Irrigation Frequency Critical to Fight Tree Stress

Daniel CooperIrrigation


During the month of April, Florida rainfall has been scarce. Groves are drying out after some areas enjoyed more rain than normal during the El Niño winter. The dry weather has growers busy running irrigation.

Keeping HLB-infected trees well-watered is especially important to reduce plant stress. That was the message Tripti Vashisth, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences associate professor of horticultural sciences, presented at the recent Florida Citrus Growers’ Institute in Avon Park.

She presented research testing the benefit of more frequent, shorter duration irrigation applications. The hypothesis was that this method would help because HLB-infected trees have diminished roots systems that would miss larger doses of water applied in more traditional applications.

Vashisth tested different irrigation frequency, but noted the overall amount of water applied was the same. “We are not applying more water, we are just applying it more often in smaller amounts,” she said.

The trial compared a grower standard of irrigating every other day at 12 gallons/hour/acre for 2 hours versus three times daily for 20 minutes each run. Vashisth said the trees watered three times per day had more synchronized flowering, more fruit set and higher returns. An additional benefit to this approach is that it helps replenish the roots. While root mass was not measured in the trial, when canopy volume increases, it is expected that the roots are increasing as well.

Vashisth acknowledged that many growers might not have the time or technology to apply three daily applications. But she encouraged those that are able to at least attempt to apply water once daily. She said that is especially important during the drier months of the year from February through May. This is when flowering and fruit set is occurring. If trees are stressed due to water deficit during this time, they are more likely to suffer fruit drop and poor quality.

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