Florida citrus growers have always understood the importance of soil health and the positive influence of microbial activity and diversity in production. As citrus greening (also known as HLB) has spread, reducing production by more than 70%, interest in how these tiny organisms can improve root health is increasing. Research showing the disease, which is spread by the Asian citrus psyllid, can reduce citrus fibrous-root density by 30% to 50% before symptoms become visible above ground only intensifies the interest to learn more.
There are numerous management issues to consider when using cover crops. Once you decide what your major goals are for using cover crops, select one or more to try out. Consider using combinations of species. You also need to decide where cover crops best fit in your system—planted following the main crop, intercropped during part or all of the growing of the main crop, or grown for an entire growing season in order to build up the soil.
Orchard soil health, or soil quality, is the capacity of soil to support productive trees over time without negatively affecting the surrounding environment. Soil health is influenced by interacting biological, physical, and chemical properties of soil. Active soil biological communities mineralize nitrogen, create soil structure, and compete with plant pathogens. Physical properties of soil determine its ability to store and release nutrients; accommodate water entry, storage, and movement; provide sufficient oxygen for roots and microbes; and moderate environmental stress. Chemical aspects of soil health include nutrient presence and availability, pH, cation exchange capacity (CEC), salinity, and the presence of any contaminants, such as heavy metals or persistent pesticide residues.