Mulch and Fertilizer Management Practices for Organic Production of Highbush Blueberry. II. Impact on Plant and Soil Nutrients during Establishment Public Deposited

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  • A systems trial was established in Oct. 2006 to evaluate management practices for organic production of northern highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum L.). The practices included: flat and raised planting beds; feather meal and fish emulsion fertilizer each applied at rates of 29 and 57 kg·ha⁻¹ nitrogen (N); sawdust mulch, compost topped with sawdust mulch (compost + sawdust), or weed mat; and two cultivars, Duke and Liberty. Each treatment was irrigated by drip and weeds were controlled as needed. The planting was certified organic in 2008. Bed type affected most leaf nutrients measured in one or both cultivars during the first year after planting, including N, phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), boron (B), manganese (Mn), and zinc (Zn), but had less of an effect on leaf nutrients and no effect on soil pH, organic matter, or soil nutrients measured the next year. Feather meal contained 12 times more Ca and seven times more B than fish emulsion and resulted in higher levels of soil Ca and soil and leaf B in both cultivars, whereas fish emulsion contained three times more P, 100 times more K, and 60 times more copper (Cu) and resulted in higher levels of soil P, K, and Cu as well as a higher level of leaf P and K. Fish emulsion also reduced soil pH. Compost + sawdust mulch increased soil pH and organic matter and resulted in higher levels of soil nitrate-N (NO₃-N), P, K, Ca, B, Cu, and Zn than sawdust alone and increased leaf K and B. Weed mat, in contrast, resulted in the lowest soil pH and increased soil ammonium-N (NH₄-N). Weed mat also reduced soil Ca and Mg, but its effects on leaf nutrients were variable. Leaf Ca, Mg, and B were below levels recommended for blueberry the first year after planting when plants were fertilized with fish emulsion, whereas leaf N was low or deficient on average in the second year when plants were fertilized with feather meal. Leaf B was also low the second year in all treatments, and leaf Cu was marginally low. Leaf K, conversely, increased from the previous year and was becoming marginally high with fish emulsion. Fish emulsion, weed mat, and compost were generally the most favorable practices in terms of plant and soil nutrition. However, given the impact of each on soil pH and/or plant and soil K, further investigation is needed to determine whether these practices are sustainable over the long term for both conventional and organic production of highbush blueberry.
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  • Larco, H., Strik, B. C., Bryla, D. R., & Sullivan, D. M. (2013). Mulch and fertilizer management practices for organic production of highbush blueberry. II. Impact on plant and soil nutrients during establishment. HortScience, 48(12), 1484-1495.
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