Effects of regulated deficit irrigation on physiology, yield and fruit quality in apricot trees under Mediterranean conditions
Scarce water resources mainly in arid and semi-arid areas have caused an increasing interest for applying irrigation protocols aiming to reduce water spends. The effects of regulated deficit irrigation (RDI) on the performance of apricot trees (Prunus armeniaca L. cv. “Búlida”) were assessed in Murcia (SE Spain), during three consecutive growing seasons (2008-2010). The hypothesis was that RDI would not restrict yield but increase fruit quality while saving water. Two irrigation treatments were established: i) control, irrigated to fully satisfy crop water requirements (100% ETc) and ii) RDI, that reduced the amount of applied water to: a) 40% of ETc at flowering and stage I of fruit growth; b) 60% of ETc during the stage II of fruit growth and c) 50% and 25% of ETc during the late postharvest period (from 60 days after harvest). Stem water potential, gas exchanges, trunk cross-sectional area (TCSA), fruit diameter, yield and fruit quality traits were determined. Vegetative growth was decreased by the use of RDI (12% less TCSA on average for the three years), whereas yield was unaffected. In addition, some qualitative characteristics of the fruits, such as the level of soluble solids, sweetness/acidity relation and fruit colour, were improved by the use of RDI. These results and average water savings of approximately 30%, lead us to conclude that RDI strategies are a possible solution for irrigation management in areas with water shortages, such as arid and semi-arid environments.
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