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Cover Crops Influence Meadow Vole Presence in Organic Orchards

Michel R. Wiman1, Elizabeth M. Kirby1, David M. Granatstein1 and Thomas P. Sullivan2

Abstract
Living mulch cover crops can improve soil health and build organic matter, yet their use in fruit orchards comes with a risk of encouraging meadow vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus), a rodent that can be destructive to fruit trees.

Several living mulch cover crop species were assessed in an apple (Malus xdomestica) orchard understory along with wood chip mulch and bare ground.

Desired species characteristics were weed competitiveness, low growth habit, nitrogen fixation, and potential rodent repellency.

Legume species included birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), medic (Medicago spp.), and subterranean clover (Trifolium subterraneum), which were planted in solid stands as well as mixtures.

Nonlegume species included sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum), sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima), creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum), and colonial bentgrass (Agrostis tenuis).

Meadow vole presence was evaluated in fall and spring with point-intersect and run-length measurements.

A legume mix (medic, birdsfoot trefoil, subterranean clover, and colonial bentgrass) had the highest meadow vole presence, with no reduction under the "sandwich" system of tilling either side of the tree trunks while leaving a cover crop in a narrow strip with the trunks.

The nonlegume mix [colonial bentgrass, sweet alyssum, creeping thyme, and fivespot (Neomophila maculata)] had similar results. However, the sweet woodruff (planted in the "sandwich" system) had significantly lower presence of meadow voles than the other living mulches.

Wood chip mulch, cultivation, and bare ground control were all similar, with very low presence, indicating low risk of meadow vole damage. The results from the sweet woodruff suggest that we need more research on the potential to select living mulches that are nonattractive or repellent to meadow voles for use in orchards.


Source
HortTechnology (2009) 19:558-562


Author Locations and Affiliations
(1) Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University, Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center, 1100 North Western Avenue, Wenatchee, WA 98801
(2) Applied Mammal Research Institute, 11010 Mitchell Avenue, Summerland, British Columbia, V0H 1Z8, Canada


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Posted January 2010

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