Soil, Cover Crops and Compost

Ernie NeffCover Crops, Soil Improvement

Sarah Strauss

Soil organic matter benefits citrus, but there isn’t much of it in Florida groves, says University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences soil microbiologist Sarah Strauss. Most Florida citrus land typically contains only 1 to 2 percent soil organic matter, says Strauss, who works at the Southwest Florida Research and Education Center. “Areas near the Everglades with muck soil are much higher,” she adds.

Strauss says the benefits of more organic matter can include water-holding capacity, nutrient retention, nutrient cycling and erosion reduction. “A lot of those are all tied to the soil microbial activity in the community,” she says.

Microbes are “integral to soil organic matter and to all those discussions,” Strauss explains.

According to Strauss, the use of cover crops and compost are ways to increase soil organic matter in citrus production. Both methods have been used in Florida for a while. She notes that cover crops are “a year-round input into the soil, and that once you plant the seeds, those plants are staying in the soil continuously and providing a lot of benefits that compost may or may not provide without repeated applications.”

“There’s a huge variety of different types of cover crops that we’re looking at, and that’s an area that we’re still trying to figure out what are the best combinations,” Strauss says. Researchers are looking at combining legumes and non-legumes, and at different combinations of cover crops and compost, she says. They want to determine if adding compost helps cover crop germination and establishment and boosts cover crop benefits.

Hear more from Strauss, who participated in a Citrus Soil Health Field Day hosted by Extension agent Juanita Popenoe in the Howey-in-the-Hills area of Florida in mid-November:    

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About the Author

Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large