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Ecophysiological responses of citrus trees and sugar accumulation of fruit in response to altered plant water relations

Prinsloo, Johan Andries (2007-03)

Thesis (MSc (Horticulture))--University of Stellenbosch, 2007.


This study was undertaken to quantify some of the effects of daily fertigation on ecophysiological responses in citrus trees (Citrus spp.). Initial research was conducted to optimise and standardise the sampling procedure to quantify stem water potential (ψstem) in citrus trees. To reliably determine the plant water status of citrus trees, the following conditions are required to minimise unwanted variation in ψstem measurements. Bagging of leaves with black polyethylene envelopes covered with aluminium foil 3 to 4 hours prior to measuring ψstem allows the plant water status in those leaves to equilibrate with whole-tree plant water status, thereby providing a realistic measurement of the current water status. The use of aluminium foil to cover the bagged leaves, reduces unwanted heat stress by reflecting sunlight, and dramatically reduced variation in ψstem. The time of day at which ψstem measurements are made is important to ensure consistency in comparisons among treatments and interpretation of irrigation treatment effects. “Physiological midday” is the preferred time of day to measure ψstem, i.e. 1100 HR. Transpiring leaves with open stomata would be in sun-exposed positions on the east side of trees and should be used for making ψstem measurements. Under similar experimental conditions as those used here, only three leaves per replicate are required to detect a difference of 0.05 MPa in ψstem between treatment means. Plant water status categories were developed which may have useful practical applications, i.e. >-1.0 MPa = no water deficit; -1.0 to -1.2 MPa = low water deficit; -1.2 to -1.4 MPa = moderate water deficit; <-1.4 to -1.6 MPa = high water deficit; and <-1.6 MPa = severe water deficit. Attempts are being made to develop systems that improve crop management and enhance citrus fruit production through efficient and timeous application of water and mineral nutrients which has led to the use of daily drip fertigation or the open hydroponics system (OHS). However, the perceived benefits are not necessarily supported by facts. Fruit size and yield are apparently enhanced, but possible negative aspects of the system have not been quantified. Fruit produced on trees grown under daily drip fertigation generally have a lower total soluble solids concentration than on trees under micro-sprinkler irrigation. This is mainly due to a dilution effect that is caused by the greater availability of water and the uptake thereof. Sugar accumulation can be optimised by controlling the amount of water that the plant receives at different developmental stages. Therefore, it is essential to quantify the ecophysiological responses and benefits of OHS/daily fertigation, as well as the effects of this technology on fruit quality. ‘Nules Clementine’ mandarin (C. reticulata Blanco) trees in two commercial orchards in Simondium, Western Cape province, South Africa, received differential irrigation treatments. The treatments were applied at the end of stage I (± mid December) of fruit development. Stem water potential, fruit size and internal fruit quality were determined. Water-deficit stress enhanced sugar accumulation of ‘Nules Clementine’ mandarin by 0.3 to 0.6 °Brix under certain conditions. These conditions require that the difference in ψstem should be of a sufficient intensity of between 0.16 and 0.3 MPa, and this difference should be maintained for a sufficient duration of between 4 and 6 weeks. Furthermore, deficit irrigation should be applied relatively early in fruit development, namely during the sugar accumulation stage which starts within 4 weeks of the end of the fruit drop period and continues until harvest.

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