Fruit trees in orchards of the mid-Atlantic region of the United States are often planted in vegetation-free rows alternating with grass alleys. Grass managed to suppress weeds but to compete minimally with fruit trees may be an alternative to herbicide and tillage. This research was conducted in the greenhouse and field to assess five different grasses that may suppress weeds without reducing yield of fruit trees. In the greenhouse with high seeding rates, red fescue competed more effectively than did chewings fescue, tall fescue, and perennial ryegrass with three weeds (damesrocket, cornflower, and chicory). However, with reduced seeding rates, similar to rates used in the field, grass competitiveness with weeds was similar between red fescue, tall fescue, and perennial ryegrass. Similar results were obtained during a 4-yr field experiment; roughstalk bluegrass competed least effectively with weeds but the other four grasses provided similar weed suppression—generally providing as much weed suppression as traditional herbicides. None of the candidate grasses significantly reduced yields of 10-yr-old apple and peach trees, although fruit size was affected by some grasses. The grass that was least suppressive of yield, roughstalk bluegrass, was the least effective in controlling weeds. Annual mowing in combination with four of the grasses tested is one option to manage the orchard floor with reduced herbicides, but fruit size may decrease.
Nomenclature: Chicory, Cichorium intybus L.; cornflower, Centaurea cyanus L.; damesrocket, Hesperis matronalis L.; apple, Malus × domestica Borkh.; chewings red fescue, Festuca rubra var. commutata L. Gaudin; peach, Prunus persica (L.) Batch; perennial ryegrass, Lolium perenne L.; red fescue, Festuca rubra L.; roughstalk bluegrass, Poa trivialis L.; tall fescue, Lolium arundinaceum (Schreb.) S.J. Darbyshire.