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Jose E. Sanchez, Charles E. Edson, George W. Bird, Mark E. Whalon, Thomas C. Willson, Richard R. Harwood, Kadir Kizilkaya, James E. Nugent, William Klein, Alan Middleton, Theodore L. Loudon, Dale R. Mutch, and Joseph Scrimger

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.