Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 121 (2007) 336–342

Influence of cover crop on water use and performance
of vineyard in Mediterranean Portugal
Ana Monteiro *, Carlos M. Lopes
Instituto Superior de Agronomia, Universidade Tecnica de Lisboa, Tapada da Ajuda, 1349-017 Lisboa, Portugal
Received 8 May 2006; received in revised form 14 November 2006; accepted 16 November 2006
Available online 28 December 2006

Grapevine yield, vigour, fruit quality and vineyard dynamics were studied in the Estremadura Region of Portugal with a Mediterranean
oceanic bioclimate. A 3-year study was carried out in a 15-year-old ‘Cabernet Sauvignon’ non-irrigated vineyard. Three treatments were
compared: soil tillage (control), permanent resident vegetation, and permanent sown cover crop. The sward treatments induced changes in the
weed dynamics by increasing annual and perennial grasses and perennial broad-leaved species, while annual broad-leaved species spread and
persisted under a tillage system. Compared to soil tillage, the two sward treatments showed a higher water use, primarily during the spring. In
the third season of the experiment, compared to cultivation treatment the two sward treatments showed a significant, favourable reduction in
vine vegetative growth. The sward treatments did not affect grapevine yield or berry sugar accumulation compared to the control, but reduced
must acidity and increased berry skin total phenols and anthocyanins.
# 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Grapevine; Soil tillage; Cover crops; Flora; Growth; Yield; Berry composition

1. Introduction
Vineyard cover cropping is widely used in the world’s
winegrowing regions, mainly in areas with summer rainfall
or with irrigation. Cover crop information abounds and
many functions are well known—e.g. prevention of erosion,
easier mechanisation, ground cover, diminution of ground
pressure and improvement of soil structure (Folorunso et al.,
1992; Geoffrion, 1999, 2000). Nutrient competition, mainly
from grass cover crops (e.g. a reduction in the nitrate in the
soil), can induce a low level of must nitrogen content (Le
Golf-Guillou et al., 2000; Maigre and Aerny, 2001).
Furthermore, especially in the case of permanent covers,
plant species diversity has been found to be higher (Gut
et al., 1997).
In deep soils and high vigour situations living green
ground covers can be an advantage, because the increase in
water consumption can induce a reduction in grapevine
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +351 213 653 162; fax: +351 213 635 031.
E-mail address: (A. Monteiro).
0167-8809/$ – see front matter # 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

vegetative growth and consequently an improvement in both
the fruit zone microclimate and grape and wine quality
(Pacheco et al., 1991; Agulhon, 1996; Geoffrion, 1999). In
areas of low summer rainfall and high evaporative demand,
as is the case with some non-irrigated vineyards in Portugal,
cover cropping can be disadvantageous if the competition
for water leads to severe vine water stress and consequently
to negative effects on growth, yield and berry quality
(Williams and Matthews, 1990).
The objectives of the present study were to determine the
influence of permanent green cover on flora dynamics, water
use, grapevine vigour, yield and berry composition in a nonirrigated vineyard growing in a Mediterranean climate.

2. Materials and methods
The experiment was set up in 2002 at Quinta de Pancas,
Alenquer (Estremadura Winegrowing Region), Central
Portugal (lat. 398010 N; long. 98060 E), in a sloping vineyard
(7%) that had been under cultivation since establishment.

just before budbreak. reached on the permanent sown cover crop at the end of the season of the driest year (2003). and berry skin anthocyanins were measured using the sodium bisulphite discoloration method (Ribe´reau-Gayon et al. before the first rainfall. F. Dry matter per species was recorded. Total phenols were determined by spectrophotometry.A. Soil water content was monitored using a capacitance probe (Diviner 20001. The weather data was recorded by an automatic weather station (Pulsiane. In April 2002 a total of 29 species were surveyed in ST. with one APG 110 V Albuz1 flat-fan nozzle delivering 500 l ha1 at 200 kPa. and all the grapevine measurements were made in the two central ones.0 m within and 2. USA). sown in March 2002. (2) permanent resident vegetation cover between row (RV). respectively. measuring ultraviolet absorption at 280 nm (IFT).8 m-wide herbicide strip was achieved beneath the vines allowing a width of the planter of about 1. annuals and perennials scarcely grew in ST (Table 1).5%. using the method described by Derksen et al. ‘Bartı´ssimo’. fertilization.) vineyard.4. 1972). T. 337 2. In all the treatments a 0. This was similar to the other two treatments. Plant species from the survey carried out at the end of April were grouped according to annual grass species. ‘Claire’). Pulsonic1. and the mean total annual rainfall was 885. Assessments and data analysis Vegetation above-ground biomass was periodically assessed from March until September. During the 3-year study. respectively.3%. at the beginning of March. 50 kg ha1. in ST the annual broad-leaved species comprised the majority of the plant species surveyed.0 m. sand 55. 1990). rubra ‘Echo’) and 40% legumes (Trifolium incarnatum L. between bloom and veraison. At the end of April 2002–2004 the vegetation biomass in the soil tillage treatment (ST) was 137. vine pest and disease control and other cultivation practices. multiflorum Lam. ‘Red’.0 m. For fertilization 39 kg ha1 of N and P and 63 kg ha1 of K were supplied evenly over the surface of the soil every 2 years. Readings were taken periodically between budbreak and harvest. In the two cover cropping treatments the vegetation was mowed by a flail mower twice a year. Monsanto) was done. repens L. At winter shoot number and fresh pruning weight per vine were also recorded. pH 8. was 182 mm. ANOVA were carried out in accordance with GLM procedures. Conventional soil tillage treatment included vegetation mowing in the first week of February – a common operation that aims to shred vine prunings – and a soil cultivation with a spading machine in spring (budbreak) and a rotary tiller in summer (end June) to incorporate the vegetation into the soil.2%. The grasses.0 m depth. and spur-pruned on a bilateral Royat Cordon system. 538 and 92 g m2. Data were collected in a commercial 15-year-old ‘Cabernet Sauvignon’ (Vitis vinifera L. NC. The total soil available water. of the foliage herbicide 1800 g a. organic matter 0. 941. to a height of 10–15 cm. ha1 glyphosate (ROUNDUP 3601. (2003).6 8C (the mean maximum monthly temperature in August 2003). at increments of 0. France) located within the experimental vineyard. King Town. where three families were dominant: . in 2002. at a height of about 1.1 m from soil surface to a depth of 1. Sentek Environmental Technologies. grafted on 110 R rootstock. ‘Ridu’. annual broad-leaved species. (1993) and Streit et al. subterraneum L. Results During the experimental period (2002–2004) the mean air temperature ranged between 10 8C (the mean minimum monthly temperature in January 2003) and 23. Festuca ovina L. rubra ssp.M. Lopes / Agriculture. C. and titratable acidity by titration with NaOH (OIV.3. 2003 and 2004. from the SAS1 program package (SAS Institute. The vineyard had a planting density of 4000 vines per hectare. A single application. The three treatments were: (1) soil tillage between rows (ST). up to 1. Vines were trained on a vertical shoot positioning with a pair of movable wires.5 m between east-west oriented rows. L. The herbicide was sprayed using a motorized knapsack. namely before vine budbreak (first week of February) and at vine flowering (end of May or first week of June). The harvest from 40 previously selected vines per treatment (10 per plot) was monitored by recording the number of clusters and their total weight per vine. Species biomass values were complemented by a relative biomass value for each species. soluble solids (8Brix). Ecosystems and Environment 121 (2007) 336–342 The soil was a sandy clay loam with the following average characteristics: clay 24. but applied to species biomass instead of species density. At harvest a sample of 200 berries per plot was collected and weighed and the juice was analyzed for pH. determined by refractometry. Shoots were trimmed twice.1. The experimental design was a randomized complete block with three treatments and four replications per treatment. With the exception of soil management.7%. ‘Huie’ and T. calculated as the difference between field capacity and the lower limit of water uptake. perennial grass species and perennial broad-leaved species. ‘Nui’. spaced 1. including grapevine canopy management were similar in all treatments.8 and 564. Australia). silt 20.4 mm. Cary. Three access tubes per plot (12 per treatment) were placed along the row between two contiguous vines. Orsay.i. Each replicate (plot) had four rows with 100 vines each. with a mixture of 60% grasses (Lolium perenne L.. but some perennial broad-leaved species were also present.5 m2 areas per plot (16 samples per treatment). 3. Shoots from each species were harvested by cutting plants at soil surface level inside four randomized 0.7 m. (3) permanent sown cover crop between row (SCC). Monteiro.

and in SCC to the sown species L.2 87. showed a significantly higher relative biomass than ST and RV. Lopes / Agriculture. The increase in this plant group in RV was due to the presence of Avena sterilis L. The total vegetation biomass evolution pattern was similar for the three seasons.338 A. Rumex cripus L. which were dominated by L. 3. with a significantly higher relative biomass than RV and SCC. perenne.M. thus creating dead mulch. At the first measurement at the beginning of the season all the treatments presented similar soil moisture values. RV: resident vegetation. with six species from each family. which returned similar values. 1 month after budbreak) the soil was kept almost bare until harvest. Targ. but higher than for the ST. with the grasses being favoured by the mowing. The sown and resident species stopped growing or even dried out during the summer. with a significantly higher relative biomass than the other two treatments.1 10. Geraniaceae and Asteraceae.. The perennial broadleaved species increased their presence and dominance in RV. Picris echioides L. Monteiro. which was unable to recover until harvest.. but the proportion of each plant group changed annually. 1. Total biomass was also dominated by the Fabaceae M. with values that were statistically similar for the two of them. C. In the permanent sown cover crop the perennial grass species. Vegetation mowing: first week of February and at the end of May. followed by the Geraniaceae species.0 m profile for the second and third season of the experiment showed a decreasing trend throughout the growing season in all the three treatments (Fig.05 by LSD test. presented a poor germination rate and a weak growth.0 m) measured in situ during 2003 (A) and 2004 (B) growing seasons. soil cultivation: budbreak and at the end of June. SCC: sown cover crop. and Arisarum vulgare O.2 0. 1).4 0.2 25.5 0. after the first cultivation (ca.8 6. Ecosystems and Environment 121 (2007) 336–342 Table 1 Effect of soil management strategies on spring (April 2004) plant relative biomass (%) 3 years after experiment set-up Plant groups Relative biomass (0–100) ST Annual grass species Annual broad-leaved species Perennial grass species Perennial broad-leaved species Other monocotyledons 2. .0 a b a b a ST: soil tillage.. Veronica anagallis-arvensis L. In the permanent sown cover (SCC) sown Poaceae and Fabaceae dominated. In ST. with a single species Oxalis pes-caprae L.2 49. Tozz were the dominant species.8 0. In April 2003 and 2004.0 10. Lavatera spp.3 40. In each row different letter suffixes show statistically significant differences at P < 0. The shoot biomass of the perennial grasses increased from 5% in 2002 to 45% in 2004 of the total above-ground biomass. in the ST treatment the number of species did not change. Effect of soil management strategies on volumetric soil moisture (0–1. (from the vineyard seed bank). In the ST treatment plant community composition was dominated by annual broadleaved species. The annual grass species increased their presence in the sward treatments.. When it came to the permanent resident vegetation (RV) the number of species surveyed was similar to ST. showed the highest biomass.1 RV b a c b a 15. As the season progressed. Any plant that was able to germinate or re-grow was destroyed by the second cultivation in the middle of June.1 36. but Medicago polymorpha L. Each point represents the mean and standard error of the measurements made on 12 access tubes. In the sward treatments the amount of above-ground biomass increased in the spring and the mowing at the end of May induced a strong and similar reduction in vegetation.1 SCC a b b a a 16.1. while the two sward treatments Fig. multiflorum. Water use The seasonal pattern of volumetric soil moisture in the 0–1. The sown species of Fabaceae and Festuca spp. which seems to indicate that they were not well adapted to the vineyard environment and conditions. Significant changes in the relative biomass of the plant groups between treatments were registered in 2004 (Table 1). Oxalidaceae (52% of the total biomass). polymorpha.

while the two sward treatments show an extraction of water which. ST presents a significant lower extraction from both upper (0–0. The programmed number and time of the mowing seemed to improve and enhance cover crop establishment and performance.12 a 1.50–1.6 a 221.0 m soil depth. assuming the absence of runoff. while the ST depletion curves show an almost uniform water extraction from all soil layers. The same trend was observed in the 2003 season.33 a 0.58 b 2.0 a 240.74 a 0. No significant differences were observed in the shoot number per vine.30 a 1.3 mg l1.85 a 0. albeit more intense in the upper layers. which returned similar values. A similar trend was observed in 2003. which increased from 2002 to 2004 in all treatments. as can be seen from the example of the 2004 soil water depletion curves (Fig.0 m deep).6 2003 2004 357. where almost no water was extracted (between 0. 2004).05 by LSD test. Ba`rberi and Lo Cascio. Between bloom and veraison (June to the beginning of August) the three treatments presented statistically similar values for water use. C.8 11.05 a 2.2. a Data obtained from the sum of the rainfall with soil water depletion from 0 to 1. the two sward treatment depletion curves show a significant increase in volumetric soil moisture in the upper layers (0–0. respectively. perenne – were capable of competing with any potential weed and were quite adaptable to the local environmental conditions.58 a 0.A. In this experiment no significant differences were observed in either grapevine yield (average of 2. Between bloom and veraison the three treatments extracted water uniformly from all the soil layers.0 and 1182.9 a 212.95 kg vine1). This pattern was similar to that observed in 2002 (data not shown). 339 3.78 kg vine1) and SCC (0. Discussion Results of this 3-year study of soil management systems indicate that annual broad-leaved species spread and persist under tillage systems. but both were significantly lower than that of the ST treatment.05 level. Table 2 Effect of soil management strategies on estimated average water usea over the three main grapevine growth periods during 2003 and 2004 seasons Daily water use (mm day1) Budbreak–bloom Total water use (mm) Bloom–veraison Veraison–harvest 2003 2004 2003 2004 2003 ST RV SCC 2. SCC: sown cover crop. 6.. ST presented higher values.17 a 1. although the values were not statistically significant at the 0.9 kg vine1) or juice soluble solids (average of 22. Lopes / Agriculture.87 b 45. In each column different letter suffixes show statistically significant differences at P < 0.7 a 382.8 a 226.8 33. each of which returned statistically similar values. but with a lower rate for the two sward treatments when compared to ST. but in the last year a significant vegetative growth reduction was observed in the RV (0. The water used was not uniformly extracted from all the soil layers. Between budbreak and bloom in both seasons ST presented a significantly lower daily water use than the two sward treatments. 2). In order to estimate the daily average water used. but it was not statistically significant.08 Brix) and pH (average of 3. but no significant differences were observed among treatments (Table 2).50 m deep) and deep layers (0.0 m deep).4 0.96 a 0. for ST. During the berry ripening period. During the ripening period (August to the end of September) in 2004 the two sward treatments presented similar daily water use values. the amount of rainfall and the water depletion in the first 1.69 and 7. Monteiro.83 b 0. 1993. Most of the annual and perennial broad-leaved species surveyed in the ST treatment did not appear in the SCC treatment.6 ST: soil tillage.20 g tartaric acid l1 and skin anthocyanin content was 1027. During the spring.50 m). which suggests that the sown species – mainly the dominant L. In the first year of the experiment all the treatments presented similar values for pruning and shoot weight.0.85 b 3. 4. except for the end of the season when extraordinarily high amounts of rainfall in September (175 mm) induced a rapid recovery of the soil moisture to the spring values right across the profile.80 and 1.M. compared to the ST (0.95 a 0. deep percolation and capillary rise of groundwater. Felix and Owen. For example in 2004 the titratable acidity was 8. RV and SCC.67 a Rainfall 187. spans the entire profile. 2001. These differences increased from late spring to mid summer and then stabilised until the end of the season. RV: resident vegetation.8 79. in 2003 and 2004 the ST treatment presented significantly higher must titratable acidity and lower berry skin total phenols and anthocyanin content than the two sward treatments.15 a 1. 1269.2 13. . Vegetative growth and yield The effect of soil management strategies on vine vegetative growth was evaluated using the winter pruning weight.1 a 371. However.6 Budbreak–harvest 2004 1.18 a 0.35) in any of the three seasons. The total water use during the entire growing season was higher in 2003 than in 2004.05. Ecosystems and Environment 121 (2007) 336–342 showed similar values of volumetric soil water content. These results match those of other studies (Derksen et al.25 a 3.75 kg vine1) treatments.0 m of soil were calculated for the three main vine growth periods of the 2003 and 2004 seasons (Table 2).

2003) have already reported this effect of sward treatments on grapevine growth as a consequence of cover crop competition for water. 1990). Several authors (Morlat et al. Afonso et al. as was the case in 2004.. C. as some of these weeds are very competitive with vines for nutrients and water (Gulick et al. By contrast. Geoffrion.0 m soil depth assumes that no water was lost by runoff and/or deep percolation. respectively.. polymorpha) and Poaceae annual species (A. Indeed. 2004). This hypothesis is sustained by the shape of the ST depletion curves during the berry ripening period. Each point represents the mean of the measurements made on 12 access tubes. the sward treatments were effective in reducing soil water content during the spring. Maigre and Aerny. unlike the sward treatments. The almost complete water depletion in the upper layers that was observed in the sward treatments at bloom time may have induced both the death of the vine roots in the upper layers and the development of a deeper root system in order to explore moist layers. This growth reduction can be . In the sward treatments the significant increase in the volumetric soil moisture in the upper layers from veraison to harvest shows that water use was lower than the contribution made by rainfall. ST: soil tillage. The total water use for the entire season showed no significant differences between treatments. The higher water use during berry ripening in the ST treatment can be attributed to the greater evapotranspiration caused by both the greater availability of soil water and the probably higher soil evaporation that is to be expected from bare soil. 1997. because the extrapolation of water depletion from the 1..5 mm d1) presented by the sward treatments compared to the ST is within the range of those reported by Bo¨ll (1967) and Griebel (1996).. Soil water depletion curves measured in situ on four grapevine phenological phases of the 2004 growing season in the three treatments. The additional water consumption during spring (ca.340 A. 2000. and/or lower soil evaporation caused by the mulch effect of cover cropping residues. 2. RV: resident vegetation. the percentage of the total water use of the swards to soil tillage in 2003 and 2004 was 4 and 7% and 2 and 9% higher in RV and SCC.0 m depth. Prichard et al. as reported by Morlat and Jacquet (2003). However. This indicates either a reduced root system in those layers. 0. sterilis) and decreased most of the annual broad-leaved species. Lopes et al. these differences should be looked at with care. These differences in vine water use can primarily affect vine growth if the water stress occurs earlier on (Williams and Matthews. 1994. SCC: sown cover crop. such as some Geraniaceae and Asteraceae..M. in Germany Griebel (1996) estimated a 35% increase in the vineyard evapotranspiration rate due to a mixed stand. 2001. which shows an almost uniform water extraction from all the soil layers. in which no water was extracted from the upper layers (0–30 cm). Caspari et al. compared to ST. Permanent resident vegetation induced the spread of some perennial broad-leaved species because they could regrow after mowing—a trait that can be considered negative. only in the last year of the experiment were we able to detect a significant reduction in pruning weight in the sward treatments. Lopes / Agriculture. When compared to soil tillage. Nevertheless. and that no water was extracted from deeper soil layers other than the 1. Nevertheless. seasonal water use equalled that of bare soil. Ecosystems and Environment 121 (2007) 336–342 Fig. the RV treatment had a positive effect on flora diversity in that it induced the presence of some Fabaceae (M. Monteiro. (1989) found that when ‘Blando’ brome was grown in a Central Californian orchard and used as mulch throughout the summer. compared to clean cultivation between budbreak and bloom. 1993.

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