Three years of field trials have been carried out in Zaragoza, Spain, using different biodegradable mulch materials in processing tomatoes. The aim was to evaluate weed control with several biodegradable mulches as alternatives to black polyethylene (PE) mulch. The treatments were rice straw, barley straw, maize harvest residue, absinth wormwood plants, black biodegradable plastic, brown kraft paper, PE, herbicide, manual weeding, and unweeded control. Assessments focused on weeds and on crop yield. A laboratory study showed that 1 kg/m2 of organic mulch was sufficient to cover the soil for rice, barley straw, and maize harvest residue. The most abundant weed species in the field were purple nutsedge, common purslane, common lambsquarters, and large crabgrass and a change in weed composition was observed between treatments and years. Most weed species were controlled by the mulching materials except that purple nutsedge was controlled only by paper mulch. The other species were well controlled by PE and biodegradable plastic and also by some of the organic mulch treatments. Best weed control and lowest weed biomass were achieved by paper followed by PE and biodegradable plastic. The best organic mulch was rice straw and the worst weed control was from absinth wormwood. Tomato yield was highest for PE followed by paper, manual weeding, biodegradable plastic, and rice straw and was clearly related to weed control. Paper, biodegradable plastic, and rice straw are potential substitutes for PE and herbicides.
Nomenclature: Common lambsquarters, Chenopodium album L. CHEAL; common purslane, Portulaca oleracea L. POROL; large crabgrass, Digitaria sanguinalis L. Scop. DIGSA; purple nutsedge, Cyperus rotundus L. CYPRO; absinth wormwood, Artemisia absinthium L.; barley, Hordeum vulgare L.; maize, Zea mays L.; rice, Oryza sativa L.; tomato, Lycopersicon esculentum Mill. ‘Perfect Peel’.