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Weed-suppressive effects of maizelegume

intercropping in organic farming

Article in International Journal of Pest Management April 2010

DOI: 10.1080/09670870903304471


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6 authors, including:

D. Bilalis Panayiota Papastylianou

Agricultural University of Athens Agricultural University of Athens


Sotiria Patsiali Anestis Karkanis

Agricultural University of Athens University of Thessaly


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Weed-suppressive effects of maize-legume intercropping in organic

Dimitrios Bilalis a; Panayiota Papastylianou a; Aristidis Konstantas a; Sotiria Patsiali a; Anestis Karkanis
;Aspasia Efthimiadou a
Department of Crop Science, Agriculture University of Athens, Greece

Online publication date: 25 March 2010

To cite this Article Bilalis, Dimitrios , Papastylianou, Panayiota , Konstantas, Aristidis , Patsiali, Sotiria , Karkanis, Anestis
andEfthimiadou, Aspasia(2010) 'Weed-suppressive effects of maize-legume intercropping in organic farming',
International Journal of Pest Management, 56: 2, 173 181
To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/09670870903304471


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International Journal of Pest Management
Vol. 56, No. 2, AprilJune 2010, 173181

Weed-suppressive eects of maizelegume intercropping in organic farming

Dimitrios Bilalis*, Panayiota Papastylianou, Aristidis Konstantas, Sotiria Patsiali, Anestis Karkanis and
Aspasia Efthimiadou
Department of Crop Science, Agriculture University of Athens, Iera Odos 75, 118 55 Athens, Greece
(Received 19 September 2008; nal version received 2 September 2009)

In organic agriculture, intercropping is receiving increasing attention as it oers potential advantages for increasing
sustainability in crop production. However, intercropping can increase competition between crops and weeds. In this
study, we analyzed the eects of maizelegume intercrops on the weed community in an organic cropping system. We
were concerned only with competition between crops and weeds for light. We recorded a statistically signicant
negative correlation between the fraction of photosynthetically active radiation (Fint PAR) intercepted by the
canopy, and both weed density and weed dry matter. Maizelegume intercropping led to a higher soil canopy cover
(leaf area index) than sole crops. The lowest values for Fint PAR were received in sole crops. Thus, in maizelegume
intercrops the decrease in available light for weeds led to a reduction of weed density and dry matter, compared to
sole crops. Intercropping maize and legumes considerably reduced the weed density in the intercrop compared with
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the maize pure stand. Weed suppression by crops was also greater on a low-productivity site than on a high-
productivity site. Our results indicate that intercropping could be useful for weed suppression in organic row-crops
such as maize and cotton.
Keywords: competition; intercropping; maize; legumes; bean; cowpea; weed ora; organic agriculture; weed

1. Introduction Intercropping is a cultural practice which increases

Cultural practices such as mulching (Bilalis et al. 2003), competition between crops and weeds. It can increase
tillage (Bilalis et al. 2001), competitive cultivars light interception in a weakly competitive crop and can
(Korres and Froud-Williams 2002), and irrigation contribute to weed suppression in a long-term strategy
systems (Karkanis et al. 2007) inuence weed density for weed management (Baumann et al. 2001). The
and distribution. There is a keen interest in developing amount of light intercepted by the component crops in
alternative methods of natural weed control in an intercrop system depends on the geometry of the
organically grown crops, as weed control remains one crop and foliage architecture (Keating and Carberry
of the most signicant agronomic challenges in the 1993). At low maize density, beans received 50% of
production of organic crops. Concern over potential incident light (Ofori and Stern 1987). Intercrop systems
increases in weed populations without the use of are reported to use more resources, thus reducing the
herbicides has limited the uptake of organic farming amounts available for weed growth (Liebman and
practices (Bond and Grundy 2001). Robichaux 1990).
Legumecereal intercropping, i.e. the practice of Weed control in intercrops is particularly eective in
growing two (or more) crops simultaneously in the slow-growing, ultimately tall crops when interpolated
same land area, oers a potential method of reducing with short-season short crops (Midmore 1993).
inputs such as fertilizers (Hauggaard-Nielsen et al. Baumann et al. (2000) reported that intercropping of
2007). Intercropping positively inuences both crop leek and celery in a row-by-row replacement design
growth and yield (Bilalis et al. 2005). Moreover, weed considerably shortened the critical period for weed
suppression has been noted as one of the advantages of control in the intercrop compared with the pure leek
intercropping (Mohler and Liebman 1987; Liebman stand. The intercropping of eld beans (Vicia faba L.)
and Davis 2000; Brainard and Bellinder 2004; Chikoye and wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) grown organically
et al. 2004; Fujiyoshi et al. 2007; Hauggaard-Nielsen reduced the growth of weeds and gave a yield advantage
et al. 2007; Bilalis et al. 2008). Liebman and Dyck over sole, cropping (Bulson et al. 1997). Fenandez-
(1993) noted a decrease in weed biomass for intercrop Aparicio et al. (2007) reported that Orobanche crenata
as compared with monocrop systems in 47 studies, a infection on faba bean and pea is reduced when these
higher level of weed biomass in four studies and host crops are intercropped with oat, and they suggested
variable results in another three cases. that inhibition of O. crenata seed germination by

*Corresponding author. Email:

ISSN 0967-0874 print/ISSN 1366-5863 online

2010 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/09670870903304471
174 D. Bilalis et al.

allelochemicals released by cereal roots is the mechanism (Zea mays L. hybrid 31G98 (Pioneer)). The soil was
for reduction of O. crenata infection. Zuofa et al. (1992) ploughed, to a depth of 25 cm, on 20 April 2002 and on
observed that intercropping maize with 20,000 plants 1st May 2003 followed by one rotary hoeing to a depth
ha71 of smother crops (groundnut, cowpea and melon) of 56 cm. Maize was hand-sown on 24th April 2002
provided the best weed control, highest total yields and and on 4th May 2003. The row spacing of maize was
land equivalent ratio (LER). Olasantan et al. (1994) 75 cm, sole crop and intercrop being planted at the
found that intercropping cassava (Manihot esculenta same density (8 plants m72). Bean and cowpea were
Crantz) and maize can alleviate weed problems. Inter- hand-sown in rows of 40 cm apart on 15th May 2002
cropping with N-fertilizer application gave the highest and on 24th May 2003. Legumes that are early-sown
leaf area index (LAI) and light interception and hence could result in reduced maize yield. Lawson et al.
the best weed control, total yields and LER. (2007) reported that the highest cover spread of
The aim of this study was to extend knowledge Mucuna and Canavalia was observed when they were
concerning intercrop systems using legume species. The incorporated 4 and 2 weeks after planting maize,
main objective was to analyze the eects of maize respectively. Legume crop density was 25 plants m72
legume intercrops on the weed community in an (monocrop and intercrop at the same plant density). A
organic cropping system. Our study was restricted to surface-drip irrigation system was installed soon after
competition between crops and weeds for light. crop emergence. The average mean monthly tempera-
ture and precipitation were 23.778C and 55.8 mm,
respectively, during the rst cultivation period (April
2. Materials and methods
September 2002) and 22.338C and 98.6 mm for the
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2.1. Field experiments second cultivation period (MaySeptember 2003).

Two experiments were conducted at the organic
research farm of the Agriculture University of Athens
(Lat: 348580 , Long: 238430 , alt: 277 m) in Greece (2002) 2.2. Measurements
and at an organic eld in the Mavrica area (Lat: 388360 , The sampling dates for all variables at both sites were
Long: 218210 , alt: 24 m) located in western Greece 40, 60, 80, 100, 120 and 140 days after sowing (d.a.s.).
(2003). The soil types (Table 1) were clay loam in Plants were destructively sampled (5 plants per
Athens and silt loam in the Mavrica area. Some plot) and leaf area was measured using an automatic
meteorological data for the experimental sites are leaf area meter (DeltaT Devices Ltd, Burwell, Cam-
presented in Table 1. The sites were managed accord- bridge, UK). The results, on a plant basis, were
ing to organic agriculture guidelines (EN 2092/91). converted into the leaf area index (LAI) by multiplying
The experiment was set up on an area of 2000 m2 the average crop density of each plot. Yield was
according to a randomized complete block design with determined by manually harvesting all plots. The land
eight replications. Experiments included ve treat- equivalent ratio (LER) was used to evaluate intercrop
ments: monocultures of maize, bean and cowpea and eciency in grain yield.
two intercrops of maize and both legume crops. The    
plot size of each treatment was 50 m2 (5 6 10 m). The Yintmaize Yintlegume
species cultivated were bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L. cv. Ysolomaize Ysololegume
sevilla), cowpea (Vigna unguiculata L.) and maize
where Yintmaize and Ysolomaize are the yields of inter-
cropped and sole maize, respectively, and Yintlegume and
Table 1. Soil properties and meteorological data in the
experimental sites (Athens and Mavrica). Ysololegume are the yields of intercropped and sole
legume, respectively.
Mavrica Canopy interception of incident photosynthetically
Athens area active radiation (PAR) was calculated by taking 10
Soil properties readings in rapid succession above the canopy and 10
Soil type Clay loam Silt loam below the canopy at the soil surface using a 60-cm
Clay 29.8% 24.9% Suneck Ceptometer (Decagon devices, Pullman, WA,
Silt 34.3% 61.2%
Sand 35.9% 13.9% USA). The fraction of the incident PAR intercepted by
pH (1:1 H2O) 7.22 7.56 the canopy (Fint PAR) was calculated with the
Organic matter 1.37% 3.21% following equation (Poggio 2005):
CaCO3 18% 13%
Total nitrogen 0.112% 0.152%  
Phosphorus-Olsen 48 ppm 92 ppm % Fint PAR 1   100
Potassium 335 ppm 632 ppm PARabovecanopy
Meteorological data
Annual average 17.9 17.2 The weed density (Wdens) was measured using
temperature (8C) 0.5 6 0.5-m quadrants; 5 per plot. All weeds were
Total precipitation (mm) 434 955
collected from the measured area and weighed to
International Journal of Pest Management 175

determine the weed dry matter (WDM). The dry crop plots. At both sites, on all sampling dates, the
weight of weeds was determined after drying for 72 h highest LAI for sole crops were observed in beans
at 708C. (3.32 and 3.50, at 140 d.a.s.) and the lowest values in
maize. Due to the inuence of maizelegume com-
petition, LAI was highest in sole crops compared to
2.3. Statistical analysis the LAI of the same species intercropped. Finally, the
ANOVA was applied to the data (StatSoft software LAI of maize intercropped with legumes was
1999). Dierences between the means were compared always higher than that of legumes intercropped with
using the least signicant dierence test (LSD). maize. As expected, the highest grain yield values were
Regression analysis was used to describe the relation- found in sole crops and the lowest in intercrops
ships between Wdens, WDM, LAI and Fint PAR. (Figure 2).

3. Results 3.2. Light interception

3.1. Leaf area index-grain yield The values for Fint PAR under the cultivation plants
The values of LAI are presented in Figure 1. The are shown in Figure 3. At both sites, at 40 d.a.s., there
highest values of LAI were observed for maizebean were no signicant dierences between systems. After
intercropping plots (5.11 and 5.12, in Athens and 80 d.a.s., the fraction of PAR that was intercepted
Mavrica, respectively). In intercrop system plots, the started to increase signicantly more rapidly on the
LAI was also signicantly higher than the LAI on sole intercrop systems.
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Figure 1. Leaf area index for sole and intercrops, (a) in Athens and (b) in Mavrica (bars: LSD, P 0.05).
176 D. Bilalis et al.

Figure 2. Grain yield as aected by crop system in Athens and Mavrica (bars: LSD, P 0.05).

3.3. Weed density

In Athens, about eight species of weeds appeared in the
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experimental eld (Figure 4). The most dominant

among these were: Amaranthus blitoides, A. retroexus
(Amaranthaceae), Setaria sp. (Poaceae) and Tribulus
terrestris (Zygophyllaceae). In contrast, in the Mavrica
area, 10 species of weeds were found in the experi-
mental eld; the most dominant being: A. blitoides, A.
retroexus, Echinochloa crus-galli (Poaceae), Solanum
nigrum (Solanaceae) and Convolvulus arvensis
At both sites, the highest Wdens was recorded on
sole crop plots (Figure 5). After 60 d.a.s., signicant
dierences between the treatments began to appear. At
both sites, there were no signicant dierences between
the maizebean and maizecowpea intercrop, and the
dierences between intercrop and sole crops were
statistically signicant in most cases.
The highest Wdens value for sole crops was
recorded in maize (27.67m72 in Athens and
33.37 m72 in Mavrica, at 140 d.a.s.) and the lowest
in the bean crop. At 140 d.a.s., the lowest weed
density was observed in maizebean and maize
Figure 3. FintPAR (fraction of PAR (%) intercepted by cowpea intercrops. In Athens, the weed density in
crop canopy) during the growing season, for inter- and sole
crops: (a) in Athens and (b) in Mavrica (bars: LSD, maizebean and maizecowpea systems was 15.33 and
P 0.05). 13.33 m72, respectively. In Mavrica, the Wdens in
maizebean and maizecowpea systems was 16.44
and 18.00 m72, respectively. There was a signicant
negative correlation between Fint PAR and weed
The highest values were observed in the maizebean density (Table 2).
system (*90% at both sites, at 140 d.a.s.) and the next There was a signicant positive correlation between
highest in the maizecowpea system. There were no LAI and Fint PAR. Of the models tted, the linear
signicant dierences between maizebean and maize model yielded the highest R2 value (Table 3). This is the
cowpea intercrops. Moreover, the highest Fint PAR currently selected model (Figure 6). Over 60 d.a.s., the
intercepted for sole crops was observed in beans (66 correlation coecients between LAI and Fint PAR
and 63%, in Athens and Mavrica, respectively, at 140 were higher than 0.815 in Athens and 0.990 in Mavrica
d.a.s.) and the lowest values in the maize sole crop (57 (P 5 0.01) (Table 2). The great reduction of PAR
and 55%, respectively). Also, there was a signicant below canopy, at the soil surface, led to the reduction
positive correlation between LAI and Fint PAR at both of the number of weeds that survived. There was a
sites from 60 d.a.s. (Table 2). signicant negative correlation between Fint PAR and
International Journal of Pest Management 177

Table 2. Linear correlation coecientsa between variables.

40 (d.a.s.) 60 (d.a.s.) 80 (d.a.s.) 100 (d.a.s.) 120 (d.a.s.) 140 (d.a.s.)

LAI7Fint% ns 0.815** 0.843** 0.902*** 0.913*** 0.908***
Fint%7WDM ns 70.864** 70.896*** 70.884** 70.945*** 70.986***
Fint%7Wdens ns 70.863** 70.841** 70.939*** 70.949*** 70.944***
WDM7Wdens ns 0.818** 0.856** 0.888** 0.877** 0.957***
Mavrica area
LAI7Fint% ns 0.990** 0.979** 0.990** 0.993*** 0.991***
Fint%7WDM ns 70.970** 70.996*** 70.993*** 70.995*** 70.990**
Fint%7Wdens ns 70.991*** 70.920** 70.982** 70.993*** 70.995***
WDM7Wdens ns 0.979** 0.899* 0.991*** 0.984** 0.997***

Notes: ar was calculated using the linear equation.

LAI, Leaf area index; Fint%, fraction of PAR (%) intercepted by crop canopy; WDM, weed dry matter; Wdens, weed density; d.a.s.: days after
ns, not signicant; signicant at *P 0.05, **P 0.01 and ***P 0.001, respectively.

Wdens (at 140 d.a.s. r 70.944, P 5 0.001 in Athens rapid increase in leaf area in maizelegume intercrops
and r 70.995, P 5 0.001 in Mavrica, Table 2). was the main reason for their competitiveness against
Multiple regression analysis indicated that there weeds. Therefore, on both sites, there was signicant
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was a statistically signicant relationship between negative correlation between the fraction of photo-
Wdens, LAI and Fint PAR: synthetically active radiation intercepted by the canopy
(Fint PAR) and the WDM. Beyond 60 d.a.s. the
Wdens 12:59  LAI  1:33  Fint PAR  68:91 correlation coecients between Fint PAR and weed
Equation 1 biomass were higher than 70.864 and 70.970, in
Athens and Mavrica, respectively (P 5 0.01).
R2 (adjust) 86.25%; SE: (5.93) (0.41) (7.38); P level: The multiple regression analysis indicates that there
(0.05) (0.01) (0.0001). is a statistically signicant relationship between WDM,
The R2 statistic indicates that the model ( Equation Wdens and Fint PAR:
1) explains 86% of the variability in weed density.
WDM 0:44  Wdens  0:46  Fint PAR 47:24
Equation 2
3.4. Weed dry matter
In all cases, statistically signicant dierences in weed R2 adjust 97:59%; SE : 9:600:169:60;
dry matter were observed between the cropping P level: 0:0010:030:001
systems (intercropping and monoculture). At 40
d.a.s., the highest WDM (Figure 7) was found in The value for the R2 statistic indicates that the
maize plots and the lowest in bean monocrop and model (Equation 2) explains 98% of the variability in
maizebean intercrop plots. After 60 d.a.s., the highest weed biomass.
WDM was found in sole crops, while the lowest WDM
was measured in intercrop systems. There were no
signicant dierences between maizebean and maize 4. Discussion
cowpea intercrops. At both sites, the WDM in Intercropping cereals with legumes for forage or food
intercrops were statistically signicantly lower those production is extensively practiced in many parts of the
in sole crops. world. Weed suppression, the reduction of weed
The highest WDM for sole crops was recorded in growth by crop interference, has been noted as one
maize (31.37 g m72 in Athens and 35.66 g m72 in of the major determinants of yield advantage in
Mavrica, at 140 d.a.s.) and the lowest in bean crops. At intercropping (Poggio 2005). In this study, legume
140 d.a.s., the lowest WDM was observed in maize crops were planted 3 weeks after planting maize
bean intercrops. In Athens, the WDMs in maizebean (WAPM). Lawson et al. (2007) also reported that the
and maizecowpea systems were 12.25 and 14.50 g greatest degree of weed suppression occurred when the
m72, respectively. Furthermore, in Mavrica, the legume cover crops were planted 0 to 4 WAPM.
WDMs, in maizebean and maizecowpea systems Intercropping legumes in maize at 6 WAPM gave poor
were 13.33 and 15.12 g m72, respectively. Finally, weed suppression, nevertheless higher maize grain yield
there was a signicant negative correlation between Fint than earlier intercropping (0, 2 and 4 WAPM). The
PAR and WDM (Table 2). highest grain yield values were found in sole crops and
The maizebean and the maizecowpea intercrops the lowest in intercrops (Figure 2). This nding is
had more rapid canopy development. Thus, the more likely to have resulted from the limiting eect of
178 D. Bilalis et al.
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Figure 4. Density of major weeds (m72) by sole and intercrop, (a) in Athens and (b) in Mavrica (bars: LSD, P 0.05).

legumecereal competition on leaf development in both interception by the canopy, as shown by the high
species. A statistically signicant higher value for LER values of Fint PAR observed in the maizebean and in
was received in the maizebean intercrop (1.47 and the maizecowpea systems (Figure 3).
1.52, for Athens and Mavrica, respectively) as com- In fact, Kruk et al. (2006) observed that the
pared to maizecowpea (1.44 and 1.42, for Athens and presence of a crop canopy reduced the photon ux of
Mavrica, respectively). all wavelengths relative to full daylight, much more in
Maizelegume intercropping resulted in higher soil the photosynthetically active part of the spectrum
canopy cover (LAI) in comparison with the sole crops (400700 nm) than in the near infra-red (700100 nm)
(Figure 1). Consequently, there was an increase of light because of strong absorption by chlorophyll. Light
International Journal of Pest Management 179

Figure 6. Correlation between LAI (leaf area index) and

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FintPAR (fraction of PAR (%) intercepted by crop canopy)

(n 30), for both sites (Athens and Mavrica).
Figure 5. Weed density (m72) by sole and intercrop, (a) in
Athens and (b) in Mavrica (bars: LSD, P 0.05).

Table 3. Correlation coecients between leaf area index

(LAI), FintPAR (fraction of PAR (%) intercepted by crop
canopy) (for all d.a.s.).

Model coecient R2 Equation
Linear 0.988 97.76% Fint PAR 3.209
Exponential 0.951 90.52% Fint PAR exp
(2.398 0.484*LAI)
Logarithmic 0.907 82.41% Fint PAR 30.573
Linear 0.989 97.84% Fint PAR 3.927
Exponential 0.944 89.12% Fint PAR exp
(2.358 0.482*LAI)
Logarithmic 0.912 84.49% Fint PAR 30.935

Note: Comparison between alternative models.

perceived by specic plant photoreceptors such as

phytochromes, cryptocromes, and phototropin, plays a Figure 7. Weed dry matter (g m72) by sole and intercrops,
central role in controlling the physiology and develop- (a) in Athens and (b) in Mavrica (bars: LSD, P 0.05).
ment of both weed and crop plants (Ballare and Casal
2000). Seeds perceive the light environment via germination (Kruk et al. 2006). The presence of crop
phytochromes. Phytochromes have two photointercon- canopy reduces the R:FR ratio. This conclusion is
vertible forms: Pfr (usually the active far-red absorbing supported by the negative correlation received between
form), with maximum absorption at 735 nm, and Pr Fint PAR and measures of weed growth.
(the inactive red-absorbing form), with maximum Data obtained by other researchers (Coultas et al.
absorption at 665 nm. Exposure of seed to light with 1996; Buchler et al. 2001; Ghosheh et al. 2005) clearly
a high red (R) to far-red (FR) ratio leads to an increase demonstrated the benecial eects of maizelegume
of Pfr:Pr ratios that might be high enough to trigger intercrops on weed suppression and crop growth.
180 D. Bilalis et al.

Tripathi and Singh (1983) found that growing one or

two rows of soybean (Glycine max L.) as an intercrop 5. Conclusions
in maize, reduced weed numbers and weight signi- Our results show that maizelegume intercropping
cantly and increased maize yields. Sowing two rows of greatly aected weed density and biomass. The
soybean was more eective than one row, with maize at maizelegume intercrops resulted in higher soil
a constant sowing density. canopy cover (LAI) than with the sole crops. This
The dominant species found in this study were resulted in an increase of light interception by the
the broadleaved weeds: A. blitoides, A. retroexus, canopy. The highest Fint PAR values were observed
S. nigrum, T. terrestris and C. arvensis. Lawson et al. in the maizebean and then in the maizecowpea
(2006) reported that legume cover crops generally system, while the highest Wdens and WDM were
suppressed grasses, whilst broadleaf populations measured in sole crops. Moreover, weed suppression
proved more resilient to control by the cover crops, by crops was greater on the low-productivity site
the dierence presumably being attributable to dier- (Athens) than on the high-productivity site (Mavri-
ences in photosynthetic eciency: grasses, generally ca). Intercropping of cereals with legumes constitutes
being C4 species, are less shade tolerant than broad- a new, promising approach to weed management for
leaved populations, which are mainly C3 species. low input organic agriculture, under Mediterranean
Moreover, at both sites, the highest Wdens for sole conditions.
crops was observed in maize and the lowest in legume
crops. At 40 d.a.s., the highest weed biomass for sole
crops was observed in maize (4.40 g m72 in Athens
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