Polyethylene Mulch, Diurnal and Seasonal Soil Temperatures, and Growth and Productivity of Strawberries in Southern California

in HortScience

Southern California strawberry growers use clear polyethylene mulch to increase soil warming and promote plant growth and fruiting, but use of clear poly mulch is only feasible when effective preplant soil fumigation controls weeds. In the absence of methyl bromide fumigation, the use of wave-length selective (WLS) or black polyethylene bed mulches may be required for adequate weed suppression, but the influence of these materials on strawberry plant growth and productivity in southern California is not well-documented. We conducted experiments in 1994–95 and 1995–96 to determine the influence of various mulch formulations on soil temperature and growth and productivity of `Chandler' strawberry in Irvine, Calif. Clear poly and a green WLS material (IRT76, AEP Plastics) were compared in both trials; in addition, the 1995–96 trial included a brown WLS material (ALOR, PolyWest, Inc.) and a black poly mulch. For both trials, freshly dug runner plants were established in premulched beds in early October, and soil temperatures were continuously monitored at a 10-cm depth using thermocouples and a recording datalogger. Fruit harvest commenced in December and continued through June. In both years, clear poly mulch resulted in significantly greater soil temperatures, greater December plant diameters, and greater early and total fruit yields than other mulches. In both years, use of clear poly resulted in 12% greater fruit yields than the other three materials. No growth or productivity differences were observed among the WLS and black mulches, although differences were observed in mean soil temperatures.

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