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- Author or Editor: Stephen S. Deschamps x
Black plastic mulch is used predominantly for winter strawberry (Fragaria ×ananassa Duch.) production in Florida because of its warming effects. However, black plastic mulch can increase heat stress during establishment, especially when growers advance planting dates (e.g., late September) to improve earliness. Consequently, we designed a new plastic mulch film that has a metalized center stripe with black shoulders. We hypothesized that metalized-striped mulch can minimize heat stress during establishment, while maintaining the warming effects of black mulch during winter. We conducted field trials over two seasons to evaluate black mulch, fully metalized mulch, and metalized-striped mulch using two cultivars differing in heat stress tolerance and fruit production patterns: ‘Florida Radiance’ and ‘Florida Beauty’. The effect of plastic mulch type on plant growth and yield was generally consistent across both seasons. Compared with black mulch, metalized-striped mulch reduced afternoon root-zone temperature (RZT) by up to 3.1 °C and reduced the duration of heat stress conditions (RZT > 30 °C) by 119 hours across October and November, but exhibited equivalent soil warming during winter. Yield increases by metalized-striped mulch compared with black mulch ranged from 19% to 34% in the early season (November–January), 6% to 20% in the late season (February–March), and 12% to 26% over the entire season. Statistical significance was detected for the 2016–17 early-season yield and when yield data were expressed on a weekly basis. Compared with black mulch, metalized-striped mulch improved fruit number significantly without affecting fruit weight or canopy area, suggesting that heat stress on black mulch negatively affects flower and fruit development more than plant growth. Weekly fruit yield data indicate that metalized-striped mulch can produce greater yields than fully metalized mulch. Metalized-striped mulch is an easily implementable strategy for reducing establishment heat stress and improving fruit earliness in subtropical winter strawberry production regions.