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Cover crops and organic mulches for nematode, weed and plant health management

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image of Nematology
For more content, see Nematologica.

Traditional cover cropping systems for nematode management seldom consider weed and soil nutrient management concurrently. Integrating cover crops suppressive to plant-parasitic nematodes with a cover crop mulching system could improve traditional approaches. Two field experiments were conducted in 2003 and 2004 to evaluate 'Tropic Sun' sunn hemp (Crotalaria juncea) and 'Iron Clay' cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) as summer cover crops and as organic mulches. Both experiments were in a 3 × 3 split-plot design in which the main plots were summer planting of sunn hemp, cowpea or fallow, and the subplots were organic mulch of sunn hemp, cowpea or no mulch. The summer cover crop was followed by turnip (Brassica rapa) and lima bean (Phaseolus lunatus) in the autumn. Using sunn hemp as organic mulch suppressed root-knot nematodes more effectively than using it as a cover crop, but only on a less susceptible host such as turnip, and not on a very susceptible host such as lima bean. While sunn hemp as a cover crop failed to enhance beneficial free-living nematodes, sunn hemp as an organic mulch enhanced bacterial-feeding nematode population densities. Sunn hemp mulch also suppressed broadleaf weeds but not grasses or nutsedges. Although sunn hemp and cowpea cover crops did not increase lima bean N and K content, their mulches increased N and K content. Similar results were observed for turnip and lima bean yields. Population density of root-knot nematodes was positively related to abundance of omnivorous nematode in 2003. The abundance of plant-parasitic nematodes was negatively related to the infestation levels of Pasteuria penetrans, and the abundance of predatory nematodes in 2004. Factors that might have affected the performance of sunn hemp on nematode communities are discussed.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Plant and Environmental Protection Sciences, University of Hawaii, 3050 Maile Way, Honolulu, HI 96822, USA;, Email:; 2: Department of Entomology and Nematology, University of Florida, P.O. Box 110620, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA; 3: Agronomy Department, University of Florida, P.O. Box 110730, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA; 4: USDA, ARS, US Horticultural Research Lab, 2001 South Rock Rd., Ft Pierce, FL 34945, USA


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