, Volume 235, Issue 2, pp 221-233

Roots, soil water and crop yield: tree crop interactions in a semi-arid agroforestry system in Kenya

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Abstract

Variations in soil water, crop yield and fine roots of 3–4 year-old Grevillea robusta Cunn. and Gliricidia sepium (Jacq.) Walp. growing in association with maize (Zea mays L.) were examined in semiarid Kenya during the long rains of 1996 and 1997. Even although tree roots penetrated more deeply than maize roots, maximum root length densities for both tree species and maize occurred in the top 200 mm of the soil profile where soil moisture was frequently recharged by rains. Populations of roots in plots containing trees were dominated by tree roots at the beginning of the growing season but because tree roots died and maize root length increased during the cropping season, amounts of tree and maize roots were similar at the end of the season. Thus, there was evidence of temporal separation of root activity between species, but there was no spatial separation of the rooting zones of the trees and crops within that part of the soil profile occupied by crop roots. Tree root length density declined with increasing distances from rows of trees and with depth in the soil profile. Although Grevillea trees were largest, plots containing G. sepium trees always contained more tree roots than plots containing G. robusta trees and Gliricidia was more competitive with maize than Grevillea. Overall, Gliricidia reduced crop yield by about 50% and Grevillea by about 40% relative to crop yield in control plots lacking trees and reductions of crop yield were greatest close to trees. There was less soil moisture in plots containing trees than in control plots. Such difference between control plots and plots containing trees were maximal at the end of the dry season and there was always less soil moisture close to trees than elsewhere in the plots. Plots containing Gliricidia trees contained less soil water than plots containing Grevillea trees.