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Intercropping Caragana arborescens with Salix miyabeana to satisfy nitrogen demand and maximize growth.

Moukoumi, J., R. E. Farrell, K. J. Van Rees, R. K. Hynes and N. Bélanger. 2012. BioEnergy Research

Abstract

Willow shows great promise as a biomass crop and is now used worldwide. However, willow is a nutrient and water demanding plant that often requires the use of nitrogen (N) fertilizer to maximize growth on poor soils. The intercropping of Salix miyabeana with the atmospheric N2-fixing Caragana arborescens on poor soils of the Canadian Prairies could provide a portion of the N demand of the willow. The main objectives were to: (1) determine the yield potential, N nutrition and water use efficiency (WUE) of willow and Caragana grown in pure and mixed plantations across a range of soil productivity and (2) assess the extent of atmospheric N2-fixation by the Caragana within the first rotation in central Saskatchewan. We found large differences in willow yields, foliar N and WUE across the sites. The willow yields (1.24 to 15.6 t dry matter ha-1 over 4 years) were low compared to northeastern North American values and reflect the short and dry summers of the region. The yields were positively correlated to foliar N (ranging between 14.3 and 32.4 mg g-1), whereas higher WUE (expressed as δ13C) were not positively correlated to water availability but to higher yields. Caragana N2-fixation (measured using 15N isotope dilution) was not active at the most productive site but up to 60% of the foliar N was of atmospheric origin at the two other sites. Willow growth increased with Caragana proportions at the least productive site, which is typical of the benefits of N2-fixing plants on the growth of other plants on poor soils. At the most productive site, Caragana decreased the growth of willow early on due to competition for resources, but willow eventually shaded Caragana to a point of significant canopy decline and dieback. It is therefore more appropriate to intercrop the two species on less productive soils as Caragana is more likely to add N to the system via N2-fixation and is less likely to be shaded out by willow.

Key Words

Willow Caragana Intercropping Growth Foliar N Atmospheric N2-fixation Water use efficiency