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Application of deficit irrigation to container-grown hardy ornamental nursery stock via overhead irrigation, compared to drip irrigation

Davies, Michael J., Harrison-Murray, Richard, Atkinson, Christopher J., Grant, Olga M.
Agricultural water management 2016 v.163 pp. 244-254
Cornus alba, Forsythia, Lonicera periclymenum, canopy, crops, deficit irrigation, flowering, irrigation rates, irrigation requirement, microirrigation, nursery management, nursery stock, overhead irrigation, peat, vegetative growth, water uptake
Growth control of container-grown hardy nursery stock generally requires substantial labour investment. Therefore the possibility of alternative growth control using deficit irrigation is appealing. Increasing water costs and limited availability of abstraction licences have added further incentives for nursery stock producers to use deficit irrigation. There are still, however, concerns that inherent non-uniformity of water uptake under commonly used overhead irrigation, and differing irrigation requirements of diverse crops and substrates, may limit the commercial relevance of a protocol developed for single crops growing in 100% peat and irrigated with a high precision drip system. The aim of this research was to determine whether growth control of hardy nursery stock is possible using deficit irrigation applied with conventional overhead irrigation. Over two years, crop growth under an overhead irrigation system was compared under full irrigation and two severities of deficit irrigation. Initially, two crops of contrasting canopy structure i.e. Cornus alba and Lonicera periclymenum were grown. In a subsequent experiment one crop (Forsythia×intermedia) was grown in two substrates with contrasting quantities of peat (60 and 100%). Deficit irrigation was found to be highly effective in controlling vegetative growth when applied using overhead irrigation—with similar results as when drip irrigation was used. This comparable response suggests that deficit irrigation can be applied without precision drip irrigation. Scheduling two very different crops with respect to their water use and uptake potential, however, highlighted challenges with respect to application of appropriate deficits for very different crops under one system; responses to deficit irrigation will be more consistent where nursery management allows for scheduling of crops with very different architecture and water use under different regimes. The effectiveness of deficit irrigation in controlling the growth of Forsythia was similar when a reduced peat based substrate was compared with pure peat; additionally, flowering was enhanced.