Orchard Floor Management

Ian A. Merwin

Orchards are unique among crop systems in their temporal and structural complexity. During the 15- to 50-year production cycles of perennial fruit plantings, a diverse community of naturally growing "weeds" or planted groundcover species develops on the orchard floor. This groundcover vegetation can provide substantial benefits of soil conservation, nutrient cycling, and habitat for desirable wildlife. However, without careful management it can also compete with trees for limiting nutrients, complicate orchard operations, and harbor economic pests of fruit. Sustainable orchard floor management (OFM) systems require knowledge about site-specific conditions, plant function, and consideration of trade-offs among beneficial and detrimental aspects of groundcover vegetation.

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