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Project Dates

2016 - present

Promoting orchard sustainability through integrated weed and soil management practices

Weed management in young apple orchards is critically important; sustained weed pressure limits tree growth and can have long-term impacts on yield. Traditional organic weed management strategies (i.e., cultivation and herbicide application) limit carbon returns and frequently disturb soil, thus degrading soil health. This long-term project aims to evaluate integrated weed management strategies and assess their influence on soil health and tree productivity.

Understanding barriers to adoption; transitioning results into recommendations

Despite decades of research into mulching and other alternative weed management strategies for organic apple orchards, cultivation and herbicide use remain common. The current study has started to demonstrate that mulches overlaid with organic herbicides provide sufficient weed control. We are also working with commercial apple growers to overcome barriers to adoption.

Key accomplishments, knowledge generated, outreach activities, resources created

  • Mulch plus organic herbicide yields the highest degree of weed suppression, lowest weed biodiversity, greatest improvement in soil health (organic matter, soil protein, soil respiration, and active carbon), and largest increase in tree growth
  • Cultivated plots have the highest weed biodiversity
  • Yield, a critical factor, will be evaluated for the first time in fall 2018
  • Additional years of study are necessary to understand the long-term impacts of these treatments on weed communities and soil health
  • A factsheet will be developed to share recommended practices for bark mulch application, pertinent results, comparative partial budgets, and cost-sharing opportunities


Toward Sustainability Fund (2016-2017), Extension and Outreach Assistantship (2018-2020)

Project Members

Gregory Peck, David Zakalik, Michael Brown, Kate Brown, Cornell Orchard Interns

Publications and Other Resources

For More Information

A Grower's Guide to Organic Apples