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An artificial capillary barrier to improve root zone conditions for horticultural crops: physical effects on water content

Abstract

Capillary barriers (CBs) occur at the interface of two soil layers having distinct differences in textural and hydraulic characteristics. The objective of this study was to introduce an artificial CB, created by a layer of gravel below the root zone substrate, in order to optimize conditions for the cultivation of horticultural crops. Potential root zone formats were analyzed with and without the gravel CBs for variables including the following: depth of CB; barrier separating the root zone from the surrounding soil; and root zone soil texture. Field and simulated results revealed that artificial CBs increased root zone water content and changed water flow dynamics. Volumetric soil water content was increased by 20–70%, depending on the soil texture and depth of the barrier. Sandy soil texture and shallower placement resulted in relatively higher water content. For sandy soil without plants, a shallow (0.2 m depth) CB increased water content of the overlaying soil by 50% compared to the control. The introduction of a gravel CB below the root zone of pepper plants (Capsicum Annum L.) lead to 34% higher matric head, 50% lower diurnal fluctuations in matric head and 40% increase in pepper fruit yield. Increasing water content by way of artificial CBs appeared to improve the water use efficiency of pepper plants. Such an improvement could lead to reduced water and fertilizer application rates and subsequent reduction in contamination below the root zone. This is especially relevant for substrates of low water-holding capacity typically used in horticulture crop production.

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Abbreviations

CB:

Capillary barrier

TDR:

Time domain reflectometry

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Correspondence to Naftali Lazarovitch.

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Communicated by J. Ayars.

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Ityel, E., Lazarovitch, N., Silberbush, M. et al. An artificial capillary barrier to improve root zone conditions for horticultural crops: physical effects on water content. Irrig Sci 29, 171–180 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00271-010-0227-3

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Keywords

  • Root Zone
  • Volumetric Water Content
  • Water Content Increase
  • Time Domain Reflectometry
  • Gravel Layer