Weeds in organic fertility-building leys: aspects of species richness and weed management

Thomas Doring, Jonathan Storkey, John A. Baddeley, Rosemary Patricia Collins, Oliver Crowley, Sally Howlett, Hannah E. Jones, Heather McCalman, Mark Measures, Helen Pearce, Stephen Roderick, Christine Watson, Martin Wolfe

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Legume-based leys (perennial sod crops) are an important component of fertility management in organic rotations in many parts of Europe. Despite their importance, however, relatively little is known about how these leys affect weed communities or how the specific composition of leys may contribute to weed management. To determine whether the choice of plant species in the ley affects weeds, we conducted replicated field trials at six locations in the UK over 24 months, measuring weed cover and biomass in plots sown with monocultures of 12 legume and 4 grass species and in plots sown with a mixture of 10 legume species and 4 grass species. Additionally, we monitored weed communities in leys on 21 organic farms across the UK either sown with a mixture of the project species or the farmers’ own species mix. In total, 63 weed species were found on the farms, with the annuals Stellaria media, Sonchus arvensis, and Veronica persica being the most frequent species in the first year after establishment of the ley, while Stellaria media and the two perennials Ranunculus repens and Taraxacum officinale dominated the weed spectrum in the second year. Our study shows that organic leys constitute an important element of farm biodiversity. In both replicated and on-farm trials, weed cover and species richness were significantly lower in the second than in the first year, owing to lower presence of annual weeds in year two. In monocultures, meadow pea (Lathyrus pratensis) was a poor competitor against weeds, and a significant increase in the proportion of weed biomass was observed over time, due to poor recovery of meadow pea after mowing. For red clover (Trifolium pratense), we observed the lowest proportion of weed biomass in total biomass among the tested legume species. Crop biomass and weed biomass were negatively correlated across species. Residuals from the linear regression between crop biomass and weed biomass indicated that at similar levels of crop biomass, grasses had lower weed levels than legumes. We conclude that choice of crop species is an important tool for weed management in leys.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3
Pages (from-to)51-65
Number of pages14
JournalOrganic Farming
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 01 Dec 2017


  • clover
  • conservation
  • grass
  • legume
  • rotation
  • soil fertility
  • species richness
  • weed community


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