Comparing Mulches, Herbicides, and Cultivation as Orchard Groundcover Management Systems

in HortTechnology
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  • 1 Department of Fruit and Vegetable Science, 118 Plant Science, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853
  • | 2 New York State Agricultural Experiment Station at Geneva, Hudson Valley Laboratory, Highland, NY 12528.

Natural (hay, wood chips, recycled paper pulp) and synthetic (polypropylene film and polyester fabric) mulches were compared with mechanical tillage and residual herbicides as orchard groundcover management systems (GMSS). In two New York orchards-the Clarke farm and Hudson Valley Lab (HVL—GMSS were applied from 1990 to 1993 in 1.8-m-wide strips under newly planted apple (Malus domestica; `Liberty', `Empire', `Freedom', and advanced numbered selections from the disease-resistant apple breeding program at Geneva, N.Y.) trees. GMS impacts on soil fertility, tree nutrition and growth, yields, crop value, and vole (Microtus spp.) populations were evaluated. After 3 years at the Clarke orchard, extractable NO3, Mn, Fe, B, and Zn concentrations were greater in soil with herbicides than synthetic mulches; soil K and P concentrations were greater with herbicides and wood chips than synthetic mulches. At the HVL orchard, topsoil NO3, K, and Mg concentrations were greater with hay mulch than herbicides or other mulches; Mg, Fe, and B concentrations were lower in soil with wood chips than other GMSs. Soil organic matter content was not affected by GMS. Apple leaf N, K, Cu, and Zn concentrations were greater with herbicides, hay mulch, and polypropylene mulch than cultivation or recycled paper mulch at the HVL orchard during hot, dry Summer 1991. Despite transient differences among GMSS during the initial years, after 4 years of treatments there were no consistent GMS trends in cumulative tree growth or gross yields. The higher establishment and maintenance costs of several mulches were offset by their prolonged efficacy over successive years; crop market values from 1992 to 1994 were considerably greater for trees with polypropylene film, polyester fabric, and hay mulches than herbicides, cultivation, or other mulches. Voles caused more serious damage to trees in synthetic and hay mulches, despite the use of mesh trunk guards and rodenticide bait.

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