Use of plastic mulch to increase rhizosphere temperatures is a common practice in spring production of vegetable crops. However, supraoptimal soil temperatures during the fruit maturation period in early summer can impair root function and reduce produce quality. The effects of colored plastic mulch on rhizosphere temperature and `Primo' muskmelon root respiration were investigated in the field during Fall (Aug.-Nov. 2002) and Spring (Mar.-May 2003) seasons. Rhizosphere temperatures (measured at 0.1 m below the soil surface with thermo-couples) and respiration under four plastic mulches (black, silver, white, and clear), and a bare ground control were studied. The soil warming properties of the different mulches differed between Spring and Fall. Bare ground rhizosphere temperatures declined from ≈33 to 21°C in the Fall and increased from 14 to 26 °C in Spring. In both studies, black and clear plastic mulches had the highest rhizosphere warming effects (3-8 °C) compared to bare ground. In the Fall, average midday soil temperatures under the white and silver mulches were 2-3 °C cooler than the bare ground treatment. Canopy establishment was accelerated by plastic mulches in Spring but not in Fall. Root + soil respiration was positively correlated with measured rhizosphere temperatures (r = 0.69), with the highest respiration rates recorded under the clear and black plastic mulches. More than 80% of fruits from the clear plastic treatment were deformed and unmarketable. The number of marketable fruit was similar among the black, white and silver mulch treatments and significantly greater (32% in Spring & 12% in Fall) than in the bare ground treatments.
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