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Impact of Cover Crops on the Soil Microbiome of Tree Crops

Increased concerns associated with interactions between herbicides, inorganic fertilizers, soil nutrient availability and plant phytotoxicity in perennial tree crop production systems have renewed interest in the use of cover crops in the inter-row middles or between trees as an alternative sustainable management strategy for these systems. Although interactions between the soil microbiome and cover crops have been examined for annual cropping systems, there are critical differences in management and growth in perennial cropping systems that can influence the soil microbiome and, therefore, the response to cover crops. Here, we discuss the importance of cover crops in tree cropping systems using multispecies cover crop mixtures and minimum tillage and no-tillage to not only enhance the soil microbiome but also carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus cycling compared to monocropping, conventional tillage, and inorganic fertilization. We also identify potentially important taxa and research gaps that need to be addressed to facilitate assessments of the relationships between cover crops, soil microbes, and the health of tree crops. Additional evaluations of the interactions between the soil microbiome, cover crops, nutrient cycling, and tree performance will allow for more effective and sustainable management of perennial cropping systems.

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