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Open access

Huan Zhang, Lisa Wasko DeVetter, Edward Scheenstra and Carol Miles

A soil-biodegradable mulch (BDM) is designed to be tilled into the soil at the end of the growing season, and is a successful alternative to polyethylene (PE) mulch if it suppresses weeds and improves soil temperature and moisture, crop yield, and fruit quality. This study compared one clear plastic BDM (COX), two black plastic BDMs (BOX and BFO), and two paper BDMs (WGP and AMX) to clear and black plastic PE mulch (CPE and BPE, respectively) for weed control, yield, and mulch adhesion of ‘Cinnamon Girl’ pie pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo) in a Mediterranean climate where increased soil temperature from mulch is desirable. BDMs in this study are advertised as soil-biodegradable, and we tested functionality but not biodegradability. Mulch deterioration during the growing season was measured as percent soil exposure (PSE), and remained low at the end of the growing season for all BDM and PE treatments both years (5% on average) except COX (68%). Weed number and biomass were low early, mid, and late season for all treatments except COX in 2018 and COX and CPE in 2019. Soil temperature with PE mulches (20.7 °C on average) was similar or slightly higher than with plastic BDMs (19.8 °C on average), which was higher than with paper BDMs (18.9 °C on average). Total fruit number and yield were similar for PE mulches (19.3 and 24.5 kg, respectively) and black plastic BDMs (17.3 and 21.2 kg, respectively), which were higher than COX and paper BDMs (15.7 and 19.8 kg, respectively). Mulch adhesion occurred on fruit in all BDM treatments, with more mulch adhesion in BFO in 2018 and WGP in 2019 than in other BDM treatments each year. The number of wipes is a proxy for the impact on harvest labor and can influence overall on-farm profitability. The number of wipes to remove adhered mulch (1.2 wipes on average) was similar for fruit harvested at four times of day (0800, 1000, 1200, and 1400 hr), but more wipes were needed to remove adhered mulch when fruit were stored up to 4 hours postharvest (5.4 wipes). Number of wipes to remove adhered mulch was negatively correlated to the amount of moisture on the fruit surface (R 2 = 0.31). Overall, these findings demonstrate that all black plastic and paper BDMs remained intact throughout the growing season and controlled weeds as well as black PE mulch, while clear BDM had higher weed pressure because it degraded during the growing season. Pumpkin yield was similar for black plastic BDMs and PE mulches and lower for clear and paper BDMs. However, all BDMs in this study adhered to the fruit surface and their removal became more difficult as the fruit surface dried.

Full access

Lisa W. DeVetter, Huan Zhang, Shuresh Ghimire, Sean Watkinson and Carol A. Miles

Day-neutral strawberry (Fragaria ×ananassa) is typically grown in plasticulture production systems that use black polyethylene (PE) mulch for weed management and promotion of crop growth and yield. The objectives of this research were to evaluate several commercial plastic and paper biodegradable mulch (BDM) products [Bio360, Experimental Prototype (Exp. Prototype), and WeedGuardPlus] in comparison with standard black PE mulch and bare ground cultivation in day-neutral strawberry grown in an annual system in northwestern Washington. Mulch performance [as percent visual cover (PVC)], weed suppression, marketable yield, plant biomass, and fruit quality were evaluated in ‘Albion’ and ‘Seascape’ strawberry grown in 2014 and 2015. PVC measured at the end of the production season was lowest for the Exp. Prototype (8%) in 2014 and was greatest for Bio360 (90%), WeedGuardPlus (90%), and PE (98%). In 2015, PVC at the end of the production season was again lowest for Exp. Prototype (62%), followed by WeedGuardPlus (64%), Bio360 (93%), and PE mulch (97%). Overall, weed pressure was higher in 2015 relative to 2014 and was greatest in the bare ground treatment in both years of the study. By the end of the 2015 season, weed cover in the bare ground treatment was 95%, followed by WeedGuardPlus (50%), Exp. Prototype (34%), PE (25%), and Bio360 (15%). Yield showed year and cultivar effects and was higher in mulched treatments. Plant biomass showed varying effects; root biomass was lowest in ‘Seascape’ in 2015 under the bare ground treatment and greatest under Bio360, which was similar to PE mulch and WeedGuardPlus. Leaf biomass was lowest in the bare ground treatment and highest in mulched treatments (except in 2015, when leaf biomass was intermediate for plants grown with WeedGuardPlus). Crown biomass showed a similar trend and was overall greater for plants grown in mulched treatments except for Bio360 in 2014, which was the same as the bare ground treatment. Overall, fruit quality was maintained among strawberry grown with BDMs, with soluble solids concentration (SSC, %) and titratable acidity (TA) being the only variables to show treatment effects. SCC tended to be lower in fruit from bare ground plots. TA was different for ‘Seascape’ in 2015 with fruit from bare ground and Exp. Prototype treatments having higher TA than the PE treatment. This study demonstrates that BDMs can be comparable to PE mulch in terms of performance and impacts on crop productivity in day-neutral strawberry, suggesting that BDMs could be a viable alternative to PE mulch for strawberry growers in the Pacific Northwest.

Open access

Huan Zhang, Carol Miles, Shuresh Ghimire, Chris Benedict, Inga Zasada, Hang Liu and Lisa DeVetter

Planting floricane-fruiting red raspberry (Rubus ideaus L.) propagated through tissue culture (TC) is becoming increasingly popular in the Pacific Northwest. However, there is a challenge associated with their establishment compared with traditional planting materials (dormant roots and canes), especially regarding weed management due to their sensitivity to herbicides. In addition, there has been an increased interest in late summer planting compared with traditional spring planting because growers find improved establishment in late summer planting. Although polyethylene (PE) and biodegradable plastic mulches (BDMs) have demonstrated excellent weed control and increased plant growth and yield in spring-planted TC raspberry, their impacts in late summer plantings are still unknown. The overall objective of this study was to investigate whether PE mulch and BDMs have similar effects on weed management and raspberry growth and yield in late summer plantings as in spring plantings. One PE mulch, four BDMs (BASF 0.5, BASF 0.6, Novamont 0.5, and Novamont 0.6), and a bare ground (BG) control were evaluated in a commercial ‘WakeHaven’ raspberry field planted in Aug. 2017. Mulch performance [percent soil exposure (PSE)], mulch mechanical properties (elongation and breaking force), soil temperature and moisture, plant growth, fruit yield and quality, and weed suppression were measured from 2017 to 2019. Average PSE was 1.4% and 2.0% to 15.0% by Dec. 2017 in the PE and BDM treatments, respectively. PE mulch generally had greater elongation and breaking force than BDMs. All BDMs were removed by Mar. 2018 because of the damage caused by on-farm activities and strong winds. Although average primocane height was greater for plants grown with PE mulch compared with all the other treatments except BASF 0.5 in Sept. 2018, there was no difference in yield between PE and the BG treatments, potentially because of cold damage on the buds in PE plots. There were no weeds in any of the mulched treatments in Sept. and Oct. 2017 and in PE mulch in Sept. 2018. In contrast, the BG plots had 51, 51, and 266 weeds/m2, respectively, and required handweeding and herbicide applications. In addition, early season application of herbicides to suppress primocane emergence was not required in the PE plots. Overall, PE mulch could be a viable tool for growers planting raspberry in late summer. The suitability of BDMs with similar thicknesses and formulations as used in this experiment is uncertain for late summer plantings because of the damage caused by on-farm activities and strong winds.