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Marisa T. Potter, Richard J. Heerema, Jill Schroeder, Jamshid Ashigh, Dawn VanLeeuwen and Cheryl Fiore

Pecan [Carya illinoinensis (Wangenh.) K. Koch] growers are advised to control orchard floor vegetation when establishing new orchards, but there is not a set recommendation for vegetation control in mature orchards. The objective of this study was to measure the effect of orchard floor vegetation on water and nitrogen (N) status of flood-irrigated mature pecan trees. Four treatments studied were: completely vegetated orchard floor, vegetation-free inner area directly under the tree canopy with vegetation in the outer area, completely vegetation-free, and vegetated inner area under the canopy with a vegetation-free outer area. Treatments were organized as a 2 × 2 factorial structure with inner and outer treatment factors, both with levels vegetated and vegetation-free. Soil moisture and tree midday stem water potential (MSWP) were measured during irrigation cycles to evaluate the development of water stress in the pecan trees. Soil moisture data showed a significant outer main effect when the soil in the entire orchard was the driest, that is, just before irrigation events. Areas with vegetation cover that were exposed to full sun were significantly drier than shaded vegetated areas and vegetation-free areas in the orchard floor. However, this was not correlated with differences in tree water status as indicated by MSWP. Leaf tissue and soil analyses showed no significant differences in N concentrations among treatments in either year. Treatments with orchard floor vegetation in the outer area had significantly higher yield efficiency and marginally significant improvements in percent kernel fill and number of nuts per kilogram. Our findings suggest that there may be more benefits to maintaining orchard floor vegetation in mature orchards than were previously acknowledged.