Plant and Soil

, Volume 271, Issue 1, pp 377-389

First online:

Orchard floor management practices that maintain vegetative or biomass groundcover stimulate soil microbial activity and alter soil microbial community composition

  • Shengrui YaoAffiliated withDepartment of Horticulture, Cornell University
  • , Ian A. MerwinAffiliated withDepartment of Horticulture, Cornell University
  • , George W. BirdAffiliated withDepartment of Plant Pathology, Michigan State University
  • , George S. AbawiAffiliated withDepartment of Plant Pathology, Cornell University
  • , Janice E. ThiesAffiliated withDepartment of Crop and Soil Sciences, Cornell University Email author 

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Groundcover management systems (GMS) are important in managing fruit-tree orchards because of their effects on soil conditions, nutrient availability, tree growth and yields. We employed a polyphasic approach, incorporating measures of soil microbial abundance, activity and community composition, to study the long-term effects of different GMS on biotic and abiotic factors in an orchard soil. Four GMS treatments – Pre-emergence residual herbicides (Pre-H), post-emergence herbicide (Post-H), mowed-sod (Grass), and hardwood bark mulch (Mulch) – were established in 2-m-wide strips within tree rows in an apple orchard in 1992, and have been maintained and monitored annually until the present. We have measured soil water and nutrient availability, tree growth, and yields annually from 1993 to 2003. Soil nematode numbers and trophic groups were evaluated in July and Oct. 2001, and Sept. 2003. Numbers of culturable bacteria and fungi, soil respiratory activity, eubacterial and fungal community composition were determined in May and Sept. 2003. The Pre-H treatment soil had the fewest culturable bacteria, while the Grass treatment had the largest population of culturable fungi. Soil nematode population size and diversity were also affected by GMS treatments; the Pre-H treatment had the lowest ratio of (bacteriovores + fungivores) to plant parasitic nematodes. Soil respiration rates were higher in the Mulch than in other treatments during a 40-day incubation period. Hierarchical cluster dendrograms of denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) fingerprints for eubacterial community 16S rRNA genes indicated that Post-H and Grass treatments clustered together and separately from the Pre-H and Mulch treatments, which were also grouped together. The influence of GMSs on the fungal community, as assessed by PCR-DGGE of the internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region, was not as pronounced as that observed for bacteria. Soil fungal community composition under the Mulch differed from that under other treatments. The effects of GMS on soil microbial community abundance, activity, and composition were associated with observed differences in soil organic matter inputs and turnover, nutrient availability, and apple tree growth and yields under the different GMS treatments.


apple bacteria fungi groundcover management system microbial community composition