Root aeration improves yield and water use efficiency of tomato in heavy clay and saline soils
journal contributionposted on 06.12.2017, 00:00 by Surya BhattaraiSurya Bhattarai, Lance PendergastLance Pendergast, David MidmoreDavid Midmore
Water logging and salinity of the soil alter both the physical and biological environment of plant roots. In two experiments, we investigated the effects of imposed aeration on yield and the physiological response of tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum L.) variety Improved Apollo growing under protected conditions over a range of salinities (the salinity experiment), and under constant field capacity (FC) or drier soil conditions (the moisture experiment). Subsurface irrigation with aerated water (12% air in water) stimulated above-ground growth, and enhanced the reproductive performance through earliness for flowering and fruiting compared with the control. Fruit yield of tomato with aeration in the moisture experiment was increased by 21% compared with the control (4.2 kg versus 3.7 kg per plant), and the effect of aeration on fruit yield was greater in FC than in the drier treatment. Fruit yield was increased by 38% in saline soil due to aeration compared with the non-aerated control. Increasing salinity from 2 to 8.8 dS m 1, and 10 dS m 1 reduced fruit yield by 18% and 62%, respectively, but 4 dS m 1 did not suppress yield. Aeration in both the experiments increased plant water use and water use efficiency (WUE), expressed as weight per unit of applied water. Biomass WUE was greater by 16% and 32% in the moisture and salinity experiments, respectively. The increased yield with aeration was also accompanied by an increased harvest index (HI) defined as the proportion of dry fruit biomass to total dry biomass, greater mean fruit weight, high fruit DM, and increase in leaf chlorophyll content and shoot: root ratio, and a reduced water stress index (computed from the difference between air and leaf temperature). The benefit gained from aerating irrigation water was not only observed under conditions where air-filled porosity may be low (e.g., in poorly structure sodic soils, or at field capacity in clay soils), but also in drier soils.