Color Mulches Influence Yield and Insect Pest Populations in Tomatoes

in Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science

Field studies were conducted for three seasons, Fall 1988 and Spring and Fall 1989, on the effect of six mulch colors: blue, orange, red, aluminum, yellow, and white (fall) or black (spring), on fruit yields and on insect vectors of Sunny' tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.). Plant growth and yields were inconsistent with mulch colors during the three seasons. In Fall 1988, in a once-over harvest, extra-large (≥ 70 mm diameter) and marketable fruit yields were higher (P ≤ 0.05) on blue than on the conventional white mulch. In Spring 1989, early marketable yields on red mulch were higher than on black mulch, and in Fall 1989, under high stress from tomato mottle virus (TMoV) transmitted by silverleaf whitefly [Bemisia argentifolii (Bellows and Perring)], seasonal yield of extra-large fruit was better on orange than white mulch. In Fall 1988 and 1989, fruit size and marketable yields were reduced on yellow mulch. Aphids (Aphididae), thrips (Thripidae), and whiteflies were counted monthly in traps placed on the mulched beds. Aphids were least numerous on the aluminum and yellow and most numerous on the blue mulch. Where differences occurred, the fewest thrips were captured on aluminum and the fewest whiteflies were captured on the yellow, aluminum and orange mulches. Although differences were not always significant, the fewest adult whiteflies also were observed on foliage of tomato plants grown on these latter three mulches. Later in the seasons, as plant foliage covered the mulch, differences in the number of insects captured were similar for all mulch colors. Low numbers of whiteflies on the orange and aluminum mulches early in Fall 1989 delayed virus symptom development and increased yields. Virus symptom development was not delayed and yields were low on the yellow mulch, in spite of the low number of whiteflies. When averaged over all mulch colors, extra-large and marketable fruit yields increased linearly with delayed symptom development. It is proposed that, under high insect stress, mulches should be selected for their effects on insects in addition to their effects on soil temperature and plant morphology.

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