Yield, Shoot and Root Growth, and Physiological Responses of Mature Peach Trees to Grass Competition

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  • 1 Appalachian Fruit Research Station, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Kearneysville, WV 25430

Competitive effects of different grass species were evaluated on growth, yield, leaf N, and leaf water potential of 8-year-old peach [Prunus persica (L.) Batsch.] trees and on weed abundance. Two cultivars (`Loring' on Lovell rootstock and `Redhaven' on Halford rootstock) of peach trees were planted in separate orchards in 1987. Nine orchard floor treatments were installed beneath the peach trees in 1995: Festuca arundinacea Schreber (tall fescue); Lolium perenne L., var. Manhattan II (perennial ryegrass); Lolium perenne L., var. Linn; Agrostis gigantea Roth (red top); Dactylis glomerata L. (orchardgrass); Phleum pratense L. (timothy); Bromus carinatus Hook. and Arn. (brome); weedy control; and herbicide weed control (simazine, glyphosate). In general, grasses reduced vegetative growth and yield in both cultivars. Orchardgrass was one of the most competitive species and reduced vertical water sprout length by 15% to 27% and lateral shoot length on fruit-bearing branches by 19% to 30% compared with herbicide treatments. Orchardgrass reduced yield by 37% and 24% in `Loring' and `Redhaven', respectively. All grasses were not equally competitive; `Linn' perennial ryegrass did not significantly reduce growth or yield in `Redhaven'. Control treatments with weeds also did not differ from herbicide treatments in peach tree growth and yield. Grass and weed ground covers consistently reduced peach tree leaf N by at least 10%, compared to herbicide treatment, possibly due to reduced root growth. `Redhaven' root density in the top 10 cm of soil was ≈12 cm·cm-3 in herbicide strips vs. 1 cm·cm-3 in weedy or ground-covered strips. Peach leaf water potential was not affected by grass and weeds. Weed weights were significantly reduced by all grasses compared with weedy control. The results indicate that peach cultivars respond differently to grass competition, but the relative competitiveness of each grass species was similar for both cultivars. Grass competition reduced growth, yield, and pruning weights of mature peach trees, but the reduction in vegetative growth did not significantly reduce pruning time per tree. Grasses that are less inhibitory to peach yield may be useful for weed management in orchards.

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