Front Plant Sci. 2022 Dec 8;13:1053009. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2022.1053009. eCollection 2022.
Living grass mulching (LGM) is an important orchard floor management that has been applied worldwide. Although LGM can effectively enhance soil nutrient availability and fertility, its effects on microbial-mediated soil nutrient cycling and main drivers are unclear. Meanwhile, the variation of enzyme activities and soil nutrient availability with LGM duration have been rarely studied. This study aims to explore the effects of mulching age and soil layer on enzyme activities and soil nutrients in citrus orchards. In this study, three LGM (Vicia villosa) treatments were applied, i.e., mulching for eight years, mulching for four years, and no mulching (clean tillage). Their effects on the enzyme activities and soil nutrients were analyzed in different soil layers of citrus orchards in subtropical China, i.e., 0-10, 10-20, and 20-40 cm. Compared to clean tillage, mulching for four years had fewer effects on enzyme activities and soil nutrients. In contrast, mulching for eight years significantly increased available nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) nutrients, β-glucosidase, and cellobiohydrolase activities in the soil layer of 0-20 cm. In the soil layer of 0-40 cm, microbial biomass carbon (C), N, P, N-acetylglucosaminidase, leucine aminopeptidase, and acid phosphatase activities also increased (P < 0.05). Mulching for eight years significantly promoted C, N, and P-cycling enzyme activities and total enzyme activities by 2.45-6.07, 9.29-54.42, 4.42-7.11, and 5.32-14.91 times, respectively. Redundancy analysis shows that mulching treatments for eight and four years had soil layer-dependent positive effects on soil enzyme activities. Microbial C and P showed the most significant positive correlation with enzyme activities, followed by moisture content, organic C, and available N (P < 0.05). Available nutrients contributed almost 70% to affect enzyme activities significantly and were the main drivers of the enzyme activity variation. In summary, LGM could improve soil enzyme activities by increasing available nutrients. The promotion effect was more significant under mulching for eight years. Therefore, extending mulching age and improving nutrient availability are effective development strategies for sustainable soil management in orchard systems. Our study can provide valuable guidelines for the design and implementation of more sustainable management practices in citrus orchards.