Fine Root Dynamics in an Organic Apple Orchard under Two Ground Floor Management Systems

in HortScience
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  • 1 Michigan State University, Horticulture, East Lansing, MI, 48824

Fine root dynamics, timing of the events, and their relationship with soil conditions are of major interest because the understanding of these phenomena will permit a better synchronicity between nutrients and plant uptake. The goal of this research is to study the effect of different soil conditions, generated from two ground floor management systems, on fine root dynamics of apple trees under organic protocol in Michigan. The research has been conducted at the Clarksville Horticultural Experimental Station (CHES) of Michigan State University (MSU), in the organically certified (by OCIA) orchard of “Pacific Gala” grafted on M9 NAKB 337, established in May 2000. The orchard floor management systems being studied are: 1) a mulch made of alfalfa hay on the tree rows, with a width of 1.8 m and 2) the “Swiss Sandwich System” (SSS) that consists in superficial tillage of two strips 80 cm wide at each side of the tree row, leaving a 40 cm strip in the middle (on the tree row, under the canopy) where volunteer vegetation is allowed to grow. Root dynamics are studied on four replicas of two trees per each of the two ground treatments (16 in total) in a block design. For each tree in the trial four clear butyrate minirhizotrons have been installed (64 in total) at a 45° angle facing the tree, in the summer of 2002. Root dynamics, measured through pictures taken with a Bartz Technology digital camera and analyzed with a new software under development at MSU. During the 2003 season differences between the two systems have been found depending on the parameter taken in consideration. Mulch had different root distribution compared to SSS. Mulch treatment showed shallower roots even if below 90 cm the two systems didn't show any difference.

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