study year. There was a trend toward lower total kernel yield with longer PWD as a result of smaller kernel girth but yield differences were not significant. The number of nuts remaining in the tree after shaking was not related to PWD. Bark strength increased after PWD with 10 to 14 days required to prevent shaker damage. Postharvest irrigation resulted in late season defoliation but no rebloom. Bloom density reductions in 1990 were related more to the lack of 1989 postharvest irrigation than to early PWD.

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Allan Fulton, Richard Buchner, Cyndi Gilles, Bill Olson, Nick Bertagna, Jed Walton, Larry Schwankl, and Ken Shackel

Covering a plant leaf with a reflective, water impervious bag ensures that equilibrium is reached between the nontranspiring leaf and the stem, and appears to improve the accuracy of determining plant water status under field conditions. However, the inconvenience of covering the leaf for 1 to 2 hours before measuring stem water potential (SWP) has constrained on-farm adoption of this irrigation management technique. A second constraint has been that the requirement of midafternoon determinations limits the area that can be monitored by one person with a pressure chamber. This paper reports findings from field studies in almonds (Prunus dulcis),prunes (P. domestica), and walnuts (Juglans regia) demonstrating modified procedures to measure midday SWP, making it a more convenient and practical tool for irrigation management. For routine monitoring and irrigation scheduling, an equilibration period of 10 min or longer appears to be suitable to provide accurate SWP measurements. Based on the large sample sizes in this study, we estimate that measurement error related to equilibration time for SWP can be reduced to an acceptable level [0.05 MPa (0.5 bar)] with a sample size of about 10 leaves when using a 10-min equilibration period. Under orchard conditions where tree growth and health appears uniform, a sample of one leaf per tree and 10 trees per irrigation management unit should give an accurate mean indicator of orchard water status. Under more variable orchard conditions a larger sample size may be needed. Midmorning and midday SWP both exhibited similar seasonal patterns and responded alike to irrigation events. On some occasions, midday SWP was accurately predicted from midmorning SWP and the change in air vapor pressure deficit (VPD) from midmorning to midday, but both over- and underestimate errors [to 0.3 MPa (3.0 bar)] appeared to be associated with unusually low or high diurnal changes in VPD, respectively. Hence, direct measurement of SWP under midday conditions (about 1300 to 1500 hr) is still recommended.

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Richard P. Buchner*, Allan Fulton, Bruce Lampinen, Ken Shackel, Terry Prichard, Larry Schwankl, Sam Metcalf, and Cayle Little

Ninth leaf California Chandler Walnuts (Juglans regia) on Northern California Black (Juglans hindsii) or Paradox (English/black hybrid) rootstock were irrigated to achieve three levels of Midday Stem Water Potential (MSWP). Target potentials were: 1) low water stress (average MSWP of -3.2 bars); 2) mild water stress (average MSWP of -6.2 bars); and 3) moderate water stress (average MSWP of -7.3 bars). Stem Water Potential was measured midday (12-4 pm) by placing leaves inside water impervious, light blocking foil bags. Leaves remained bagged for at least ten minutes to achieve equilibrium. Bagged leaves were removed, placed inside a pressure chamber and stem water potential was measured at endpoint. Data are presented for the 2002 and 2003 seasons. Withholding irrigation water had a significant impact on `Chandler' growth, productivity, and profitability particularly on young, vigorously growing trees. Chandler/Black appears to be more tolerant to water stress compared to Chandler/Paradox For Chandler on Paradox, water stress significantly reduced growth, yield, price per pound, percent edible kernel, and resulted in darker kernels. In addition, water stress significantly increased the total percent offgrade. Withholding irrigation does not appear to be a good strategy in young, vigorously growing `Chandler' orchards. Mature trees and trees grafted onto Northern California black rootstock may be more tolerant of moisture stress.