Smart irrigation strategies

Smart irrigation strategies

Growers get high-tech help with irrigation frequency and leaching reduction

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May 11, 2011

Steve Black and Terry Hines are two tree growers focused on getting the most out of their water resources, for good reason. Steve Black, owner of Raemelton Farm near Adamstown, Md., can only pump a maximum of 72 gallons per hour from his two wells. With 50 acres of trees ranging from 1-5 years in age, that amounts to less than 4 gallons of water per tree per day. His one-year-old transplants are irrigated every day. Black does all he can to minimize transplant losses, which usually amounts to less than 1 percent. There is too much capital tied up in establishing new blocks not to irrigate these young trees.
 
Black typically establishes 10 acres of trees every year, and until 2010, irrigated these blocks for two hours every day—amounting to about 1.75 gallons per tree. He knew this was probably sufficient, but wondered how efficient his irrigation scheduling really was. How much water is actually getting into the rootball? Was he wasting water? Could he be overwatering these trees by applying this water every day?
 
Terry Hines, owner of Hale and Hines Nursery, has a large container production nursery, the majority of which is in pot-in-pot production in the heart of nursery country—McMinnville, Tenn. Hale and Hines is a major producer of various dogwood cultivars, but also produces a wide range of shrubs and trees in 10-,15-, 30- and 45-gallon containers. Hines uses a soilless pine bark substrate in his containers. Since rooting volumes are more limited and because of the higher porosity of his substrate, irrigation demands are greater and scheduling is much more frequent than in field soils. Leaching of nutrients from containers is a certainty without careful irrigation scheduling.
 
Click here to find out what the pair of growers did to combat these problems, with the help of John Lea-Cox, associate professor at the University of Maryland.