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Dario Stefanelli and Ronald L. Perry

One of the main problems facing organic horticulture is orchard ground floor management. Several works report that ground floor management affects root architecture of fruit trees, changing the position and depth of the roots. The purpose of this work is to study the effects of orchard ground floor management systems (GFMS) in an apple orchard under organic protocol in Michigan. The research was conducted at the Clarksville Horticultural Experimental Station of Michigan State University, in the organically certified (by OCIA) orchard of `Pacific Gala' grafted on M9 NAKB 337, established in May 2000. The GFMS being studied are: 1) mulch (MU) made of alfalfa hay on the tree rows, with a width of 2 m; 2) “Swiss Sandwich System” (SSS) that consists in superficial tillage of two strips 90 cm wide at each side of the tree row, leaving a 40-cm strip in the middle (under the canopy) where volunteer vegetation is allowed to grow; 3) flaming (FL) of the weeds in a 2-m strip underneath the tree canopy by a propane burner. Root architecture was studied in Sept. 2005 through the frequency of roots by the profile wall method. Trenches (3.36-m long × 1.32-m deep) were dug in the soil 45 cm from the tree trunk. Two 158 cm × 130 cm metal grid frames divided by strings into a 28 cm × 22 cm grid were placed against the profile faces to facilitate the counting and mapping of the root distribution. The GFMS did affect the root distribution of the two classes of roots under study (<2 mm and >2mm). In the FL and MU treatments, roots were noticed to be superficial and their frequency was higher close to the tree. In SSS, root frequency was similar until 80 cm deep in the soil profile and they extended farther from the tree.

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Ronald L Perry*, Dario Stefanelli, and Gail Byler

Trees of Gala were planted in 1994 on 18 rootstocks at the Clarksville Horticulture Experiment Station as one cooperating site of 26 North American sites organized by the NC-140 Regional Pome and Stone fruit rootstock committee. One tree each of seven rootstock treatments and two on B.9 and B.491 have died since establishment. Death has been caused by wind (brittle union) on most of the trees in replication one, on the western exterior of the plot which is exposed to strong wind. The most vigorous trees in this planting are those on V.1 and M.26 and least vigorous on M.27 and P.22. Cropping in 2003 was highest on Pajam 2, Ottawa 3 and M.9 NAKB 337, yielding an average of between 60 to 70 kg per tree. Cropping over the years has been highest on PJ.2, M.9 EMLA, and O.3. Cumulative yield efficiency in this plot is highest on P.16, followed by P.22 and B.491. Trees on M.26 are the least efficient over the years. Average fruit weight was highest in 2003 on V.1 and PJ.2. M.9 NAKB 337, the dominant international an national standard M.9 clonal rootstock is not as productive and as precocious as many other M.9 clonal stocks in this trial. After 10 years of evaluation, there appears to be no significant difference in cropping, cumulative yield, for `Gala' among the top eight rootstocks led by M.9 Pajam 2. M.9 NAKB 337 is not among the top eight rootstocks at this site. Pajam 2 is impressive from the view that while it is the top cropping stock, it is the rootstock in 2003 which also averaged the largest fruit. Among the M.9 clonal rootstocks, PJ 2 is also the most vigorous which for North American commercial apple orchards, has excellent commercial potential to withstand field and production stresses.

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Dario Stefanelli*, Giovambattista Sorrenti, and Ronald L. Perry

Soil organic matter is a critical component which is fundamental in plant growth. Several soil factors are influenced by organic matter such as slow release of nutrients, increased water holding capacity, improved soil physical characteristics and improved environment for soil microorganisms. The aim of this work is to investigate the physical effect of organic matter content in the soil on apple root growth and development. Twenty five two-year old apple trees (Malus domestica, Borkh) cv. `Buckeye Gala' on M.9 NAKB 337 rootstock were planted in completely transparent acrylic boxes. Plants have been grown in a green house to avoid external rain in a complete randomized design. Trees were planted in a sandy-mix soil amended with soil high in organic matter, “muck”, at four incremental levels. Treatments compared were a control (sandy soil with 0% organic matter) and 1%, 2%, 4% and 8% soil organic matter. The amount of water applied by automatic drip irrigation was comparable for all the treatments to avoid high fluctuation of soil moisture on root dynamics. All treatments have been fertilized with the same amount of mineral fertilizer to avoid the nutrition effect on root dynamics. Digital photos of roots were taken to study their dynamics every one to two weeks during a period of five months. Roots have been highlighted with Photoshop and then analyzed with WinRhizo to measure root length, area, lifespan and dynamics. At the end of the growing period plants have been harvested and fresh and dry weight was evaluated to asses the root/shoot ratio. The effects of the treatments on root length, area, lifespan and dynamics, and root/shoot ratio will be discussed.

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Dario Stefanelli, Roberto J. Zoppolo, Ronald L. Perry, and Franco Weibel

In organic apple production systems, orchard floor management is of prime importance because it determines weed management and soil fertility. In this experiment, we evaluated the response of the cultivar Pacific Gala on three rootstocks of different vigor: M.9 NAKB 337, M.9 RN 29, and Supporter 4 (in respective order of vigor from dwarfing to semivigorous). The rootstocks were also evaluated for the response to three orchard floor management systems (OFMSs): mulching using alfalfa hay, flame burning, and shallow strip tillage using the Swiss sandwich system (SSS). The experiment was conducted in an experimental orchard planted in 2000.

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Dario Stefanelli, Roberto J. Zoppolo, and Ronald L. Perry

Fine root dynamics, timing of the events, and their relationship with soil conditions are of major interest because the understanding of these phenomena will permit a better synchronicity between nutrients and plant uptake. The goal of this research is to study the effect of different soil conditions, generated from two ground floor management systems, on fine root dynamics of apple trees under organic protocol in Michigan. The research has been conducted at the Clarksville Horticultural Experimental Station (CHES) of Michigan State University (MSU), in the organically certified (by OCIA) orchard of “Pacific Gala” grafted on M9 NAKB 337, established in May 2000. The orchard floor management systems being studied are: 1) a mulch made of alfalfa hay on the tree rows, with a width of 1.8 m and 2) the “Swiss Sandwich System” (SSS) that consists in superficial tillage of two strips 80 cm wide at each side of the tree row, leaving a 40 cm strip in the middle (on the tree row, under the canopy) where volunteer vegetation is allowed to grow. Root dynamics are studied on four replicas of two trees per each of the two ground treatments (16 in total) in a block design. For each tree in the trial four clear butyrate minirhizotrons have been installed (64 in total) at a 45° angle facing the tree, in the summer of 2002. Root dynamics, measured through pictures taken with a Bartz Technology digital camera and analyzed with a new software under development at MSU. During the 2003 season differences between the two systems have been found depending on the parameter taken in consideration. Mulch had different root distribution compared to SSS. Mulch treatment showed shallower roots even if below 90 cm the two systems didn't show any difference.