Converting mature citrus from full cover to drip irrigation

Jeremy Giddings, NSW DPI Irrigation Development Officer

A demonstration of a converted drip system

Drip irrigation is a popular method of water application for citrus growers, particularly in new developments, but also when converting established plantings.

Converting mature citrus trees to drip irrigation creates a series of challenges that can be overcome if appropriate management practices are adopted.

Where an established orchard is converted to drip, the change in wetting pattern can ‘shock’ the tree and result in poor tree health and reduced productivity in the first year after conversion. However, converting existing trees can be successful if growers follow a few simple guidelines.

Pictured is a converted orchard where the sprinkler irrigation system was kept to help in the conversion process. It can also be used to help maintain a sod culture and cool the orchard during heat waves.

A recently developed Primefact, Converting mature citrus from full cover, covers a range of aspects to consider when converting mature trees to drip irrigation, including rootstock, soil type, existing crop health, fertigation, irrigation scheduling and dripline location.

Jeremy Giddings warns that one of the common mistakes when converting from sprinkler to drip is not applying water frequently enough, along with an ample nutrition program during the first year of conversion.

When the conversion occurs, the trees can have up to two-thirds of their roots no longer in the wetted root zone and the tree will have to operate on the remaining one third. This means that the remaining one third will need to be developed in order to sustain the tree.

More information about converting to drip irrigation is available in the new Primefact Converting mature citrus from full cover.