Black or blue? Mulch color affects okra growth, yield

April 19, 2010

Plastic mulches have been used in vegetable production in the United States since the 1950s. Black plastic (polyethylene) mulch, which alters the plant's growing environment by generating warmer soil temperatures and holding more moisture than bare soil, is the standard mulch used in vegetable production. A new research study evaluated the effects of colored plastic mulches with and without row covers on growth and earliness of fruit production on okra. According to the report in the latest issue of HortTechnology, the color of mulch used produced significant differences in okra growth and yield.

Previous research studies indicated that using black plastic instead of bare soil results in higher yields, earlier harvests, and cleaner fruit attributed to and moisture differences. Other mulch colors have also been used successfully; white plastic has been shown to generate cooler soil temperatures than black, and is preferred during the summer growing season in warmer regions because of its ability to maintain .

To test the effects of mulch color on okra, Garry G. Gordon of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service and colleagues from Auburn University's Department of Horticulture grew the vegetable, direct-seeded in single rows, on sandy loam soil in Shorter, Alabama. Treatments consisted of five mulch colors: black, white, red, silver, and blue installed either with or without spun-bonded row cover. Soil temperatures were 4 to 7°C lower than air temperatures in all treatments.

The use of darker-colored (black, blue, and red) plastic mulches increased early and total yield of okra compared with bare soil with and without row cover. Increased soil and air temperatures did not always correlate to an increase in yield, however. "From the results, we can conclude that the use of dark plastic mulch is advantageous to growers of okra in climates that do not have cool springs", Gordon noted. Early yield was generally greatest with dark mulch colors and the combined total yield was greatest when black and blue plastic mulch were used.

Another dimension of the study involved the use of floating spun-bonded polyester row covers. Row covers have been shown to alter other vegetables' microenvironment by increasing temperatures for the crop during the day and into the night. In the okra study, plants grown in under a row cover were taller and generally more robust than plants grown without row covers. Marketable yield was greater with the use of a row cover, but early yields were reduced by the presence of row cover—an outcome the research team attributed to the high air temperature in late May during the study.

Data analysis revealed no significant economic advantage to using either blue or black plastic mulch for growing okra. The report noted that "the positive (economic) effect may be more pronounced with leafy vegetables". The scientists recommended that more research be done to determine what effect row covers with various colored plastic mulches have on the earliness and production of vegetable crops.

Explore further: Strawberry fields ripe for the picking

More information: The complete study and abstract are available on the ASHS HortTechnology electronic journal web site: horttech.ashspublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/20/1/224

Related Stories

Strawberry fields ripe for the picking

December 6, 2007

Many fruit farmers in the United States rely heavily on "pick-your-own" (PYO) operations to realize profits and create repeat business. Pick-your-own fruit farms are an important market segment, and consumer satisfaction ...

Biodegradable mulch films on the horizon

February 26, 2009

In 1999, more than 30 million acres of agricultural land worldwide were covered with plastic mulch, and those numbers have been increasing significantly since then. With the recent trend toward "going green", researchers ...

Organic apple orchard floor maintenance techniques

September 4, 2009

Successful organic apple farming literally starts from the ground up. Maintaining a healthy orchard floor is the key to preventing weeds and keeping soil healthy. Logically, finding effective methods to increase production ...

Organic weed control options for highbush blueberry

November 4, 2009

Research scientists at Nova Scotia Agricultural College have been working steadily to find effective organic methods to control weeds in cultivated blueberry crops. One resulting study, published in a recent issue of the ...

Recommended for you

Studies reveal details of error correction in cell division

July 29, 2015

Cell biologists led by Thomas Maresca at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, with collaborators elsewhere, report an advance in understanding the workings of an error correction mechanism that helps cells detect and ...

Researchers discover new type of mycovirus

July 29, 2015

Researchers, led by Dr Robert Coutts, Leverhulme Research Fellow from the School of Life and Medical Sciences at the University of Hertfordshire, and Dr Ioly Kotta-Loizou, Research Associate at Imperial College, have discovered ...

Stressed out plants send animal-like signals

July 29, 2015

University of Adelaide research has shown for the first time that, despite not having a nervous system, plants use signals normally associated with animals when they encounter stress.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.