- Additional Plants: tea
- Crop Production: cover crops
- Pest Management: biological control, row covers (for pests), weed ecology
- Soil Management: soil microbiology, soil quality/health
Tea (Camellia sinensis) is an emerging specialty crop for Florida. With a growing domestic market for tea, supplied almost exclusively by imports, and increasing consumption of locally produced agricultural products, tea has the potential to become a profitable specialty crop. Successful early adoption can be aided by research in support of sustainable best practices. Early and potential adopters in the Southeast have identified a need for extension support regarding field production methods and horticultural information about tea. Research that meets this need can be designed to subvert conventional practices in favor of sustainable and regenerative practices. Relevant to the question of ground covers for this perennial crop, is the practice of cover cropping. Cover crops have well-documented benefits to soils, soil microbes, and crops in mixed annual/perennial systems (agroforestry systems), however, they are not commonly used in conventional perennial cropping systems. Notable among the microbial beneficiaries of cover crops are arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF), known symbionts of many land plants including Camellia species. AMF-plant interactions facilitate plant nutrient uptake and can improve stress resistance (1). To support sustainable practices on emerging tea farms in Florida, we propose research with the related goals of: 1) characterizing tea-AMF interactions and communities in a variety of soils and geographies across the state of Florida, 2) describing the impact of weed barrier cloth and cover crops on AMF communities in establishing tea farms, and 3) using our findings to inform BMPs for establishing tea farms, with particular emphasis on ground cover management.
Project objectives from proposal:
1) Study and characterize AMF communities in association with tea roots across Florida. The range of this objective spans about 400 miles from north to south, 7 USDA plant hardiness zones, and four USDA soil orders. This objective casts a wide net to capture the diversity of AMF-tea community composition according to geographical occurrence, including considerations of climate, soil physical properties, and local vegetative communities. AMF species and community profiles determined from this objective will inform Objective 2.
2) Evaluate AMF colonization and community profile in association with tea roots under several ground cover strategies for tea farms, including biotic ground cover and WBC. Correlations between AMF and soil physical properties, soil nutrient levels, tea plant health, and product quality metrics will be investigated.
3) Report the results of this research to inform BMPs for ground cover management in tea growing systems. In particular, the work is intended to address issues of cover crop species selection, effect on soil nutrients and soil physical properties. In addition, symbiotic interactions between cover crop, tea plant, and soil fungal communities, will be studied and described with relevance to tea plant health and management recommendations. This objective includes dissemination of findings through webinars, extension outreach, conference presentations, and research publications.