Compost Feedstock and Compost Acidification Affect Growth and Mineral Nutrition in Northern Highbush Blueberry

in HortScience

New markets for organic northern highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum L.) have stimulated interest in using composts specifically tailored to the plant’s edaphic requirements. Because composts are typically neutral to alkaline in pH (pH 7 to 8), and blueberry requires acidic soil (pH 4.2 to 5.5), we investigated elemental sulfur (S0) addition as a methodology for reducing compost pH. The objectives were to 1) characterize initial compost chemistry, including the pH buffering capacity of compost (acidity required to reduce pH to 5.0), 2) measure changes in compost chemistry accompanying acidification, and 3) evaluate plant growth and mineral nutrition of blueberry in soil amended with an untreated or acidified compost. Ten composts prepared from diverse feedstocks were obtained from municipalities and farms. Addition of finely ground S0 reduced compost pH from 7.2 to 5.3, on average, after 70 d at 22 °C, and increased the solubility of nutrients, including K (from 22 to 36 mmol(+)/L), Ca (from 5 to 19 mmol(+)/L), Mg (from 5 to 20 mmol(+)/L), and Na (from 6 to 9 mmol(+)/L). Sulfate-S, a product of S0 oxidation, also increased from 5 to 45 mmol(−)/L. The composts were incorporated into soil at a high rate (30% v/v) in a greenhouse trial to evaluate their suitability for use in blueberry production. Shoot and root growth were strongly affected by compost chemical characteristics, including pH and electrical conductivity (EC). Potassium in compost was highly variable (2–32 g·kg−1). Concentration of K in the leaves increased positively in response to compost K, whereas shoot dry weight and root growth declined. Leaf Mg also declined in response to compost K, suggesting that elevated K concentrations in compost may cause Mg deficiency. Composts with the highest K were also high in total N, pH, and EC. Compost acidification to pH ≤ 6 improved growth and increased leaf Mg concentration. On the basis of these results, composts derived from animal manures or young plant tissues (e.g., green leaves) appear to be unsuitable for high-rate applications to blueberry because they usually require high amounts of S0 for acidification and are often high in EC and K, whereas those derived from woody materials, such as local yard debris, appear promising based on their C:N ratio, compost acidification requirement, and EC.

Contributor Notes

This research was supported in part by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (Formula Grant OREI 2008-51300004443) and our industry contributors.

Mention of trademark, proprietary product, or vendor does not constitute a guarantee or warranty of the product by Oregon State University or the U.S. Department of Agriculture and does not imply its approval to the exclusion of other products or vendors that also may be suitable.

Former graduate student. Current address: 2109 Rimrock Court, Olympia, WA 98512.

Current address: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, School of Plant and Environmental Sciences, Hampton Roads Agricultural Research and Extension Center, 1444 Diamond Springs Road, Virginia Beach, VA 23455.

Corresponding author. E-mail:

Article Sections

Article Figures

  • View in gallery

    Relationship between initial compost pH (1:10 method) and soil pH (1:2 method) determined at 78 d after transplanting (DAT). Composts were untreated (−S0) or acidified (+S0) by adding 32 g of elemental S per kg compost-C. Data points for dairy solids compost were outside of the confidence interval for the regression equation and therefore were considered outliers and excluded from the regression dataset. Once adjusted, the regression was significant at P < 0.001 (***). Error bars indicate standard deviation of the mean (n = 5).

  • View in gallery

    Shoot dry weight and root development of ‘Duke’ blueberry plants grown in soil amended with untreated (−S0) or sulfur-acidified (+S0) compost or douglas fir sawdust (industry standard), or in soil only. Bars are arranged according to rank of shoot dry weight in treatments without S0 (n = 5). Asterisks indicate shoot dry weight or root growth were affected by S0 acidification at P ≤ 0.05 (*) or 0.01 (**).

  • View in gallery

    Relationships between the concentration of K (A) and Mg (B) in the leaves of ‘Duke’ blueberry and soluble K in the compost. Composts were untreated (−S0) or acidified (+S0) by adding 32 g of elemental S per kg compost-C. Each regression was significant at P < 0.01 (**) or 0.001 (***).

  • View in gallery

    Relationships between shoot dry weight and compost pH (A) and between root development and compost electrical conductivity (EC) (B) in ‘Duke’ blueberry. The plants were grown in soil amended with untreated (−S0) or sulfur-acidified (+S0) compost. Data in panel A were fit using piecewise, two segment linear regression (r2 = 0.76, P < 0.001); a breakpoint was found at pH 7.6. Regressions in panel B were significant at P < 0.01 (**) or 0.001 (***).

Article References

  • AllisonF.E.1965Decomposition of wood and bark sawdusts in soil nitrogen requirements and effects on plants. U.S. Dept. Agr. Tech. Bull. No. 1332

  • AndersonJ.P.E.1982Soil respiration (Method 41-3.2). Methods of soil analysis. Chemical and microbiological properties. Agronomy Monograph 9 (Part 2). Amer. Soc. Agron. Soil Sci. Soc. Amer. Madison WI

  • BañadosM.P.IbáñezF.TosoA.M.2008Manganese toxicity induces abnormal shoot growth in ‘O’Neal’ blueberryActa Hort.810509512

  • BaryA.I.SullivanD.M.CoggerC.G.2016Fertilizing with manure and other organic amendments. Pacific Northwest Ext. Publ. PNW533

  • BatesD.M.WattsD.G.1988Nonlinear regression analysis and its applications. Wiley New York

  • BollenW.B.LuK.C.1957Effect of douglas-fir sawdust mulches and incorporations on soil microbial activities and plant growthSoil Sci. Soc. Proc.213541

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • BrylaD.R.StrikB.C.2007Effects of cultivar and plant spacing on the seasonal water requirements of highbush blueberryJ. Amer. Soc. Hort. Sci.132270277

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • CarriónC.Garcia de la FuenteR.FomesF.PuchadesR.AbadM.2008Acidifying composts from vegetable crop wastes to prepare growing media for containerized cropsCompost Sci. Util.162029

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • ClarkJ.1991Rabbiteye and southern highbush blueberry response to sawdust mulch. Ark. Farm Res. Jan.-Feb:3

  • ClarkJ.R.MooreJ.N.1991Southern highbush blueberry response to mulchHortTechnology15254

  • CostelloR.C.SullivanD.M.2014Determining the pH buffering capacity of compost via titration with dilute sulfuric acidWaste Biomass Valoriz.5505513

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • CummingsG.A.1985Potassium nutrition of deciduous and small fruits p. 1087–1104. In: R. Munson (ed.). Potassium in agriculture. Soil Science Society of America Madison WI

  • DibbD.W.ThompsonW.R.Jr1985Interaction of potassium with other nutrients p. 522–524. In: R. Munson (ed.). Potassium in agriculture. Soil Sci. Soc. Amer. Madison WI

  • EckP.1988Blueberry science. Rutgers Univ. Press London

  • ForgeT.A.TempleW.BomkeA.A.2013Using compost as mulch for highbush blueberryActa Hort.1001369376

  • García de la FuenteR.CarriónC.BotellaS.FornesF.NogueraV.AbadM.2007Biological oxidation of elemental sulphur added to three composts from different feedstocks to reduce their pH for horticultural purposesBioresour. Technol.9835613569

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • GavlakR.G.HorneckD.A.MillerR.O.2005Soil plant and water reference methods for the western region. 3rd ed. Western Region Extension Report (WREP-125). WERA-103 Technical Committee. 8 Mar. 2017. <>

  • GermidaJ.J.JanzenH.H.1993Factors affecting the oxidation of elemental sulfur in soilsNutr. Cycl. Agroecosyst.35101114

  • GoughR.E.1994The highbush blueberry and its management p. 36–41. Food Products Press New York

  • HandreckK.BlackN.2010Growing media for ornamental plants and turf. 4th ed. Univ. New South Wales Press Sydney

  • HartJ.StrikB.WhiteL.YangW.2006Nutrient management for blueberries in Oregon. Ore. St. Univ. Ext. Serv. EM8918

  • HavlinJ.L.TisdaleS.L.NelsonW.L.BeatonJ.D.2014Soil fertility and fertilizers. An introduction to nutrient management. 8th ed. Pearson Inc. Upper Saddle River NJ

  • HaynesR.J.SwiftR.S.1986Effect of soil amendments and sawdust mulching on growth, yield and leaf nutrient content of highbush blueberry plantsScientia Hort.29229238

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • HeZ.YangX.KahnB.A.StoffellaP.J.CalvertD.V.2001Plant nutrition benefits of phosphorus potassium calcium magnesium and micronutrients from compost utilization p. 95–120. In: P.J. Stofella and B.A. Kahn (eds.). Compost utilization in horticultural cropping systems. CRC Press Boca Raton FL

  • HeckmanJ.R.KluchinskiD.1996Chemical composition of municipal leaf waste and hand collected urban leaf litterJ. Environ. Qual.25355362

  • JulianJ.W.StrikB.C.LarcoH.O.BrylaD.R.SullivanD.M.2012Costs of establishing organic northern highbush blueberry: Impacts of planting method, fertilization, and mulch typeHortScience47866873

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • KrewerG.RuterJ.2012Fertilizing highbush blueberries in pine bark beds. Univ. Georgia Coop. Ext. Bul. 1291

  • LareauM.1989Growth and productivity of highbush blueberries as affected by soil amendments, nitrogen fertilization and irrigationActa Hort.241126131

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • MachadoR.M.A.BrylaD.R.VargasO.2014Effects of salinity induced by ammonium sulfate fertilizer on root and shoot growth of highbush blueberryActa Hort.1017407414

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • MooreJ.N.1979Highbush blueberry culture in the upper South. 4th Natl. Blueberry Res. Workers Conf. 4:84–86

  • PolashockJ.J.CarusoF.L.AverillA.L.SchilderA.C.2017Compendium of blueberry cranberry and lingonberry diseases and pests. 2nd ed. APS Press St. Paul MN

  • RetamalesJ.B.HancockJ.E.2012Blueberries. Crop production science in horticulture series. CABI International Wallingford UK

  • SikoraL.J.SzmidtR.A.K.2001Nitrogen sources mineralization rates and nitrogen nutrition benefits to plants from composts p. 95–120. In: P.J. Stofella and B.A. Kahn (eds.). Compost utilization in horticultural cropping systems. CRC Press Boca Raton FL

  • StevensonF.J.1994Electrochemical and ion-exchange properties of humic substances p. 350–377. In: J.F. Stevenson (ed.). Humus chemistry: Genesis composition reactions. John Wiley and Sons New York

  • StrikB.C.FinnC.E.MooreP.P.2014Blueberry cultivars for the Pacific Northwest. Pacific Northwest Ext. Publ. PNW656

  • StrikB.C.VanceA.BrylaD.R.2016Organic production systems research in blueberry and blackberry—a review of industry driven studiesActa Hort.1117139148

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • StrikB.C.VanceA.BrylaD.R.SullivanD.M.2017Organic production systems in northern highbush blueberry: I. impact of planting method, cultivar, fertilizer, and mulch on yield and fruit quality from planting through maturityHortScience5212011213

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • StrikB.YarboroughD.2005Blueberry production trends in North America, 1992 to 2003 and predictions for growthHortTechnology15391398

  • SullivanD.M.BaryA.I.NarteaT.J.MyrheE.A.CoggerC.G.FransenS.C.2003Nitrogen availability seven years after a high-rate food waste compost applicationCompost Sci. Util.11265275

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • SullivanD.M.BellN.2015Preplant compost application improves landscape plant establishment and sequesters carbon in compacted soil. Proc. RAMIRAN 2015–16th International Conference Rural-Urban Symbiosis Hamburg Germany 8–10 Sept. 2015. Paper # TB-O_02

  • SullivanD.M.BrylaD.R.CostelloR.C.2014Chemical characteristics of custom compost for highbush blueberry p. 293–311. In: Z. He and H. Zhang (eds.). Applied manure and nutrient chemistry for sustainable agriculture and environment. Springer-Verlag New York

  • SullivanD.M.MillerR.O.2001Compost quality attributes measurements and variability p. 95–120. In: P.J. Stofella and B.A. Kahn (eds.). Compost utilization in horticultural cropping systems. CRC Press Boca Raton FL

  • SullivanD.M.StrikB.C.BrylaD.R.2015Evaluation of alternative mulches for blueberry over five production seasonsActa Hort.1076171178

  • ThompsonW.H.LeegeP.MillnerP.WatsonM.2001Test methods for the examination of composting and compost (TMECC). U.S. Composting Council Ronkonkoma NY

  • U.S. Department of Agriculture National Resources Conservation Service. Willamette Soil Series. 2006Web Site for Official Soil Series Descriptions and Series Classification. <>

  • WarnckeD.D.1986Analyzing greenhouse growth media by the saturation extract methodHortScience21223225

  • WhiteL.D.2006The effect of pre-plant incorporation with sawdust sawdust mulch and nitrogen fertilizer rate on soil properties and nitrogen uptake and growth of ‘Elliott’ highbush blueberry. Ore. State Univ. Corvallis MS Thesis

  • WongM.T.F.NortcliffS.SwiftR.S.1998Method for determining the acid ameliorating capacity of plant residue compost, urban waste compost, farmyard manure, and peat applied to tropical soilsCommun. Soil Sci. Plant Anal.2929272937

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

Article Information

Google Scholar

Related Content

Article Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 37 37 37
Full Text Views 3 3 3
PDF Downloads 3 3 3