The effect of four different mulches on fruit quality was quantified, either
directly via mineral nutrient contributions or indirectly, by increasing nutrient uptake
efficiency in the soil. We hypothesised that fruit nutrient levels would increase more
when an organic mulch, containing nutrients, was applied to the soil, with smaller/no
increases when an inorganic mulch was applied to the tree row.
In this paper, we concentrate on changes in fruit phosphorus (P) concentrations
after application of five treatments: a clean cultivated control, an inorganic woven
geotextile fabric, and organic mulches – compost, wood chips and a vermi-castings/
wood chips combination. The trial was conducted on a commercial farm, Lourensford
Estate, South Africa, from October 2008 to April 2012 – on an adjacent light, sandy and
heavier, sandy-silt soil.
Mineral nutrient analyses of the soil, leaves, mulches and fruit were performed.
Yield and fruit size were determined. Soil temperatures and soil water status were
recorded hourly during the last two seasons. P concentrations did increase chronologically
from the soil, then into leaves and then into the fruit after application of
mulches that provided additional P to the soil. Sporadic increases in both leaves and
fruit occurred, but could not always be related to treatment effects. The significant
consistent increase of P levels of the vermi-castings treatment in the heavy soil is likely
to be a combination of reduced irrigation volumes, as well as a treatment effect.
All mulches resulted in the well-established buffering of soil temperatures, soil water content and percentage soil carbon. Based on results from this study, it is not
feasible to apply mulches for the sole purpose to increase P levels in the soil, leaves or
fruit of established trees – although increases were noticed from time to time. In
addition to water and temperature modifying effects of mulches that would differ
between soil textures and depend on the mulch source, increases in P concentrations
may result. As yield efficiency is still the primary factor determining income per hectare
for the producer, the decrease in yield that resulted from mulching under these
conditions, will still outweigh any positive contributions of mulches. It is therefore of
utmost importance to first adjust irrigation volumes to a mulch treatment before the
advantageous properties of mulching will be of value.