Mulching as alternative orchard floor management in apple orchards positively affects water availability and weed control
Optimal water management starts with an efficient use of natural precipitation. In this study, five intra-row mulch treatments to reduce evaporation and improve water retention were tested in a two-year Elstar apple orchard: i) biodegradable sprayable mulch, ii) wood chip mulch, iii) grass clover silage mulch as well as a iv) low-growing, and v) tall-growing clover seed mixtures as living mulches. Precipitation records and soil moisture sensors were used to follow changes in water availability in 0 to 20 cm depth. Yield as well as vegetative parameters (trunk diameter, shoot growth) were measured to assess the water saving strategies. Manual assessment of weed growth, weed coverage and species identification were done to evaluate the potential of mulch treatments for weed control. During the first year of the study, in spite of the high summer rainfall, different volumetric soil water contents were recorded under the mulch treatments compared to the herbicide-sprayed control. The biodegradable sprayable mulch and the wood chip mulch showed promising weed suppression, which reduced herbicide sprays to one application. To confirm the practical suitability of the developed water management strategies field experiments will be continued for two consecutive years.
Haug, A., Biegert, K., McCormick, R., Keutgen, N., Tagliavini, M. and Keutgen, A. (2023). Mulching as alternative orchard floor management in apple orchards positively affects water availability and weed control. Acta Hortic. 1373, 187-196
soil management, water use efficiency, evaporation, silage, wood chips, biodegradable sprayable mulch, living mulch