Orchard Floor and Nitrogen Management Influences Soil and Water Quality and Tart Cherry Yields

in Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science
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  • 1 Oklahoma Panhandle Research and Extension Center, Oklahoma State University, Goodwell, OK 73939
  • | 2 Center for Integrated Plant Systems, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824
  • | 3 Southwest Kansas Research and Extension Center, Kansas State University, Garden City, KS 67846
  • | 4 Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824
  • | 5 Department of Animal Science, Adnan Menderes University, Aydin, 09100 Turkey
  • | 6 Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station, Traverse City, MI 49684
  • | 7 Department of Agriculture Engineering, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824
  • | 8 Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan State University, Hickory Corners, MI 49060
  • | 9 Bio-Systems, Marlette, MI 48453

Designing and implementing more productive, nutrient-efficient, and environmentally sound orchard management systems requires a better understanding of plant and soil responses to more biologically driven management practices. This study explored the effect of orchard floor and N management on soil organic C and N, populations of nematodes, NO3 leaching, and yields in tart cherry (Prunus cerasus L. `Montmorency') production. A baseline conventional orchard system consisting of an herbicide-treated tree row and a full rate of N fertilizer was compared to two modified-conventional and ten alternative orchard floor and N management systems. Living ground cover and the use of mulch with or without composted manure increased total C and the active C and N pools in the soil. For instance, supplemental mulch or mulch applied using a side-delivery mower increased soil C by >20% above the conventional baseline. The size of the active C pool increased 45% and 60% with the use of the species mix 2 ground cover and compost, respectively. Increases in the active N pool ranged from a low of 25% in the soils using mulch or a ground cover mix to a high of 60% when compost was used. As a result, the ability of these soils to provide N to growing plants was enhanced. Total soil N increased in the treatment using natural weeds as ground cover and the full rate of N fertilizer. It is likely that weeds were able to convert significant amounts of fertilizer N into organic forms. Increasing the active C and N pools stimulates microbial activity, and may favor populations of nonplant parasitic nematodes over plant parasitic species. Using a trunk-to-trunk cover crop mix under the cherry trees reduced NO3 leaching by >90% compared to a conventional, herbicide treated soil, even when N fertilizer was used at full rate. Nitrate leaching also dramatically diminished when N fertilizer was fertigated at a reduced rate or when compost was used as N source. Alternative orchard floor and N management did not reduce yields when compared to the baseline conventional treatment.

Contributor Notes

Corresponding author; e-mail sanchje@okstate.edu.
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