Cover Cropping in Vineyards
Benefits and Drawbacks of Cover Crops
The use of cover crops can result in substantial benefits as well as be a source of unforeseen problems or drawbacks in the vineyard. The choice of which species, as well as the decision whether or not to plant a cover crop, is based in large part on the benefits desired. Problems associated with cover crops are often a result of unsuitable species or inappropriate management practices keeping in mind the best choice of species and practices can be highly site-dependent and often evolves through trial and error. Because species or viticultural practices may have benefits and drawbacks, the best choice is often a compromise.
Cover crops can be planted in vineyards in vine mid-rows to control erosion.
Greater Amounts of Organic Matter
Cover crops help to increase soil organic matter content by adding crop residue above and below the ground. The total quantity of biomass produced by the cover crop, its carbon:nitrogen (C:N) ratio, and how it is managed will determine how much soil organic matter is likely to increase.
Improved Soil Structure
Soils with a high organic matter content and intense biological activity generally have excellent soil structure.
One of the most significant contributions that legume cover crops make to the soil is the nitrogen (N) they contain.
Cover crops help bring other nutrients back into the upper soil profile from deep soil layers.
Cover crops and surface crop residues partially control some weeds by competing with them for light, moisture, nutrients, and space, which can be particularly helpful for suppressing winter annual weed growth or certain cool-season perennials.
Regulate Vine Growth
Cover crops can be used to both invigorate vines (augmenting soil nitrogen from nitrogen-fixing legumes) and devigorate vines (root competition from non-legumes with the vines for nutrients and water).
Promote Beneficial Organisms
Increased plant residues and the tillage practices generally associated with cover crop systems may improve the soil environment for certain beneficial organisms.
Interference with Grapevines
One important consideration when using overwintering cover crops is their potential to deplete soil water.
There are additional costs above and beyond normal cropping practices that must be considered in systems that include cover crops.
Cover crops may attract and provide shelter for pests, potentially increasing the pest and/or disease populations in the vineyard.
Risk of Frost
A bare, firm, moist vineyard floor absorbs heat during the day and releases it at night, increasing the air temperature by as much as 3 to 4 degrees F (1.6 to 2.2°C).
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Topics Within This Chapter:
- Introduction to Cover Cropping in Vineyards
- Benefits and Drawbacks of Cover Crops
- Life Cycle of Cover Crops
- Types of Cover Crops
- Cover Cropping Systems
- Criteria for Selecting Cover Crop Species
- Establishing and Managing Cover Crops
- Suppression or Control of Cover Crops
- Cover Cropping in Vineyards References