Abstract

Tree root pruning is a potential tool for managing belowground competition when trees and crops are grown together in agroforestry systems. We investigated the effects of tree root pruning on shoot growth and root distribution of Alnus acuminata (H.B. & K.), Casuarina equisetifolia L., Grevillea robusta A. Cunn. ex R. Br., Maesopsis eminii Engl. and Markhamia lutea (Benth.) K. Schum. and on yield of adjacent crops in sub-humid Uganda. The trees were 3 years old at the commencement of the study, and most species were competing strongly with crops. Tree roots were pruned 41 months after planting by cutting and back-filling a trench to a depth of 0.3 m, at a distance of 0.3 m from the trees, on one side of the tree row. The trench was reopened and roots recut at 50 and 62 months after planting. We assessed the effects on tree growth and root distribution over a 3 year period, and crop yield after the third root pruning at 62 months. Overall, root pruning had only a slight effect on aboveground tree growth: height growth was unaffected and diameter growth was reduced by only 4%. A substantial amount of root regrowth was observed by 11 months after pruning. Tree species varied in the number and distribution of roots, and C. equisetifolia and M. lutea had considerably more roots per unit of trunk volume than the other species, especially in the surface soil layers. Casuarina equisetifolia and M. eminii were the tree species most competitive with crops and G. robusta and M. lutea the least competitive. Crop yield data provided strong evidence of the redistribution of root activity following root pruning, with competition increasing on the unpruned side of tree rows. Thus, one-sided root pruning will be useful in only a few circumstances.