Orchard Floor Management: A Way of Bringing Sustainability in Fruit Production
Author: Sumeet Sharma


  • Orchard floor management refers to the management of the orchard soil in such a manner that the fruit trees give higher yield of quality fruits in successive years for sustainable economic returns.
  • The decision about how the orchard will be managed should always be taken before an orchard is planted. Management practices for orchard management should be executed in a timely manner during the lifetime of the orchard.
  • Several systems of managing the orchard are available, each with advantages and disadvantages to consider before choosing a particular programme for an orchard.
  • An efficient orchard management program always ensures higher return to the grower.
  • However, no single management practice can be recommended for all orchards. A particular program is followed depending on factors like climate, location of orchard, topography, tree spacing, planting system/ orchard design etc. Objectives of Orchard Floor Management
  • To create favorable conditions for moisture supply & proper drainage.
  • To main high fertility level of orchard soil.
  • To check or reduce soil erosion.
  • To provide proper soil conditions for gaseous exchange and microbial activities through addition of organic matter.
  • To suppress weed population.
  • To reduce cost of cultivation with high economic returns Components of Orchard Floor Management
  1. Clean Culture
  2. Intercropping
  3. Cover Cropping
  4. Sod Culture
  5. Crop Rotation
  6. Mulching
1) Clean culture: In this system of orchard floor management, only those fruit crops for which the orchard has been set up remain present and without anything else. The space between the fruit trees are left vacant. As the land is virtually kept clean, i.e., free from any plant except the fruit trees or any foreign material, the system is commonly termed as clean culture.

Different methods that belong to this system have been described the following:

i) Clean Culture by Ploughing: In this method, the land must be ploughed. Both deep and shallow ploughings are usually done at suitable intervals or at different seasons. Deep ploughing to about 15cm is conventionally done during winter season when the orchard trees are in minimal growth or have undergone dormancy in case of deciduous fruit crops. Ploughing should be followed by cross ploughing and after that, the weeds are completely eradicated from the land. After ploughing, levelling of land should be done in order to conserve soil moisture.


  • Efficient weed control.
  • Increased soil aeration.
  • Deep ploughing ensures percolation of water to a greater depth of soil.

  • Many roots of the orchard trees lay bare or damaged or cut off when ploughing is done.
  • As the soil lay bare by clean culture, the roots of the fruit trees are more prone to frost injury in winter
  • No supplementary crop is grown in the clean culture method of orchard floor management and hence, no extra production or income is possible from the orchard.
ii) Clean Culture by Weedicide Application: In this method, the land is not ploughed and the weeds are controlled by application of chemical weedicide. Nevertheless, hoeing the orchard land lightly at suitable intervals is also sometimes practiced to uproot the stubborn grasses and such weeds which are difficult to control by weedicides.

Broadly herbicides are broadly classified are divided into two types:

  1. Pre emergence Herbicides
  2. Post emergence Herbicides
Pre-emergence Herbicides Post emergence Herbicides
Objective: Reduce the weed competition particularly during the first 6-8 weeks after bud swell. Objective: Kill the weeds after emergence of the weeds.
Time of application: Before the weed emergence. Time of application: After the emergence of weed & generally after the maturity of leaves of weed.
e.g.- Diuron, atrazine, fluchloralin etc. e.g.- Glyphosate, paraquat etc.

  • Herbicides give quick response in terms of checking the growth of weed
  • Cheaper method of weed control
  • Damage of roots is avoided.

  • Soil surface gets hardened as if no hoeing is done at regular interval
  • If does not done properly may also cause damage to main crop
  • No extra production is possible.
iii) Clean Culture by Mud-plastering: This is a method which is mainly found in the central and southern parts of West Bengal, especially in the mango orchards. The orchard land is made even as much as possible by soil work and leveling. Then the land is plastered by applying fresh cow dung and clay. Plastering is done so carefully that when dried, the land appears to be floor of cottage yard. The plastering is done at suitable intervals except in rainy season.

Such cow dung plastering is popularly called as nikano method is in fact, done for some specific objectives. These are, when the orchard land is used for threshing grains, for shelter of domestic animals, for storing hay and dry fodder and also as a place for community meeting, shelter of people etc. The small orchards are used for this purpose and not the large-sized ones.


  1. By plastering, mulch effect is produced and soil moisture is conserved.
  2. Shady place of orchard is used for other purposes.

  1. Difficulty in application of manuring and irrigation of such orchards.
  2. No extra income is achieved.
2) Cultivation and Cover Cropping: This is a system of orchard floor management, which is practiced to conserve the soil against loss due to erosion by act of growing some specific plants. The plants that are grown usually comprise some crops which act as vegetation cover on the surface soil and popularly known as cover crop.

Generally those crops are used as cover crops which are compact and bushy so as to form a protective vegetation cover on the soil surface and the roots are highly branched as to conserve the soil against erosional hazard. As cover crops legumes should be preffered because they add extra N in soil through fixation of atmospheric N in their nodules. They also suppress weeds during rainy season.

Type of Crop Name of Crop
Green Manuring Crops Dhaincha (Sesbaniaaculeata), Sunhemp (Crotariajuncea), Clusterbean ( Cyamopsistetragonaloba), Cowpea (Vigna spp.), Green Gram (Phaseolus aureus), Gram ( Cicer arietinum) etc.
Fodder Crops Barseem (Trifoliumalexandrianum), Napier Grass (Pennisetum purpureum), Bajra (Pennisetumtyphoides), Jowar (Sorghum vulgare), Guinea Grass ( Panicum maximum) etc.
Floricultural Crops Marigold (Tagetes spp.), Ixora (Ixora spp.), Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum spp.) etc.
Grasses Bermuda Grass (Cynadondactylon), Mutha (Cypress rotundus), Phalaris spp., Chrysopogon spp. etc.
(Mazumdar BC, 2004)

Which plant or plants are to be grown for this purpose will depends upon soil condition, climate, type of erosion and many other factors.


  • It conserves orchard soil against erosion.
  • Add organic matter in the orchard soil.
  • Improve soil fertility.
  • Increase biological complexes in the soil.
  • Check nutrient erosion through soil erosion.

  • Compete with main crop for moisture, air, nutrients & sunlight.
  • Some cover crops harbour many insect pests & diseases as well.
3) Intercropping: In this method, the orchard soil is managed by growing intercrops. Intercropping is growing of two or more crops simultaneously on the same field so that crop intensification occurs in both space & time, and there is intercrop competition during all or part of crop growth.

Type of Intercropping:

  1. Mixed Intercropping: Growing two or more crops simultaneously with no distinct row arrangement.
  2. Row Intercropping: Growing two or more crops simultaneously where one or more crops are planted in rows.
  3. Strip Intercropping: Growing soil conserving and soil depleting crops in alternative strips running perpendicular to the slope of land or to the direction of prevailing winds for the purpose of reducing erosion.
  4. Relay Cropping: Seedling planting of two or more succeeding crops after flowering and before the harvest of standing crop.
Purpose of intercropping: Intercropping is intended to maximize land and space use efficiency to generate supplement income, particularly during initial unproductive phase of the orchard, to protect inter space from losses through weeds, erosion, impact of radiation, temperature, wind and water, and enriching it by nitrogen fixing legumes.

Criteria for Any Crop to Become a Good Intercrop:

It should not be It should be
Exhaustive Compatible with main crop
Tall & spreading type Able to match the water requirement of main crop so that operation could be synchronized.
Alternative host for pests Leguminous in nature

Crops Suitable as Intercrop:

Annual crops particularly legumes and shallow rooted vegetable crops like tomato, onion, beans, radish, spinach etc. are preferred. Some perennials like pineapple, phalsa, banana, papaya etc. are also taken as intercrops and popularly called as filler crops.

Recommended intercrops for different horticultural crops:

Crop Age Intercrop
Mango Upto 7 years Leguminous vegetables, Papaya (filler)
Grapes Upto 8 months Snake gourd or bitter gourd in pandal
Apple, pears Upto 5 years Potato, Cabbage
Banana Upto 4 months Sunhemp, onion
Arecanut Upto 10 years Pineapple
Coconut Upto 3 years Banana, tapioca, vegetables
(TNAU, Coimbtore)


  1. Intercropping gives higher income per unit area than sole cropping.
  2. It acts as crop insurance against the crop failure in abnormal area.
  3. Intercrops maintain fertility as the nutrient uptake is made from both layers.
  4. Reduce soil runoff.
Limitations: If not judiciously done, intercropping may cause serious problem to fruit trees and orchard land.

4) Sod Culture: In sod (=turf) culture method of orchard soil management, grasses are allowed to grow all over the orchard land, however, leaving the space just below the canopy of fruit trees, which is kept clean and free from growth of any grass or vegetation. This method is more commonly practised in cool and moist regions of world than under Indian condition.

In an ideal sod, the grasses should be: shallow rooted, low heighted and of bushy growth. They should have low water requirement.

Type of Sod Culture:

  1. Sod Culture Method: In this method, grasses are allowed to grow o the orchard land in an undesirable manner, i.e., they are neither mowed nor grazed by animals.
  2. Sod Pasture Method: In this method, the orchard is treated both as plantation of fruit crops as well as a pasture ground for grazing animals. Under Indian conditions, this method appears to be more common where sod culture is practiced.
  3. Sod Mulch Method: This is a method of sod culture where the grasses grown in the orchard are mowed down but the cut out grasses are left on the land in situ.
  4. Temporary Sod: Sod is allowed to grow for two years or so, then soil is ploughed, cultivated and is re-seeded.

  1. Conserve soil moisture & reduces soil erosion.
  2. Maintains soil temperature.
  3. Add organic matter in soil.
  4. Enhances microbiological activity in the soil.
  5. Avoids bruising of falling fruits.
  6. Provide grazing opportunity for animals.

  1. Increased manuring and water application.
  2. Decrease in N availability to plant roots.
  3. Not suitable for shallow rooted fruit trees & young orchards.
Commonly used grasses and legumes as sod cover:

Grass species Legumes species
Orchard Grass (Dactylis glomerata) Red Clover (Trifoliumpratense)
Tall Fescues (Festucaarundinaceae) White Clover (Trifoliumrepens)
Timothy (Phleumpratense) Lucerne (Medicago sativa)
5) Crop Rotation: Planting of different crops in a regular sequence on a given piece of land is called crop rotation.

  • Rotation must include legume as one of the crop in sequence
  • Not much in practice in fruit crops
  • But rotation can be done among intercrops grown in the orchard.

  1. Avoid ill effects of monoculture
  2. Control insect pest
  3. Equalization of available nutrients.

  1. Some time may act as alternate host for insect pest of main crop
  2. Competition with main crop for nutrition & water.
Recommended cover crop sequence in some fruit crops:

Fruit Crop Recommended crops for rotation
Mango Brinjal – Cowpea Tomato – Clusterbean Tomato – Cowpea – Soyabean - Coriander Soyabean – Pea – Cowpea – Palak – Chilly
Banana Moong – Toria Cowpea – Radish Groundnut – Bean
Citrus Cowpea/ Moong/ Urd – Cucurbits/ Turnip/ Cauliflower/ Carrot/ Radish/ Pea
Guava Cowpea/ Clusterbean/ Blackgram/ Greengram – Cauliflower/ Peas/ Frenchbean
Litchi Cucurbits/ Greengram/ Blackgram/ Cowpea – Radish/ Beat/ Turnip/ Carrot
Pomegranate Cowpea/ Greengram – Pea/ Beans/ Carrot/ Onion/ Radish
(Chundawat and Sen, 2002)

6) Mulching: A mulch is natural or artificially applied layer of plant residues or other material on the surface of the soil with the object of moisture conservation, temperature control, prevention of surface compaction or crust formation, reduction of runoff and erosion, improvement in soil structure and weed control.

Types of Mulches:

  1. Organic Mulches
  2. Inorganic Mulches
Organic Mulches: Organic mulches decay over time and are temporary. The way a particular organic mulch decomposes and reacts to wetting by rain and dew affects its usefulness. Commonly available organic mulches include:

  1. Leaves: Leaves from deciduous trees, which drop their foliage in the autumn/fall. As they decompose they adhere to each other but also allow water and moisture to seep down to the soil surface.
  2. Grass clippings: Grass clippings , from mowed lawns are sometimes collected and used elsewhere as mulch. Grass clippings are often dried thoroughly before application, which mediates against rapid decomposition and excessive heat generation.
  3. Peat moss: Peat moss , or sphagnum peat, is long lasting and packaged, making it convenient and popular as mulch. It is sometimes mixed with pine needles to produce mulch that is friable . It can also lower the pH of the soil surface, making it useful as mulch under acid loving plants.
  4. Woodchip mulch: Woodchip mulch is a by product of reprocessing used (untreated) timber (usually packaging pallets), to dispose of wood waste by creating woodchip mulch. The chips are used to conserve soil moisture, moderate soil temperature and suppress weed growth.
  5. Bark Chips: Bark chips of various grades are produced from the outer corky bark layer of timber trees. Sizes vary from thin shredded strands to large coarse blocks. Layers two or three inches deep are usually used, bark is relativity inert and its decay does not demand soil nitrates.
  6. Straw mulch / field hay / salt hay: Straw mulch or field hay or salt hay are lightweight and normally sold in compressed bales. They have an unkempt look and are used in orchards and as a winter covering. They are biodegradable and neutral in pH. They have good moisture retention and weed controlling properties but also are more likely to be contaminated with weed seeds.
  7. Pine Needles: It is a good mulching material for acid loving plants. It will act as good winter mulch for strawberries. Its decomposition rate is low so as it is advisable to add organic matter to soil before mulching if its level is low.
  8. Cardboard / Newspaper: Cardboard or newspaper can be used as mulches. These are best used as a base layer upon which heavier mulch such as compost is placed to prevent the lighter cardboard/newspaper layer from blowing away. By incorporating a layer of cardboard/newspaper into mulch, the quantity of heavier mulch can be reduced, whilst improving the weed suppressant and moisture retaining properties of the mulch.
  9. Degradable Mulches: Degradable mulches are made out of plant starches and sugars or polyester fibres. These starches can come from plants such as wheat and corn. These mulch films may be a bit more permeable allowing more water into the soil. This mulch can prevent soil erosion, reduce weeding, conserve soil moisture, and increase temperature of the soil. Ultimately this can reduce the amount of herbicides used and manual labour farmers may have to do throughout the growing season. These degradable mulches are of 2 types:
  • Photo-degradable mulches: This type of plastic mulch film gets disintegrated under sunlight over the designated mulching period.
  • Biodegradable mulches: Microorganisms in the soil break down the mulch into two components, water and CO2, leaving no toxic residues behind.
This source of mulch is even less manual labour since it does not need to be removed at the end of the season and can actually be tilled into the soil. With this mulch it’s important to take into consideration that its mulch is more delicate then other kinds.


  • Cheaper in nature.
  • Add organic matter in soil.
  • Maintain soil structure.
  • Mulches such as grass mulch allow infilteration of water in soil. Thus, reduces soil erosion and water runoff loss
  • Increases the soil microbial population.

  • Weed emergence after some time.
  • Less water retention as compared to black mulch.
  • May act as breeding place for many insects.
  • Need to replace annually.
Recommended thickness for various organic mulches:

Mulch Material Thickness (inches)
Compost 3-4
Green Leaves 3-4
Dry Leaves 6
Grass Clippings 2-3
Bark 2-4
Wood Chips 2-4
Newspaper 1/4
(Singh J, 2012)

Inorganic Mulches: These are the mulches which don’t decay over the time and are not temporary. These mulches are removed at the time of season. Under these mulches mainly plastic mulches come. Plastic mulches have been used by commercial growers since early 1960’s, with black and clear plastics being most popular.

Types of Plastic Mulches:

  1. Black Mulch: Black plastic mulch is most popular colour used. As a black body absorber, the plastic absorbs all incident solar radiation including visible UV and infrared. So, mulching in hot areas especially in summer is done by leaving a gap between mulch and surface (because by doing this, there is an intermediate layer of still air which inhibits the transferring of heat by conduction). But in temperate areas mulching is done in winter in a continous manner i.e. without leaving a gap because it will provide protection against frost and also increases the soil temperature.
  2. Clear Mulch: Clear plastic mulch absorbs a very little solar radiation. Water droplets that condense on the underside of clear plastic mulch allow solar light (short wave radiation) in, but blocking outgoing radiation i.e. long wave radiation (heat). This heat is normally lost to atmosphere by bare sol.
  3. Two-side Colour Mulches:Wavelength selective or photo-selective films (also called two-side coloured) are designed to absorb specific wavelengths of the sun’s radiation, which changes the spectrum of the sunlight passing through the film or being reflected back into the plant canopy. These light changes can have a marked effect on plant growth & development. These films enable growers to control different plant properties such as leaf & fruit size , colour, root development, yield, ranching, plant height, growth, inter node length, time of flowering, bloom size, strengthen plant stems, encourage fruit to row lower down on plants, and aid in disease control by keeping insects away. The effects are warming of soil temperature, blocking weed growth, increasing colour saturation of developing fruit & increasing carbohydrate transport to developing fruit. Compared to black mulches, wavelength selective mulches re-emit less heat, thus maintaining lower leaf temperatures, alter red-far-red light balance leading to phytochrome mediated changes in the plant morphology, and reflect more ultraviolet rays, which repels insects & pests such as aphids, thrips and whiteflies, who transmit viruses. Effects of some of the coloured mulches are given below:
  • Yellow/black – attracts certain insects & thus acts as a trap for them, which prevents disease.
  • White/black – Cools the soil.
  • Silver/black – Cools the soil, though not to the extent of white/black film & repels some aphids and thrips.
  • Red/black – Partially translucent allowing radiation to pass through & warm soil but also reflects radiation back into plant canopy changing ratio of R:FR light, which results in changes in plant vegetative, flower development & metabolism to early fruiting & increased yields in some fruit & vegetable crops.
In the recent past, coloured mulches have gained interest. However, research results with regard to their effectiveness have been mixed and inconsistent. Some research has indicated control over plant height and plant structure by certain coloured films that vary the reflected light quality in the plant canopy. Some coloured films have been implicated in reducing insect populations on plants. Some research has even matched mulch colour with crops giving best yield responses. However, there is a need for trying further before making any recommendation on coloured mulches and comparing them with standard black or white-on-black or silver-on-black films currently in use.


  • More soil moisture conservation than other type
  • Efficient weed control
  • Enhances the fruit quality of fruit
  • No need to replace them annually. Disadvantages:
  • Costly as compared to organic mulches (in shorter run)
  • Does not add organic matter in soil
  • Aeration may be hampered if mulching is done improperly
  • More runoff loss than organic mulches.
Recommended thickness of mulch according to life span of crop:

Thickness (microns) Crops Recommended
7 Groundnut
20-25 Annual - short duration crops
40-50 Biennial - medium duration crops
50-100 Perrineal - long duration crops

Anonymous, (2011)

Response of different fruit crops under thickness of mulches:

Crop Thickness of film (micron) Increase in yield (%)
Apricot 100 30-35
Peach 100 30-35
Guava 100 25-30
Kinnow 100 45-50
Pomegranate 100 35-40
Strawberry 25 40-50
Anonymous, (2011)


Orchard floor management ensures better fruit cultivation by utilizing different management practices such as clean cultivation, sod culture, inter cropping, cover cropping and mulching. It not only improves fruit quality but also improves soil health (physical, chemical and biological properties) which will help greatly to bring sustainability in fruit production. The recent trends have shifted to integrated use of all orchard floor management practices besides using any one for control of weeds, maintenance of soil fertility and conservation of moisture for the sustainable production of fruit crops. Hence, there is wide scope for the all orchard floor management practices in fruit production with the conservation of natural resources.


Anonymous. 2011. Practical manual on plastic mulching. National Committee on Plasticulture Application in Horticulture, Department of Agriculture & Cooperation Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India, New Delhi.

Chundawat BS and Sen NL. 2002. Orchard management. In: Principles of fruit culture. Agrotech publishing academy, Udaipur. pp 76-90.


Mazumdar BC. 2004. Management by growing soil conserving plants (Cover cropping). In: Orchard Irrigation and soil management practices. Daya publishing house, New Delhi. pp 104-108.

Singh J. 2002. Mulching. In: Basic Horticulture. Kalyani Publishers, New Delhi. pp 149-152.

About Author / Additional Info:
Ph. D scholar in the Department of Fruit Science, Dr YS Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, Nauni