Written Paper

Improvement of direct tree seeding with cover crops in afforestation: Microclimate and resource availability induced by vegetation composition  [2009]

Balandier, Philippe Frochot, Henri Sourisseau, Agnès

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The low cost of direct tree seeding makes it increasingly useful for afforestation. However, the success of the technique is often unpredictable due to a series of different adverse biotic and abiotic factors. A plant cover with low competitive ability towards resources could offer a natural alternative to the herbicides currently used to control weeds. The effects of cover plants on availability of resources and microclimate were studied in a field experiment in the central France during three years. An experiment design crossing three mixtures of tree seeds with four vegetation compositions (a bare soil, flora of the meadow, and two mixtures of cover plants) was established and repeated randomly in three blocks in a meadow. Vegetation composition, tree seedling emergence, light availability, soil water content, and temperatures under each treatment were measured. The vegetation composition of the meadow stayed stable, with grass species dominating. The cover plants sown disappeared rapidly after one or two years. Outcome of direct seeding of trees depended on the vegetation treatment. Bare soil gave the highest emergence rate while meadow vegetation gave the lowest, with the mixture of cover plants being intermediate. Light availability and soil water content were very low under the meadow vegetation but were very high on the bare soil, again with cover plant mixtures being intermediate. This study confirms that a bare soil obtained by herbicide is a sec
ure way to ensure tree seedling establishment in afforestation by direct seeding. However, with the onus currently on reducing herbicide use, the results suggest that sowing a mixture of cover plants could be an acceptable alternative to herbicides. The cover plants could offer protection against frost, scorching temperatures, or the water run-off encountered on bare soil. However, there are also a number of unresolved issues that need be addressed before the cover plants technique can be recommended.