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Assessing the Effectiveness of Undervine Practices

Quantifying how tilling and mulching moderates soil moisture in block of Pinot

Can undervine practices make tangible impacts to soil moisture retention?

By Mark Morris posted July 01, 2017

Summary


Different undervine practices provide both pro's and con's in terms of balancing for (1) a soil depth and composition

that promotes root development, ensures access to a large reserve of nutrients and water and; (2) the reserves of nutrients and water, are not consumed excessively by competing vegetation. 


Here we consider three different undervine practices; mulched, tilled and bare soil and the effect on soil moisture during the height of the summer growing period (January to March), in Victoria, Australia.


Keywords: undervine, viticulture, soil mositure, mulching, tilling, herbicides, irrigation

The primary goals of ground management practices in any vineyard include weed supression, soil conservation and improvement, soil nutrient

and water management, enhanced biodiversity, fostering refugia for beneficial insects, and moderating resource availability (i.e., nutrients, water) to control vine vigour.


These all contribute to how the vine and fruit evolve over the season, and therefore have tangible implications for wine quality.


The best practice for each vineyard will be influenced by the vine's age, vineyard design, soil type, and site climatic conditions. Environmental regulations and public perceptions, regarding the use of different management approaches, also influence the best practices for a given site.


Treatments

Below is short summary of the relatively advantages and disadvantages of three common ground management practices:

Bare Soil 

Mulch

Tilled

Method:

Herbcide applied to remove vegeation under the vine, 400mm either side of the vine towards the inter-row

TypeStraw Mulch

AppliedNovember 2016

Method:

Mulch applied undervine to a width of 600mm (300mm either side of the vine, to an initial height of 300mm, which subsequently settled to a height of 150mm

Applied: November 2016

Method:

Ground undervine was tilled to a depth of between 75 and 100mm, to a width of 500mm (250mm either side of the vine

Advantages

  • Low Cost
  • No vegetation competition for vines
  • Looks tidy and is easy to maintain
  • Heat absorption by the bare earth may help protect against frost


  • Disadvantages
  • Reduced water infilitration
  • Uneven water distribution
  • Lower soil biota via an increased use of herbicides
  • Risk of soil erosion

Advantages

  • Improved and more even water infiltration

  • Surpresses weed competition
  • Enhanced soil biota via a reduced use of herbicides
  • Moderates solar reflection and radiance


Disadvantages

  • Can be costly to deploy
  • Can provide habitat for certain pests
  • Elevates fire risks
  • Doesn't moderate frost risk 


Advantages

  • Breaks surface crust and improves water infiltration and distribution.
  • Effective in controlling weeds in the short-to-medium term.
  • Reduces the use of herbicides.


Disadvantages

  • Soil compaction and loss of structure
  • Loss of fertility and organic matter
  • Risk of damage to vines and roots
  • Increased spread of  soil pest and pathogens


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Bare Soil

Not surprisingly bare soil showed the greatest moisture definciencies and significant variability in tension. This is confirmed in the box a whisker plots below, (where the size of the box and extension of whisker represent the range of values for tension arcross the treatments)

Soil temperature was also considerably more variable compared with mulching and tilling.

Mulched

Mulching providing both consistent and significant impacts upon both soil moisture and soil temperature.

Tension values where around 60% lower than bare soil and around 40% compared with tilled areas, for the key depths of 300 and 500mm.

Observations showed vine and and leaf growth was larger and more vigourous and leaf colour a deeper green.

Tilled

Tilling demonstrated improved infiltration and this clear from responses to rainfall events during the study period.

Tilling was also beneficial in regulating soil temperature, though not to the same degree as mulching, and most likely via improved airflow and solar attenuation.

Ther grower's observations also confirmed tilling's effectiveness in surpressing weed competition.

Click the charts to see a larger version of each chart. In box-and-whisker plots, the ends of the whiskers represent the max and min values, the notch is the median value (i.e. middle value in the data set and not be confused with the mean), and the ends of the box are the upper and lower quartiles. This means the box covers obervation values which include all those greater than the smallest 25% and less than the largest 25% of observed values, this is it covers the middle 50% of all observations.

Summary

Both mulching and tillage demostrated effectiveness in moderating soil mositure, improving water infiltration and stablising soil temperature. Their effect upon vigour and yield, as observed and noted by the grower, lends weight to its use within vineyard management, and a demostratable return on investment.


As an extension, studies in South Australia, showed an appoximate $9000/ha ROI for a $1000/ha investment in mulching, via improved yields, as well as significant water and energy savings, you can read more about the trial here.


In another Australian trial, this time over 3 years in Central NSW, mulching signfiicantly increased berry potassium and pH. The study concluded that increases of ~1t/ha were possible in lower yielding areas, and raised the possibiltity of using mulching to reduce yield variability across the vineyard, read more here


Mulching, has the added benefits of both suppressing weed competition and protecting undervine soils from erosion. Whilst tilling has similar benefits, including reducing herbicide use, it must be done with the risk of soil erosion in mind, since the soil is obviously loose and more mobile.


Bare soil provides the least attactive approach, with the exception of perhaps cost, in terms of managing water stress, weed condition and soil integrity.

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Make your own website in a few clicks! Mobirise helps you cut down development time by providing you with a flexible website editor with a drag and drop interface. MobiRise Website Builder creates responsive, retina and mobile friendly websites in a few clicks. Mobirise is one of the easiest website development tools available today. It also gives you the freedom to develop as many websites as you like given the fact that it is a desktop app.

Make your own website in a few clicks! Mobirise helps you cut down development time by providing you with a flexible website editor with a drag and drop interface. MobiRise Website Builder creates responsive, retina and mobile friendly websites in a few clicks. Mobirise is one of the easiest website development tools available today. It also gives you the freedom to develop as many websites as you like given the fact that it is a desktop app.