Submitted to: International Journal of Fruit Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 9/29/2010
Publication Date: 12/1/2010
Citation: Hunt, J.F., Honeycutt, C.W., Yarborough, D. 2010. Effect of pine-bark mulch on lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) water demand. International Journal of Fruit Science. 10:390-415. Interpretive Summary: Yield of lowbush blueberry highly depends on water availability. Research was conducted to give growers first-hand information on the water conserving benefits of mulch. We measured the effects of mulch on soil water content at five sites throughout the Downeast Region of Maine. Despite having the second wettest growing season in 60 years, the effects of mulch were clearly evident. Mulch significantly reduced water loss from these soils. During one 27 day dry period, un-mulched soils needed irrigation more than 60% of the time, compared with 7-10% of the time for mulched soils. These results show that mulching is a potentially viable practice for conserving water in blueberry production.
Technical Abstract: Lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) growers seeking an alternative and/or a complement to supplemental irrigation require accurate crop-specific information on the water conserving benefits of mulch. Twenty-eight weighing lysimeters equipped with soil moisture monitors were used at 5 sites throughout the Downeast Region of Maine to compare water budgets of lowbush blueberry grown on un-mulched soils and on soils mulched with composted pine bark. Despite the second wettest growing season in 60 years, April through September mean hourly soil water potential values at all sites indicated significantly (p<0.001) drier conditions in un-mulched compared with mulched soils. Differences in soil water potential values between un-mulched and mulched soils were much more pronounced during three dry periods, totaling approximately 53 days, than during the 2009 growing season as a whole. Over the course of one 27 day dry period, soil water potential values of un-mulched soils at two lysimeter stations indicated a need for irrigation more than 60% of the time, compared with 7-10% of the time for mulched soils. Mulching reduced diurnal fluctuations of both soil water potential and volumetric water content. Early morning water deposition was significantly reduced by mulching at nearly all lysimeter stations; however, mulch-associated reductions in peak-hour ET losses more than compensated for lower water inputs from dew and fog. During the three major periods of dry conditions, mulch reduced ET rate by 0.045 ± 0.003 cm/day in three fields during the fruit-bearing year. These results indicate that mulching represents a viable method for alleviating drought-induced water stress for lowbush blueberry in Maine.