Growing enough cover crop biomass to adequately suppress weeds is one of the primary challenges in reduced-tillage systems that rely on mulch-based weed suppression. We investigated two approaches to increasing cereal rye biomass for improved weed suppression: (1) increasing soil fertility and (2) increasing cereal rye seeding rate. We conducted a factorial experiment with three poultry litter application rates (0, 80, and 160 kg N ha−1) and three rye seeding rates (90, 150, and 210 kg seed ha−1) in Pennsylvania and Maryland in 2008 and 2009. We quantified rye biomass immediately after mechanically terminating it with a roller and weed biomass at 10 wk after termination (WAT). Rye biomass increased with poultry litter applications (675, 768, and 787 g m−2 in the 0, 80, and 160 kg N ha−1 treatments, respectively), but this increased rye biomass did not decrease weed biomass. In contrast, increasing rye seeding rate did not increase rye biomass, but it did reduce weed biomass (328, 279, and 225 g m−2 in the 90, 150, and 210 kg seed ha−1 treatments, respectively). In 2009, we also sampled ground cover before rolling and weed biomass and density at 4 WAT. Despite no treatment effects, we found a correlation between bare soil before rolling (%) and weed biomass at 4 WAT. Our results suggest that increased rye seeding rate can effectively reduce weed biomass and that ground cover in early spring can influence weed biomass later in the growing season.
Nomenclature: Cereal rye, Secale cereale L.