Cauliflower root and plant growth and Verticillium wilt development were evaluated under different moisture regimes in the presence or absence of V. dahliae. Treatments included two main plots (V. dahliae-infested and fumigated), two subplots (furrow and subsurface drip irrigation), and three sub-subplots (deficit, moderate, and excessive regimes) that were arranged in a split-split-plot design in the field. Soil cores with roots were periodically sampled at 5 and 25 cm distance from plants. Total roots in each soil core were extracted with a hydropneumatic root elutriator, and root length from each sample was determined with a digital image analysis system. Incidence and severity of Verticillium wilt, plant height, number of leaves, and dry weights of leaves and roots were determined on 10 plants sampled at 7- to 10-day intervals 1 month after cauliflower transplanting and continued until harvest. To evaluate the effects of Verticillium wilt-induced stress on cauliflower plants, stomatal resistance was measured in upper healthy and lower (or diseased) leaves. Root length density at 5 and 25 cm from plant was significantly (P < 0.05) higher in subsurface drip than in furrow irrigation. Root length density was significantly higher in excessive irrigation regime than in the other regimes. Concomitantly, there was higher wilt incidence and severity in excessive and moderate regimes than deficit regime regardless of the irrigation method. Plant height was affected by irrigation methods and deficit regime. Neither the method of irrigation nor the quantity of water affected the other variables. Stomatal resistance in lower diseased leaves was significantly higher in infested than in fumigated plots but it was not in the upper healthy leaves. In this study, cauliflower yield was not affected by V. dahliae and irrigation method, but the deficit irrigation regime resulted in reduced yield even though it suppressed wilt in cauliflower. Thus, higher moisture levels resulted in higher root length density in V. dahliae-infested plots that in turn lead to greater incidence of Verticillium wilt and severity. The pathogen also affected physiological processes such as hydraulic conductance of cauliflower leaves, but not shoot growth or yield under these experimental conditions.
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