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AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH C OMM UNICATION CENTRE
www.arccj ournals.co m
*Corresponding author’s e-mail: email@example.com
Effect of mulching on soil and water conservation -A review
Rupali Sharma* and Sandeep Bhardwaj
Department of Horticulture, COA,
Chaudhary Charan Singh Haryana Agricultural University, Hisar-125 004, Haryana, India.
Received: 27-05-2017 Accepted: 12-10-2017 DOI: 10.18805/ag.R-1732
The need to increase food production and improve the quality of our environment has prompted a search for materials to
control wind and water erosion. This paper is a review of research and development associated with application, methods,
and amounts of mulch types-crop residues, chemical soil stabilizers, and feedlot wastes (manure)-required to control wind
erosion. An effective wind erosion control treatment is one that can resist a 38.0 m/s wind as measured at 15.2 m. Mulching
has becomes an important practice in modern field production. Mulch paper reduces the application of chemical fertilizer
and herbicide, weed control and maintain the land temperature. This article reviews the published research on mulches and
discusses the opportunities that they solving the problem in agriculture.
Key words: Conservation, Mulching, Plastic mulch, Soil properties, Weeds.
India has made immense development in agriculture
and food security. It began with the decision to adopt superior
yielding, disease resistant wheat varieties in combination with
better far ming knowled ge to impr ove pr odu cti vity.
Development of irrigation schemes, copious use of fertilizers
and pesticides, use of high yielding varieties made the green
revolution possible. The word mulch has been probably
derived from the German word “molsch” means soft to decay,
which apparently referred to the use of straw and leaves by
gardeners as a spread over the ground as mulch (Jacks et al.,
1955). Mulches are used for various reasons in agriculture
but water conservation and erosion control are the most
important objectives particularly in arid and semi-arid
regions. Mulching is the process or practice of covering the
soil/ground to make more favourable conditions for plant
growth, development and efficient crop production. Mulch
technical term means ‘covering of soil’. While natural
mulches such as leaf, straw, dead leaves and compost have
been used for centuries, during the last 60 years the advent
of synthetic materials has altered the methods and benefits
of mulching. The research as well as field data available on
effect of synthetic mulches make a vast volume of useful
literature. When compared to other mulches plastic mulches
are completely impermeable to water; it therefore prevents
direct evaporation of moisture from the soil and thus limits
the water losses and soil erosion over the surface. In this
manner it plays a positive role in water conservation. The
suppression of evaporation also has a supplementary effect;
it prevents the rise of water containing salt, which is important
in countries with high salt content water resources. Thus, it
facilitates more retention of soil moisture and helps in control
of temperature fluctuations, improves physical, chemical and
biological properties of soil, as it adds nutrients to the soil
and ultimately enhances the growth and yield of crops (Dilip
Kumar et al., 1990). In addition mulch can effectively
minimize water vapour loss, soil erosion, weed problems
and nutrient loss (Van Derwerken and Wilcox, 1988).
Mulching in improve soil health: Knowledge of the
physical properties of soil is essential for defining and/or
improving soil health to achieve optimal productivity for
each soil/climatic condition. This envisages that for
increasing crop production, soil must be maintained in such
a physical condition so as to allow adequate crop growth.
Unless the soil physical environment is maintained at its
optimum level, the genetic yield potential of a crop cannot
be realized even when all the other requirements are fulfilled.
No doubt, if these soils are managed properly for good
physical health, the yield potential of different crops can be
Soil temperature: Soil temperature under plastic film is
usually high and also it is based on the color of the plastic
mulches. The black plastic-film mulch ed plots had
significantly lower soil temperature (1 to 2.80 C) than the
clear plastic-film mulched plots. Because much of the solar
energy absorbed by black plastic-film mulch is lost to the
atmosphere through radiation and forced convection (Schales
and Sheldrake,1963). Anikwe et al., (2007) observed that
the unmulched plots had the lowest soil temperature (about
1-3.80 C lower) at different times since planting compared
to plastic film mulched plots. Among different mulching
techniques plastic film mulching increases soil surface
temperature by influencing the heat balance and thus
increased the soil temperature and it also positively
influenced the crop emergence (Aniekwe et al., 2004).
Agricultural Reviews, 38(4) 201 7 : 3 11-315
Print ISSN:0253-14 96 / Online ISSN:09 76-05 39
312 AGRICULTURAL REVIEWS
Soi l water content: Th e black polyethylene mulch
maintained high soil water contents compared to the control
(no mulch) and the bare soil treatments (Li et al., (2001).
Improvement of the water use efficiency by better utilization
of soil water appears to be the best way to increase grain
yield in the semiarid areas (Zhao et al., 1995). The main
methods of increasing the water use efficiency include
reducing soil water evaporation, and exploiting deep soil
water so as to support shoot biomass accumulation and
optimize the dry matter allocation by selectively increasing
the reproduction (Li et al., 1997, 2000; Li and Zhao, 1997).
The plastic film mulch was promoted root growth and that
more roots were distributed in mid- and deep-soil, so that
the plant can uptake water from the deep soil and increase
the grain yield (Kwabiah, 2004).
Nutrient availability: The decomposition of organic
residues under plastic mulch adds organic acids to the soil
resulting in low soil pH, which may incr eases the
bioavailability of micronutrients (Mn, Zn, Cu, and Fe). This
was also evident from the increased Fe and Zn content in
soil under plastic mulch (Tisdale et al., 1990). The mineral
N content (NO3 and NH4+) in soil is high due to
mineralization of organic N with time, thereby; it increases
the availability of soil nitrogen. Breakdown of organic
material release soluble nutrients like NO3, NH4+, Ca2+,
Mg2+, K+ and fulvic acid to the soil intern increases the
soil nutrient availability under plastic mulch.
Crop growth parameters: Plastic mulch induces the early
crop emergence, so that it increased the biomass production
at early stages of the crop growth. Li et al., (1999) reported
that plastic film mulching leads to earlier seedling emergence
and earlier spike differentiation, which help to develop more
spikelets and more grains per spike in wheat. The
improvement in soil moisture and topsoil temperature under
plastic mulch hastened seedling emergence by 8 days on
average in wheat. Plants in mulching treatments entered the
maturation phase sooner and their maturation period was
longer. This change is favorable to partition assimilate that
is stored in vegetative organs, thus facilitating development
of the reproductive organs of wheat plants. It increases the
duration of repr oductive period so the yield will be
maximized (Li, et al., 2004).
Effect of mulching on weed control: The principle aim of
mulching is to cut off the light to the weeds and to suppress
their growth . Since every type of the mulch covers soil and
performs physical pressure to the weeds.
Biodegradable mulches: Carrubba and Militello, (2013)
presented some environmentally friendly techniques for weed
management, which proved to be efficient to increase seed
yields of cori ander, fennel and psyllium. Although
biodegradable films used in experiment positively affected
yields, they were not capable to suppress weeds. Organic
agriculture also uses some degradable inorganic materials,
such as gravel, which has been used as mulch from almost
forty years now (Fairborn, 1973). Besides the thickness of
this mulch, the gravel different grain size is also examined
(Qiu, e t.al , 2014). Wang et al . 2014 investigated
implementation of gravel-sand mulches in watermelon
production and reported how it in fluen ces the soil
temperature. There are reports on application of many other
organic mulches, such as composted pine bark in Allium
aflatunense (Laskowska et.al, 2012) or pine bark mulch in
Salvia splendens (Blażewicz-Woźniak et.al, 2011). Sawdust
was recommended as effective mulch for acid-loving plants,
such as calla (Wright and Burge 2010) or blueberries (Haynes
and Swift 1986). Straw and other organic mulches, similarly
to composting process, decompose over time through
mineralization process, thus forming humus. Apart from its
primary use as organic fertilizers, compost positively
contribute to the soil structure and is frequently used for
production of various substrates and mulches (Matković,
Non-biodegradable film mulches: Different polypropylene
(PP) black films were tested for efficiency in weed control
and the results proved significant increase in the plants height
(Fontana, et.al 2006). Normally, black and other film colours
are used in a cultivation of strawberry and watermelon, since
they need higher soil temperatures for attaining desired
sweetness. Polara and Viradiya (2013) presented superior
yield and quality features of watermelon produced on silver-
black PE film, although it is quite known that conventional
PE films create a big trouble to the environmental. With
regard to this, Costa et al. (2014) compared efficacy of PE
film with five biodegradable films and proved no significant
differences in productivity and quality of strawberry.
Mulching advantages and disadvantages: The influence
of different mulch types on crop yield might be positive or
negative, related totheir weed suppression effect. Many
researchers proved positive effects of mulching on crop
growth and the obtained yield quantities and qualities
(Ramakrishna, et.al, 2005). Regardless the colour, non-
biodegradable PP and PE films mulches proved to be the
most efficient in preventing of germination of seeds of the
most weeds and their further growth, though they are also
helpful in preventing loss of the moisture from the soil and
in balancing of its temperature (Momirović, et.al, 2010).
Their application frequently bring about many other benefits,
such as reduction of the run-offs, increase in rain water
penetration, control of erosion, correction of the chemical
balance of the soil and reduction of pest and disease damages.
However, they also have some environmental disadvantages,
related to the removal and handling of their waste
Volume 38 Issue 4, December 2017 313
Mulches and insect pest and disease management:
Polyethylene mulches have been used to potential decrease
in insect and disease pests (Lamont, 1993). The influence of
mulches on plant microclimate and energy balance is a
function of transmittance, absorbance, and reflectance of
solar radiation (Ham et al., 1993; Lamont, 2005; Tarara,
2000). Host-seeking behavior of thrips can be disrupted by
incorporating ultraviolet reflectance, thereby reducing thrips
numbers on and around host plants (Brown and Brown, 1992;
Kirk, 1997; Kring and Schuster, 1992; Scott et al., 1989;
Stavisky et al., 2002). The use of highly ultraviolet-reflective
aluminized mulch as a bed covering provides this reflectance
to disrupt initial flights of thrips into a field (Brown and
Brown, 1992; Kring and Schuster, 1992; Scott et al., 1989).
Soil preparation and preplant fertilization: The soil
should be deep plowed or disked at least one month before
bed preparation. Incorporate crop residues well. Remove
all trash, rocks or clods from the field that may hinder the
application of the plastic. Preplant fertilizers can be broadcast
and incorporated into the beds as they are formed. Good
soil moisture (60 to 80% of field capacity) is necessary to
make firm, smooth beds (Granberry, 1994). It is important
that the bed be firm, so the soil doesn’t settle.
Mulch application: Plastic mulch is most efficient when
used in conjunction with drip irrigation. A drip tube can be
applied on the soil surface under the mulch or buried two
inches to three inches beneath the soil surface. Burial reduces
the chance for movement of the tube and for damage that
causes leaks. Either way, the tube must be installed prior to
the mulch. For spring planting, the mulch should be applied
at least seven days ahead of planting to allow time for soil
warming. Soil fumigation can also be accomplished during
mulch application. Fumigation is a specialized operation.
Make plans well ahead of time to allow for equipment
readiness as well as necessary waiting periods between
treatment and planting. Apply the mulch properly to realize
all of the potential benefits for your money. The plastic should
be in continuous contact with the soil, i.e. the bed should be
uniform with no dish shapes to hold the mulch off the soil.
Space between the soil and the mulch interferes with heat transfer
and prevents the soil from warming as quickly and thoroughly.
The edges of the mulch should be secured with a generous
amount of soil. However, do not apply more soil than is needed,
as this makes the mulch more difficult to remove.
Planting: The crop should be planted in the middle of the
bed. Transplants or direct-seeded vegetables can be planted
directly through the plastic with a machine or by hand. Starter
fertilizer solutions generally are applied to transplants to
promote early growth. Fertilize plants midseason by injecting
appropriate soluble fertilizers through the drip line.
Culture and management: Plastic mulch does not eliminate
the need for good cultural practices. On the contrary, more
intensive management is needed to ensure utilization of the
mulch to its greatest advantage. Crops should be observed
regularly for insect build up under the plastic around plant
openings. If the mulch loosens after installation and flaps in
the wind, apply a shovel of soil in the middle of the plastic
at regular intervals down the row to stabilize the mulch. This
can prevent the mulch from blowing off the row or damaging
transplants. Establish and follow a good integrated pest
control management program for the particular crop. Use
good judgment to assess the nutrition status of the plants
and act accordingly.
Removal: After the plastic has served its purpose, i.e.
produced at least one and preferably two or more crops, it
must be removed from the field. The plastic should be
removed as soon as possible after use ceases. Do not allow
the plastic to become overgrown with weeds prior to removal.
The plastic must be removed after the growing season. Do
not disc plastic under. Machines are available commercially
for plastic removal, but they can be expensive. In most cases,
the plastic must be removed by hand and disposed of in a
In the present scenario of globalization and health
consciousness demand for horticultural crops has increased
world over. Under plastic mulch, soil properties like soil
temperature, moisture content, bulk density, aggregate
stability and nutrient availability improved. Plant growth and
yield are also positively influenced by the plastic mulch due
to the modification of soil microclimate. Even though it has
many advantages, high initial cost, removal and disposal of
plastic materials are some of the limitations experienced by
the farmers. To overcome these limitations photo and
biodegradable plastic mulches can be effectively used for
sustain in g th e produ ctivity as well as controllin g
environmental pollution due to the use of plastics.
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