The critical period for weed control (CPWC) is an integral component of integrated weed management strategies. Several studies have defined the CPWC in soybean under varying agronomic conditions, yet none have described the mechanisms involved in crop yield losses caused by weed competition. We hypothesized that under nonresource-limiting conditions, morphological changes resulting from the expression of shade avoidance could be used to define a period of developmental sensitivity to low red-to-far-red ratio (R ∶ FR) that would overlap with the defined CPWC in soybean. Two experiments (a sequential harvest and a weed addition/removal series) were conducted in 2008 and 2009 under controlled environmental conditions to address this hypothesis. Two light-quality treatments were used: (1) high R ∶ FR ratio (i.e., weed-free), and (2) low R ∶ FR ratio (i.e., weedy). The low R ∶ FR ratio treatment induced shade avoidance responses in soybean, which included increases in height, internode length, and the shoot ∶ root ratio, as well as a reduction in biomass accumulation and leaf number. Using the morphological changes in biomass and leaf number observed in the weed addition/removal series, a period of developmental sensitivity to low R ∶ FR was defined between the first trifoliate (V1) and third trifoliate (V3) stages of soybean development. This period was found to be very similar to the CPWC previously defined by field studies of soybean–weed competition.
Nomenclature: Soybean, Glycine max (L.) Merr.