Published in HortScience, Volume 45, Issue 4, April 1, 2010, pages 621-627.
NOTE: At the time of publication, the author Michael Costello was not yet affiliated with Cal Poly.
Nodding needlegrass [Nassella cernua (Stebbins & R.M. Love) Barkworth], a California native perennial grass, was tested for its effects on grapevine and soil–water relations in a drip-irrigated vineyard in Parlier, CA. Vine water status and in-row and between-row soil moisture (at 0.3 m, 0.6 m, 0.9 m, 1.2 m, and 1.5 m) were monitored semiweekly from June to September. There was no overall significant difference in leaf water potential between treatments. In-row soil moisture was lowest at depths of 0.6 m to 0.9 m within the nodding needlegrass treatment but was lowest from 0.3 m to 0.9 m within the clean cultivation treatment. Compared with clean cultivation, nodding needlegrass in-row soil moisture was significantly higher at depths of 0.3 m and 0.6. m and did not differ at depths of 0.9 m and 1.2 m. In contrast, in-row soil moisture was significantly higher under clean cultivation compared with nodding needlegrass at 1.5 m. Between-row soil moisture was significantly higher under clean cultivation compared with nodding needlegrass at every depth. Combining in-row and between-row data, overall vineyard soil moisture was slightly lower, by 1.2% points, in the nodding needlegrass treatment compared with clean cultivation. There was no interaction between treatment and depth for between-row soil moisture, indicating that the vines used little water from the between-row area. The lack of difference between treatments in the rate of soil moisture depletion over the season indicates that nodding needlegrass used little water during the summer. Based on these results, nodding needlegrass appears to be suitable as a permanent cover crop in California drip-irrigated vineyards where competition for summer water is a concern.