The influence of polyethylene (plastic) mulch surface color (white versus black) on leaf area distribution of tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum) was investigated in simulated planting beds at two sampling periods: an early sampling with relatively young plants that had been in the mulch treatment for 22 days and a late sampling with relatively mature plants that had been in the mulch treatments for 50 days. At the early sampling period, tomato plants grown with white mulch had more axillary leaves than plants in the black mulch, resulting in a greater axillary:main leaf area ratio for the plants with white mulch. Leaf area for total leaves (main + axillary) and plant biomass was unaffected by mulch surface color at the early sampling period. Tomato plants grown in black mulch at the early sampling period had significantly more area of main leaves partitioned to node 3, whereas plants grown in white mulch had more area of main leaves in nodes 8 and 9. Plants grown in the white mulch treatment had significantly more axillary leaf area at nodes 1, 2, and 3, whereas plants in black mulch had more axillary leaf area at node 6. At the later sampling period, most of the leaf area from both mulch treatments was recorded in the axillary leaves and there was no effect of mulch surface color on the amount of total leaf area partitioned to main, axillary, or total leaves; to the amount of biomass of the measured top growth; or to the nodal distribution of leaf area among main leaves or axillary leaves. Tomato plants in white mulch had significantly more fruit on plants at the later sampling period than plants in the black mulch. Mulch surface color also affected the plant light environment and soil temperatures. These results suggest that the polyethylene mulch surface color can induce changes in the plant microclimate and affect leaf area distribution of young tomato plants (as recorded at the early sampling) and fruiting of relatively more mature plants (as recorded at the later sampling).
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