• Arid–semiarid soils;
  • plastic cover;
  • soil moisture;
  • soil water management


Water deficit is a serious problem for most agricultural crops, especially in arid–semiarid regions, and limits sustainable development. Production can be improved by reducing evapotranspiration and loss of infiltrated water by the use of a plastic cover. We monitored soil moisture fortnightly over 1 yr using a neutron probe near four trees in an olive grove (Olea europaea, var. Arbequina), two of which had a plastic cover buried in the topsoil around them. These trees were monitored using three neutron probe access tubes per tree to compare the behaviour of soil moisture over time with two other identically instrumented and nearby trees with no cover. Analysis was based on the resultant moisture profiles. The plastic cover retained moisture and increased soil water residence time. During the dry season, the amount of water retained in the plots was at most 15–20% greater in the mid-season and at least 5–6% greater at the end of season than in the central part of the plots near the trunk. The plastic cover was effective to ca. 50 cm with maximum water content near the soil surface. During the wet season, the cover did not affect soil water. Soil moisture was greater near the tree trunk as a result of stemflow and throughfall.