Lack of color in the skin of red table grape varieties is a serious problem in areas of warm climate. This problem is often addressed by the application of ethylene release products such as ethephon. Strict regulation in the use of this product in EU forces European grape producers to look for suitable alternatives. With the aim to increase red skin color, we applied regulated deficit irrigation (RDI) strategies from veraison until harvest on “Flame Seedless” table grape vines cultivated under nets and under a plastic greenhouse in South East Spain, and compared yield and fruit quality with vines fully irrigated under the same net and plastic greenhouses. Our results show a modest improvement in the percentage of commercial clusters with better skin color, probably because the short duration of the deficit irrigation period only caused a slight decrease in soil water content and a mild water stress in RDI vines. Larger differences were observed under the more limiting conditions of the plastic greenhouse for light environment, especially when berry skin color was measured by CIRG (color index of red grape). More noticeable effect of RDI was noted on fruit earliness. Water savings were also remarkable. Negative effects of RDI on berry size or total soluble solid content were not perceived. Our results suggest that RDI is a suitable strategy to save irrigation water without substantial negative effects on yield and berry size. However, the effects on skin color were insufficient in the trial conditions.
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