Shrub Willow Establishment: Can cover crops play a role in weed and nutrient management?

Presenter: Eric Fabio, Cornell University

Controlling weed competition is a critical component of shrub willow establishment due to low planting density and initially poor competitive ability.  Recommendations formed in the US fifteen years ago stress the need for cultivation and herbicides that leave the soil surface exposed for long periods of time, increasing the risk of soil erosion and nutrient losses.  Very little work has been done to investigate the use of cover crops for improving the sustainability of shrub willow establishment. 

We initiated two trials in September of 2013 to test the effects of fall-seeded cover crops on weed suppression and nutrient availability in shrub willow planted the following spring.  In one trial, we tested cereal rye and a brassica cover crop alone and in combination against a conventional field preparation control.  In the second trial, we tested three fall-seeded cereal crops along with a conventional preparation control.  Cover crop plots received no herbicides and cover crops were managed by rolling with a residue cutter/roller to produce a mulch layer.  Fertility treatments were used to manipulate nutrient availability.  Weed populations, nutrient availability and willow growth were measured over one growing season. 

Results from these two trials suggest that cover crops could have a role in improving the sustainability of shrub willow crop establishment, but important factors such as cover crop selection and management methods are important considerations.  Lessons learned and suggestions for future research will also be discussed.

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Sarah Wurzbacher

Created by Susan Hawkins

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