Researchers with UF/IFAS are studying the use of cover crops to combat citrus greening, given their soil health benefits and more.

Cover crops have been found to have a wide range of benefits for certain crops, and researchers with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) are studying the benefits of cover crops for Florida citrus. According to a Citrus Grower article, the research is specifically looking at using cover crops to combat citrus greening. See the details of the research below.

The Benefits of Cover Crops

Cover crops are used for soil improvement and sustainability, rather than a cash crop. The article maintains that “one of the main benefits of cover crops is their contribution to the key drivers of soil health: soil organic matter (SOM) and soil microbial diversity and composition.” These benefits are achieved through adding soil carbon and nitrogen, which in turn increases soil organic matter, boosts soil microbial activity, and more.

According to the article, in addition to soil health benefits, cover crops in general can “improve water and nutrient retention, promote microbial activity, reduce weed growth and insect pests, and improve plant growth.” Cover crops have been used in other orchard settings, but they have not yet made their way into citrus groves.

Using Cover Crops to Combat Citrus Greening

Researchers are hoping that cover crops can help infected citrus trees cope with citrus greening. “As citrus greening (huanglongbing or HLB) can significantly impact root growth and nutrient and water uptake,” the article states, “the benefits from cover crops may be an additional strategy to improve Florida citrus production and reduce fertilizer and water inputs.”

With the increase in soil organic matter and soil microbial composition and diversity, the article maintains that cover crops could also “improve soil nutrient retention and availability…increase the soil water-holding capacity and reduce the soil temperature…[and] reduce the amount of irrigation necessary and potentially allow for greater tree water uptake and reduced nutrient leaching.”

Cover crops cited in the research include:

  • perennial peanut
  • sunn hemp
  • some clovers
  • buckwheat
  • browntop millet
  • sunflower, and more

Which cover crops would work best depends on the season, the current state of the soil, and more. Speak with an Extension agent for recommendations.

Griffin Fertilizer is committed to helping both growers and ranchers make sound agronomic and economic decisions in order to maximize the health of their grove and pasture. As a full-service custom dry & liquid fertilizer blender and crop protection product distributor, we will continue our mission to further advance Florida agriculture. For questions or concerns about your farm or pasture, contact us and one of our team will be in touch.