Growth and Yield Responses to Mulches and Cover Crops under Low Potassium Conditions in Drip-irrigated Apple Orchards on Coarse Soils.

Hogue, E.J., Cline, J.A., Neilsen, G.H., and Neilsen, D. (2010). "Growth and Yield Responses to Mulches and Cover Crops under Low Potassium Conditions in Drip-irrigated Apple Orchards on Coarse Soils.", HortScience, 45(12), pp. 1866-1871.

Abstract

Fertigated ‘Gala’ apple trees on M.9 (Malus domestica Borkh.) rootstock, planted in 1998, were grown on a coarse soil for 6 years (1998 to 2003) and exposed to eight orchard floor vegetation management treatments within the tree row. These consisted of a glyphosate control; three waste paper mulch treatments [spray-on mulch paper mulch (SM), SM incorporated with dichlobenil, SM applied over uniformly spread shredded office paper (SOP)]; and four living cover crop mulch treatments [dwarf white clover (WC), sweet clover (SC), hairy vetch (HV), and annual rye]. There were no significant treatment effects on leaf nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) status; however, leaf potassium (K) levels were negatively affected by the living mulch treatments in 2 of 5 years. Tree vigor was diminished by several of the orchard floor vegetation management systems in 5 of 6 years. Trees receiving an SM treatment grew more rapidly than trees receiving the ground cover treatments and trees receiving a glyphosate treatment had relatively poor but comparable growth to several of the cover crop treatments. Growth response in trees receiving SM were observed in all production years. After 6 years, cumulative yields were highest from trees receiving any of the three SM or glyphosate treatments and significantly less for any of the ground cover treatments. Weed growth within the rye cover crop was significantly reduced in comparison with the other living mulches; however, it remained sufficiently competitive to contribute to diminished overall yield and tree growth in comparison with the SM and gylphosate control treatments. Overall, response of leaf K concentration to mulch treatments was insufficient to prevent low K levels after 5 years. The addition of K through the organic mulches or recycling of K by cover crops was insufficient to avoid the development of low leaf K levels. Annual fertigation of K, in addition to N and P, appears necessary to maintain adequate vigor and yield when using mulches or cover crops in intensive, drip-irrigated apple orchards grown on coarse soils.

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