Introduction: Vineyard Floor Management
Vineyard managers should consider the entire ecosystem as the context for the sustainable production of quality grapes. Vineyard floor management can have a large impact on the abiotic (e.g., temperature, wind, and precipitation) and biotic (e.g., beneficial insects, pests, and disease) factors in a vineyard, especially microclimate modifications and soil health. Decisions about what floor management system to use should take overall vineyard management into account.
Types of Floor Management Systems
Resident vegetation. Resident vegetation consists of all plant species growing within the vineyard. These include both native plants and invasive weeds. The diversity of native plants varies by region of viticulture production. A major advantage of this system is the lack of planting costs; however, invasive weed species may be difficult to eradicate once established.
Management of resident vegetation usually requires mowing to reduce plant height to accommodate vineyard traffic. Mowing frequency is determined by the type of plant species present. In vineyards not certified organic, the area under the vine may be kept weed-free with an herbicide application in the spring. Resident vegetation management is an economical alternative, as the primary expense is limited to the cost of mowing.
Cover cropping. Vineyard cover crops can be managed a number of different ways. Most commonly, crops are seeded in every alley to provide cover throughout the vineyard (Figure 2). They can also be planted in alternate alleys, each with a solid stand of a different cover (e.g., grass and legume), or alternating with alleys that are clean cultivated. In some vineyards using sustainable management, the area immediately underneath the vine is kept clean with herbicide applications or cultivation to reduce competition for nutrients and water with the vine, especially with drip-irrigated systems. Vineyards using an organic management strategy must utilize mechanical means due to strict regulations on the use of synthetic chemicals for organic certification.
Utilizing Cover Crops as a Floor Management Tool
One of the biggest impacts of cover crops is the protection of the soil surface. Wind and water erosion can strip the upper soil layers up to 2.5” in a growing season. Conversely, soil accumulates in areas that contain vegetative cover (Coldwell et al. 1943). Cover crops, especially grasses, protect the soil by