Colored Plastic Film Mulches Affect Tomato Growth and Yield Via Changes in Root-zone Temperature

in Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science
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  • 1 Department of Horticulture, Coastal Plain Experiment Station - Tifton Campus, University of Georgia, Tifton, Georgia 31794

Soil warming is one of the benefits associated with use of plastic film mulches. However, under high temperature conditions during the summer, especially in the southeastern United States, some mulches warm the soil to temperatures that might be deleterious to plant growth. Tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.) plants grown in the field were exposed to a range of root-zone temperatures (RZTs), resulting from growing the plants in different seasons and by using colored mulches that differed in their soil-warming ability. The objective was to determine the relationship of mean seasonal RZT, as affected by different colored plastic film mulches, with plant growth and fruit yield. The study consisted of experiments carried out in three seasons: Fall 1999 (five mulches, one cultivar), Spring 2000 (eight mulches and three cultivars), and Fall 2000 (four mulches and three cultivars). Treatments were black (n = 2), gray, red, silver (n = 3), and white (n = 2) mulches, and bare soil. Over the season, mean RZT decreased in the fall (from 32 to 24 °C) and increased in the spring (from 20 to 29 °C). Daily mean values of RZT over the season under plastic mulches were higher (1 to 5 °C) than those of air temperature. The highest RZT at midday occurred under black mulch, and the lowest under bare soil and white mulch. Bare soil showed the largest diurnal RZT fluctuation. RZT at midday was up to 4 °C higher under black or gray mulch compared to the other mulches or bare soil. The degree of soil warming was correlated with reflectivity of the mulch. Black mulch had the lowest light reflectance [10% photosynthetically active radiation (PAR)] while silver mulch had the highest (55% PAR). There were, however, differences in reflectance among mulches of the same color depending on the manufacturer. RZT affected vegetative top fresh weight (FW), fruit yield, fruit number, and individual fruit FW. All these growth attributes fitted a quadratic relationship with mean RZT for the season, with an optimal that ranged between 25.4 and 26.3 °C. The effects of colored mulches on plant response depended on the impact of the mulch on RZT. Plant growth and yield were highest as RZT approached the optimal RZT for the plants.

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