Use of organic mulch to enhance water-use efficiency and peach production under limiting soil conditions in a three-year-old orchard
Mulching techniques have emerged in recent years to overcome soil constraints and improve fruit tree productivity. The object of this study was to evaluate the effects of a low-cost organic mulch application in a newly planted peach orchard under a ridge planting system. Three treatments were performed in 12 elementary plots using a randomized complete block design. The orchard was drip-irrigated. Mulch was applied in two treatments, which differed in fertigation (none vs. multi-nutrient fertigation), while the third treatment did not include either mulch or fertigation and served as the control. Treatments were compared in terms of their effects on the physical properties of the soil, crop response, and water-use efficiency. Mulch treatments did not alter the soil bulk density. However, the mulch significantly (p=0.0004) increased the water infiltration rate (2.21 mm/h vs. 121 mm/h), which is a key issue when working in high frequency irrigation systems under soil limiting conditions. Similarly, mulched treatments showed a more favorable water status both in the second and the third year, which was translated in a better crop response. Thus, mulched treatments recorded higher yields both in the second (+155%, p=0.0005) and the third year (+53%, p=0.0007) of the experiment. Water use efficiency (WUEagr) was higher in the mulch treatments (+50% in average, p=0.0007) than in the control in the third year of the study. On the basis of our results, we propose that organic-mulching techniques should be considered as a beneficial practice to apply in fruit-trees production under limiting soil conditions.
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