Integrating a mini catchment with mulching for soil water management in a sloping jujube orchard on the semiarid Loess Plateau of China
Abstract. Conserving more soil water is of great importance to the sustainability of arid and semiarid orchards. Here we integrated fish-scale pits, semicircular mini-catchments for hill slope runoff collection, with mulches to test their effects on soil water storage in a 12-year-old dryland jujube orchard on the Loess Plateau of China, by using soil water measurements from April 2013 to November 2014. This experiment included four treatments: fish-scale pits with branch mulching (FB), fish-scale pits with straw mulching (FS), fish-scale pits without mulching (F), and bare land treatment (CK). Soil water was measured using the TRIME®-IPH time-domain reflectometer (TDR) tool in 20 cm intervals down to a depth of 180 cm, and was measured once every 2 weeks in the 2013 and 2014 growing seasons. The results showed that fish-scale pits with mulching were better in soil water conservation. Average soil water storage (SWS, for short) of FB at soil layer depths of 0–180 cm increased by 14.23 % (2013) and 21.81 % (2014), respectively, compared to CK, but only increased by 4.82 % (2013) and 5.34 % (2014), respectively, for the F treatment. The degree of soil water compensation, WS, was employed here to represent to what extent soil water was recharged from precipitation at the end of the rainy season relative to that at the beginning of the rainy season. A positive (negative) WS larger (lower) soil water content at the end of rainy season than at the beginning. For the treatment of FB, the values of WS over the entire soil profile were greater than 0; for the treatment of F, negative values of WS were observed in depths of 60–100 cm in both years. However, the bare land treatment showed negative values in depths of 40–180 cm. This indicated that integrating fish-scale pits with mulching could significantly increase soil water storage by increasing infiltration and decreasing evaporation, and it showed greater soil water storage and degree of soil water compensation compared to fish-scale pits alone. Since the branches used for mulching here were trimmed jujube branches, the cost of mulching materials was largely reduced. Therefore, integration of fish-scale pits with branch mulching is recommended in orchards for soil water conservation on the Loess Plateau and potentially for other regions.