Improving plant quality and the uniformity of a crop are major objectives for growers of ornamental nursery stock. The potential to control excess vigour and to improve quality through regulated deficit irrigation (RDI) was investigated using a range of woody ornamental species. RDI regimes reduced vegetative growth consistently across different species and growing seasons. Plants adapted to reduced water supplies primarily via stomatal control, but also by osmotic adjustment when grown under the most severe RDI regimes. Only plants exposed to 25% of potential evapo-transpiration demonstrated any evidence of leaf injury, and the extent was slight. Growth inhibition increased as the severity of RDI increased. Improvements in quality were attained through a combination of shorter internodes and final shoot lengths, yet the number of 'formative' primary shoots remained unaffected. Compact, well-branched plants could be formed without a requirement for mid-season pruning. In addition to severity, the timing of RDI also influenced growth responses. Applying 50% ETp for 8 weeks during July-August resulted in the formation of good quality plants, which retained their shape until the following Spring. Re-positioning irrigation drippers within the pots of well-watered plants, in an attempt to induce a partial root drying (PRD) treatment, reduced growth, but not significantly. The adoption of irrigation scheduling, based on 50-100% ETp, has the potential to improve commercial crop quality across a range of ornamental species.
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