Improved yield and water storage of the wheat-maize rotation system due to double-blank row mulching during the wheat stage
Mulching techniques have been widely used in dryland regions in northern China. It is necessary to develop water-saving cultivation techniques in irrigation regions in northern China to relieve water scarcity. Planting and mulching on separate rows has been widely used to improve wheat yield and involves a pattern of a double row of planting and a blank row of mulching. However, whether the mulching pattern during the wheat season can be applied to the wheat-maize system to increase the yield of both crops and to reduce the use of irrigation water remains unclear. Three mulching practices (conventional planting (CP), conventional planting with mulching (CPM) and double-blank planting with mulching (DPM)) during the wheat season were conducted to verify the potential roles of DPM in increasing wheat and maize yields, improving soil temperature and enhancing water storage under the DPM practice. The results show that the DPM practice significantly increased the efficiency spike number, aboveground biomass and grain yield (7.8% higher than CP and 11.3% higher than CPM) of wheat. The heat conservation effect of the DPM practice was stronger in the early stage of growth and was more effective in minimizing fluctuations in soil temperature in the wheat season compared with CPM. The development and yield of maize that was sowed in the mulching lines of DPM were less improved, although the amount of aboveground biomass at the maturity stage was higher. Additionally, the soil temperature of the maize season under DPM showed a narrowing trend of changes during the early stage with slight effects in the middle stage and a resumption of heat conservation in the late stage. Compared with CP, both mulching patterns decreased soil evaporation during the two crops’ seasons by an average 5.3% in CPM and 7.8% in DPM, which is particularly evident when the crops’ leaf area index was low. Therefore, the DPM pattern could more effectively optimize soil temperature and water storage. Furthermore, this pattern may have positive effects on the yields of winter wheat and on reducing the soil water requirement of the maize season.