Polypropylene Row Covers Greatly Enhance Growth and Production of Fourth-leaf Sweet Cherry Trees

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  • 1 Oregon State University, Mid-Columbia Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Hood River, OR, 97031

Black, woven polypropylene row covers were compared to chemical sprays as methods to manage ground vegetation in a `Regina'/Gisela 6 orchard planted in 2001. Row covers were installed within 1 month of planting. Exposed row cover width was 2.4 m, with edges (30 cm on each side) buried in the ground. Only a 30-cm band along the edge of row covers was sprayed with herbicide to facilitate mowing. Weed management of control trees consisted of chemical herbicide sprays. Trees were not fertilized since planting in 2001. Irrigation of all trees was applied with low volume (20 L·h-1) microsprinklers and scheduled according to soil water content. Row covers significantly increased trunk cross-sectional area (TCSA) by about 30% annually. By Summer 2004, trees with ground covers had filled their allotted space within rows, while control canopies were ≈50 cm apart. Trees in row covers produced a 130% higher average yield than controls (7.4 kg/tree vs. 3.2 kg/tree). Row covers produced larger and firmer fruit, which matured 2–3 days later than controls. Groundcovers slightly increased soil temperature from April to September by ≈2 °C at 5- and 10-cm depths. Roots under ground covers were denser and more spread out than in controls and water use efficiency was higher for trees growing in ground covers. Amount and labor for herbicide application was reduced to less than half with row covers. Although ground covers are expensive at ≈$2000 per acre, their cost could be offset by earlier and higher production and by long-term savings in labor, water use, and herbicides. Durability of row covers is expected to exceed 15 years.

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