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Effect of Leaf Mold Mulch, Biochar, and Earthworms on Mycorrhizal Colonization and Yield of Asparagus Affected by Fusarium Crown and Root Rot

Elmer, W. H.
Plant disease 2016 v.100 no.12 pp. 2507-2512
Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. asparagi, Lumbricus terrestris, biochar, composts, crop yield, earthworms, greenhouses, leaves, mulches, plant growth, planting, root crown, root rot, roots, soil amendments, soil treatment, soil types, toxins, vesicular arbuscular mycorrhizae
Asparagus can suffer from a crown and root rot caused by Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. asparagi and F. proliferatum. The disease is exacerbated when allelopathic toxins from old, rotting asparagus crowns are present in the soil. To minimize the damage from the replant problem, three strategies were examined: (i) biochar, (ii) application of earthworms (Lumbricus terrestris), and (iii) leaf mold to serve as a compost mulch and food source for earthworms. In a greenhouse, asparagus transplants were grown in soil amended with pathogen-infested asparagus residues or in nonamended soil, then both types of soil were augmented with biochar, earthworms, the combination of biochar and earthworms, or no treatment. Biochar increased arbuscular mycorrhizae (AM) colonization by 170% and reduced the incidence of root lesions by 57%; however, plant weight was not affected by any of the soil treatments and there were no significant interactions among the main effects. In the absence of infested asparagus residues, biochar reduced plant growth by 32%. Field plots that had severe crown and root rot, along with two other fields that had never been planted to asparagus, were planted with asparagus crowns and treated with leaf mold mulch, earthworms plus leaf mold mulch, biochar, or biochar plus earthworms plus leaf mold mulch. Untreated plots served as the control treatment. One year later, asparagus roots sampled from plots in the two new fields had a threefold increase in AM colonization when treated with biochar compared with control plots. Biochar did not increase yield over the duration of the 2012 to 2014 harvests when compared with that of the control plots. No soil treatment affected root colonization by AM in the field where Fusarium crown and root rot was severe. Compared with the untreated control plots, the leaf mold mulch treatment applied alone increased the marketable yields in each year of harvest. Combining leaf mold with earthworms provided no added benefit. Soil amendment with leaf mulch alone may hold promise for improving asparagus production in newly planted asparagus fields.