Pomegranate trees performance under sustained and regulated deficit irrigation
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The effects of sustained and regulated deficit irrigation (SDI and RDI) on "Mollar de Elche" pomegranate tree performance were investigated in a field trial conducted over three consecutive seasons. In the RDI regimes, severe water restrictions were applied during one of three phases: flowering and fruit set, fruit growth, or the final phase of fruit growth and ripening. In another approach, SDI was applied by watering trees at 50 % of the estimated crop water needs (ETc) during the entire season. Results showed that even after three consecutive seasons of water restrictions, similar yield levels were obtained in SDI and Control trees watered at 100 % ETc. This was because a 22 % reduction in average fresh fruit weight recorded in the SDI treatment was compensated by an increase in 28 % in the quantity of fruit collected per tree. This was most likely due to a reduction in the fall of the reproductive organs. However, the SDI strategy led to a reduction in 28 % in the yield value when fruits are sold for fresh fruit markets. Water restrictions applied only during flowering and fruit set also resulted in an increase in the quantity of fruit collected per tree, with only a slight reduction in fruit weight and without affecting the yield value. On the other hand, severe water restrictions applied during the summer (i.e., mid-phase of fruit growth) led to 24 % water savings with only a 7 % reduction in fruit weight. Fruit cracking was very low in all treatments and seasons (2-6 % over the total quantity fruit collected per tree). Only the RDI regime with restrictions during the summer increased cracking in one out of the three seasons. It is concluded that RDI can be used as a measure to cope with water scarcity and high water prices. Among all the RDI explored, the one with restrictions applied early in the season (during flowering and fruit set) was the most convenient strategy.