Effects of Living Mulch and Fertilizer on the Performance of Broccoli in Plasticulture


Living mulch systems allow cover crops to be grown during periods of cash crop production, thereby extending the duration of cover crop growth and associated beneficial agroecosystem services. However, living mulches may also result in agroecosystem disservices such as reduced cash crop yields if the living mulch competes with the crop for limiting resources. We examined whether the effects of an Italian ryegrass [Lolium multiflorum (Lam.) Husnot]–white clover (Trifolium repens L., cv. New Zealand) living mulch on broccoli (Brassica oleracea L. var. italica) yield and yield components were dependent on fertilizer rate in field experiments conducted in Durham, NH, in 2011 (Expt. 1) and 2012 (Expt. 2). Drip-irrigated broccoli was grown under a range of organic fertilizer application rates in beds covered with plastic, with and without a living mulch growing in the uncovered, interbed space. Broccoli yields were similar in the living mulch and bare soil controls under the highest rates of fertilizer application in Expt. 1. In Expt. 2, living mulch reduced broccoli yields from 28% to 63%, depending on fertilizer rate. Differences in leaf SPAD values suggest that yield reductions were attributable, in part, to competition for nitrogen; however, other factors likely played a role in determining living mulch effects. Despite yield reductions, the living mulch reduced the prevalence of hollow stem in broccoli in Expt. 1. Organic fertilizer may have inconsistent effects on broccoli yields in living mulch systems.

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American Society for Horticultural Science

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