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  • Author or Editor: Jose G. Franco x
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The inclusion of a smother crop used as a cash crop in an intercropping system may be an effective cultural control strategy for the management of weeds in organic production systems. In addition, a multilayered canopy created when intercropping species with different growth forms may limit germination cues for weed seeds and can allow for a more efficient utilization of resources that reduce competition to target crops from weeds. Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) was evaluated for its ability to reduce weeds in a low-input organic system in Texas when planted alone or in various intercropping combinations that also included peanut (Arachis hypogaea), okra (Abelmoschus esculentus), cowpea (Vigna unguiculata), and hot pepper (Capsicum annuum). Watermelon significantly reduced total weed biomass when planted in monoculture and in all intercropping combinations compared with peanut, okra, cowpea, and pepper monocultures in year 1 of the 2-year study. Total weed biomass was reduced by 81%, 83%, 88%, and 92% in treatments containing watermelon on average as compared with pepper, peanut, okra, and cowpea grown in monoculture, respectively. Less effective weed suppression was obtained with watermelon in year 2. Pepper grown in monoculture had significantly higher weed biomass than all other treatments in year 2. Broadleaf weeds were effectively suppressed across all intercropping treatments in year 1, but nutsedges (Cyperus sp.) were consistently reduced both years, particularly when compared with monocrops with small leaf area such as pepper. The three and four species intercropping combinations consistently had high leaf area index (LAI) values, whereas pepper monoculture had significantly lower LAI values than all other treatments except for cowpea monoculture. There was a significant negative relationship between LAI and total weed biomass 33 d after last planting (r = −0.51, P < 0.01). There was a significant negative relationship between total weed biomass and total fruit yield in year 1 (r = −0.64, P < 0.01) but no significant relationship in year 2. Although findings were inconsistent in year 2 because of changes in precipitation amounts and in relative planting dates, these findings suggest that incorporating a multifunctional intercropping system that includes a low-growing vining crop such as watermelon or at least an architecturally complex mixture can optimize canopy density to reduce weed pressure from resilient perennial weeds such as nutsedge. This may offer organic producers another management tool for the control of perennial weeds.

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The dendrometer has been proposed as a sensitive plant water indicator based on stem growth. However, studies including dendrometers have been mainly focused on fruit trees and less attention has been paid to ornamental shrubs (small plants). In the study described here, stem dendrometers were used to ascertain whether there is any relationship between water status and dendrometric indices in potted ornamental shrubs (1 to 2 cm diameter). For this purpose, three Mediterranean shrubs (Pittosporum tobira, Callistemon citrinus, and Rhamnus alaternus) were studied under water stress recovery conditions in winter, spring, and early summer. At the end of the experiment, an extreme water stress treatment, which resulted in plant death (August) was also studied. Stem diameter variations [maximum and minimum daily stem values (MXDS and MNDS, respectively), maximum daily shrinkage (MDS), and stem growth rate (SGR)], daily evapotranspiration (daily plant ET), and leaf water potential (Ψleaf) parameters were considered throughout the experiment. A regression analysis between dendrometric indices and daily plant ET showed that MXDS and MNDS were sensitive under water stress recovery conditions, especially in severe environmental conditions (spring and summer). The SGR in C. citrinus, the MDS in P. tobira, and both indices in R. alaternus were seen to be sensitive during the stress to death period. Although more studies are needed, the results confirm that the use of dendrometers in small plants may be useful to provide continuous and automated registers of the plant water status under different substrate water content and climatic conditions. However, the response of these indices may imply moderate water stress.

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