Aims Soil total organic carbon and labile organic carbon are important indicators in evaluating soil quality. Mulching is widely applied to promote the emergence of bamboo shoot in winter time through stand management. Yet the consequences of mulching on soil quality in Phyllostachys edulis have not been well studied. We aim at the quantitative effect of mulching duration on soil quality in P. edulis stands.
Methods Several P. edulis stands located in Huangyan District of Taizhou, Zhejiang Province of China, had been applied with mulching for 1-2 years and were used in this study to assess the mulching effects. We also selected stands without mulching treatment as the reference sites (or control, CK) for comparisons.||||Important findings Total soil organic carbon (TOC), light fraction organic matter (LFOM), and easily-oxidized carbon (EOC) contents at stands with 1-year and 2-year mulching treatments were significantly increased compared with those at the CK sites. The 1-year mulching increased TOC, LFOM and EOC by 11.2%-74.2%, 31.7%-196.9% and 5.0%-79.6%, respectively, than those of CK sites, while by 22.2%-90.8%, 36.7%-238.5%, and 21.9%-97.5% with 2-year treatment. However, the contents of water-soluble organic carbon (WSOC) changed insignificantly. Among the indicators, we found that WSOC:TOC in CK was higher than that with the mulching treatments, while EOC:TOC with 1-year treatment was higher than that with 2-year treatment, and EOC:TOC with 2-year treatment was higher than that of CK. Additionally, WSOC, EOC, and LFOM at all three treatments showed high correlations with TOC, with a higher correlation coefficient of WSOC with TOC of 0- 30 cm soil layers in CK than those with mulching treatments. The correlation coefficient of EOC and LFOM with TOC was the highest at the 2-year mulching sites. More importantly, TOC, WSOC, EOC, and LFOM were significantly (p < 0.05), or extremely significantly (p < 0.01), correlated with soil nutrient content, including total N, hydrolysis N, available P, available K, exchangeable Ca, and exchangeable Mg in all treatments. In sum, it appeared that mulching in short term can increase the contents of TOC, soil labile organic carbons and soil nutrients in bamboo soils, yielding an improved soil quality and thus can be promoted as a plausible practice for the sustainable management of P. edulis stands.