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Effect of Various Irrigation Rates on Growth and Root Development of Young Citrus Trees in High-Density Planting

Hamido, Said A., Morgan, Kelly T.
Plants 2020 v.9 no.11
Alaquods, Citrus sinensis, Poncirus trifoliata, canopy, evapotranspiration, fruit trees, fruit yield, grafting (plants), greening disease, growers, high density planting, irrigation rates, leaf area, longevity, mandarins, oranges, orchards, plant density, planting density, rootstocks, sand, tree growth, Florida
Citrus yields have declined by almost 56% since Huanglongbing (HLB) was first found in Florida (2005). That reduction forced citrus growers to replant trees at much higher densities to counter-balance tree loss. The current project aims to determine how much water is required to grow citrus trees at higher planting densities without reducing their productivity. The study was initiated in November 2017 on eight-month-old sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) trees grafted on the ‘US-897′ (Cleopatra mandarin × Flying Dragon trifoliate orange) citrus rootstock planted in the University of Florida, Southwest Florida Research and Education Center (SWFREC) demonstration grove, in Immokalee, FL (lat. 26.42° N, long. 81.42° W). The soil in the grove is Immokalee fine sand (Sandy, siliceous, hyperthermic Arenic Alaquods). The demonstration grove included three densities on two rows of beds (447, 598, and 745 trees per ha) replicated four times each and three densities of three rows of beds (512, 717, 897 trees per ha) replicated six times. Each density treatment was irrigated at one of two irrigation rates (62% or 100%) during the first 15 months (2017–2019) then adjusted (2019–2020) to represent 26.5, 40.5, 53, and 81% based on recommended young citrus trees evapotranspiration (ETc). Tree growth measurements including trunk diameter, height, canopy volume, leaf area, and root development were evaluated. During the first year, reducing the irrigation rate from 100% to 62% ETc did not significantly reduce the young citrus tree growth. Conversely, the lower irrigation rate (62% ETc) had increased citrus tree’s leaf area, canopy volume and tree heights, root lifespan, and root length by 4, 9, 1, 2, and 24% compared with the higher irrigation rate (100%), respectively. Furthermore, the root lifespan was promoted by increasing planting density. For instance, the average root lifespan increased by 12% when planting density increased from 447 to 897 trees per ha, indicating that planting young trees much closer to each other enhanced the root’s longevity. However, when treatments were adjusted from April 2019 through June 2020, results changed. Increasing the irrigation rate from 26.5% to 81% ETc significantly enhanced the young citrus tree growth by increasing citrus tree’s canopy volume (four fold), tree heights (29%), root lifespan (86%), and root length (two fold), respectively. Thus, the application of 81% ETc irrigation rate in commercial citrus groves is more efficient for trees from two to four years of age.