Temporal and spatial combinations of tree-row weed suppression treatments were evaluated during 5 years in a New York apple (Malus domestica Borkh. cv. Imperial Gala on Malling 26 rootstocks) orchard planted in Apr. 1991, and provided with trickle irrigation. Twenty-eight factorial treatment combinations [0, 2, 4, and 6 m2 weed-free areas (WFAs); and May, June, July, August, May + June, June + July, May + June + July, and June + July + August weed-free times (WFTs)] were maintained from 1991 to 1995 by postemergence paraquat herbicide applications in tree-row strips. Trunk cross-sectional area (TCA) growth and yield were monitored annually, and few differences were observed as WFA increased from 2 to 4 to 6 m2 per tree. However, WFT substantially influenced TCA, fruit production, and yield efficiency. Early summer WFTs increased TCA during the first two growing seasons, compared with late summer treatments. When trees came into production in 1993-94, yields increased as the duration of WFT increased, but where similar periods of WFT had been established later during the growing season, annual yield, cumulative yield efficiency, and the ratio of crop value to weed-control costs were all reduced. Groundcover species distribution was evaluated each year in September, and graminaceous weeds were more prevalent in the early and midsummer WFTs, while herbaceous broadleaf weeds dominated in the August treatments. A quadratic model regressing cumulative yield efficiency on WFTs grouped into 30-, 60-, and 90-day categories showed that efficiency peaked between 60 and 90 days of WFT. It appeared that timing of weed suppression may be as important as the area of suppression beneath trees in comparable apple orchards, that early summer weed control was especially important for newly planted trees, and that drip irrigation allowed reductions in the area and amount of tree-row herbicide applications, without significant losses in apple tree growth or crop value.
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