The Use of Biodegradable Mulches in Pepper Production in the Southeastern United States

in HortScience

Plasticulture systems with polyethylene (PE) mulch and drip tape are common for production of peppers (Capsicum annuum L.) in the United States because of their soil warming, moisture conservation, and other advantageous effects. However, disadvantages include disposal costs and plastic pollution of the environment and temperature stress in warm climates with black mulch. Use of biodegradable plastic mulches (BDMs) is becoming more common, as they provide the same benefits of PE mulch without the disposal problems. In 2017 and 2018, we conducted experiments in Knoxville, TN, comparing production of pepper fruit with five different BDM [one white-on-black (WOB) and four black], one black PE mulch, one brown creped, paper mulch, and bare ground control treatments. We also measured the durability and effectiveness of weed suppression of the different mulches over the growing season compared with a hand-weeded bare ground control. Most mulches were degraded, with 40% to 60% of the soil exposed by the end of the season, with the exception of the paper mulch, which was completely degraded at the end of both seasons. Yields were similar among treatments in 2017, with the exception of Naturecycle, which had the lowest yield. Weed pressure was severe, especially in 2018, largely due to early penetration of all mulches except paper by nutsedge. Due to the early and season-long weed pressure and heat stress in black mulches, there were fewer healthy plants in all black-colored mulch treatments in 2018, leading to reduced yields in these treatments. Paper mulch was the only treatment that prevented nutsedge growth; therefore, this treatment and the hand-weeded bare ground treatment had the greatest yields in 2018. WOB also had yields comparable with paper and bare ground plots in 2018, likely due to the cooling effect of the white mulch. The results suggest that in hot climates and in fields infested with nutsedge, paper mulches perform best for midseason pepper cultivation due to the cooling effects and superior weed control.

Contributor Notes

We thank Elizabeth Cousins, B.J. DeLozier, Cody Fust, Payton Myers, Jake Seeley, and Madelyn Williams for invaluable help with field work and Arnold Saxton for indispensable help with statistics.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Corresponding author. E-mail: annettew@utk.edu.

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Article Figures

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    Average, maximum, and minimum air temperatures over the 2017 and 2018 growing seasons in Knoxville, TN.

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    Average daily soil temperatures (°C) at 10 cm over the 2017 and 2018 growing seasons in Knoxville, TN. PLA = polylactic acid; PHA = polyhydroxyalkanoate.

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    Percent soil exposure (PSE) for all mulch treatments over the pepper-growing seasons in Knoxville, TN, in 2017 and 2018. The error bars represent two se of the mean. PSE ratings range from 0% (soil fully covered by mulch) to 100% (soil fully exposed/mulch deteriorated). Ratings were estimated in 1% increments up to 20% and in 5% increments above 20%. PLA = polylactic acid; PHA = polyhydroxyalkanoate.

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    Number of healthy pepper plants in the data collection beds by a visual rating during the 2017 and 2018 pepper-growing seasons in Knoxville, TN. Treatment means with the same letter within a given date are not significantly different. Treatment means compared using Fisher’s least significant difference at α = 0.05. PLA = polylactic acid; PHA = polyhydroxyalkanoate.

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