Italy is one of the most important world chestnut producers. The majority of traditional sweet chestnut orchards are still non-irrigated since they are typically located in mountain-hill areas usually characterized by environmental conditions that are not limiting for the vegetative and reproductive growth of this fruit tree crop. Nowadays, the increase of summer temperatures and the decrease of rainfall are affecting negatively chestnut physiological performances and productivity. The adoption of scheduled irrigation practices, in light also of the limited water availability/possibility of storage (e.g., artificial lakes, reservoirs) of these areas, should become part of chestnut orchard management. The aim of the present study was to evaluate the effect of irrigation on sweet chestnut physiology, nut quality and yield. The study was carried out in 2020 in a traditional chestnut orchard of the “Marron Buono di Marradi” ecotype, located in the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines (Marradi, Italy). The experimental design compared trees irrigated between August and September with a non-irrigated control. Leaf gas exchange and plant water status were monitored during the growing season and, nut quality and yield were assessed at harvest. Results showed that irrigated trees exhibited, in middle September, higher photosynthesis, transpiration, stomatal conductance and stem water potentials compared to the non-irrigated control trees. Nut size was significantly smaller in non-irrigated trees than in irrigated ones while the yield was not statistically affected by the irrigation treatment. Despite the favourable mild and rainy weather conditions occurred in 2020, the application of irrigation during the nut filling phase (e.g., late summer) was beneficial for enhancing sweet chestnut physiological performances and for improving nut quality.
Keywords: Castanea sativa Mill., chestnut physiology, leaf gas exchanges, water relations, nut yield