Responses of Irrigation Water Use and Productivity of Sweet Cherry to Single-Lateral Drip Irrigation and Ground Covers

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A field experiment was conducted to evaluate the transitional impacts of single-lateral drip irrigation versus microsprinkler irrigation and wheat straw mulch, black polypropylene cover, and white polypropylene cover versus no ground cover (but herbicides were used to control weeds) on irrigation water use and productivity of sweet cherry (Prunus avium L.) trees (Lapins on Mazzard rootstock) on a fine loam soil at The Dalles, OR, from 2005 through 2007 in a split-plot design with four replicates. Our results showed that during the entire irrigation season from May to October, drip irrigation consumed only 21% to 29% of irrigation water relative to microsprinkler irrigation, the current irrigation system, averaged over the four ground cover systems in the 3 years. Water use efficiency was enhanced by 167% to 234% with drip irrigation over microsprinkler irrigation. Fruit yield and fruit quality including firmness, color, and size did not differ regardless of irrigation or ground cover system. Drip irrigation increased marketable fruit by 7% to 12% via reducing fruit surface pitting and bruising compared with microsprinkler. Straw mulch, black polypropylene cover, and white polypropylene cover also increased the percentage of marketable fruit in 1 out of 3 years. Overall, shifting from microsprinkler irrigation to single-lateral drip irrigation does not result in significant negative impacts on fruit yield or quality of bearing sweet cherry trees. Single-lateral drip irrigation has the potential to be a viable alternate irrigation system for sweet cherry production, where severe shortage of irrigation water occurs.

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