Smother crops ineffective against established perennials in the Southeastern U.S.

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Matt Aldrovandi and Jennifer Franklin

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Surface mines in the eastern U.S. that were reclaimed between 1977 and 2010 were typically planted with aggressive non-native legumes and pasture grasses. This vegetation has proven to persist for decades and inhibit the establishment of native vegetation, leaving vast areas of land in a state of arrested succession. Reforestation of these sites first requires subsoiling to relieve compaction, and herbicide to control invasive species. We tested the potential of fast growing annual species to act as a “smother crop” to control tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea) and sericea lespedeza (Lespedeza cuneate), as an alternative to herbicide. Nine species were selected based on early growth, rapid establishment of dense foliage, and their suitability for the site conditions. After subsoiling, the site was planted with native tree seedlings and within each of 50 plots, annual species were seeded in 1m2 plots, along with an unseeded control, in the spring of 2017. In late summer, visual estimates of cover were made then all above-ground biomass within the plots was harvested, separated into categories, dried, and weighed. Although vegetation covered more than 70% of the plots, on average, no annual species was able to occupy more than 15% of the plot. However, few plots were dominated by fescue or lespedeza, but rather were dominated by native perennial forbs. It appears that the disturbance of subsoiling initiated a shift in vegetation allowing established native perennials to dominate over non-native vegetation, as has been observed on other similar sites.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program