Objectives were 1) to quantify acidic and basic effects on the root zone pH for eight vegetable and herb species grown in peat-based substrate and hydroponic nutrient solution and 2) to determine the applied NH4+:NO3– ratio expected to have a neutral pH reaction for each species during its vegetative growth phase. In one experiment, plants were grown for 33 days in substrate (70% peat:30% perlite by volume), and were fertilized with a nutrient solution containing 7.14 milli-equivalents (mEq)·L–1 N and NH4+:NO3– ratios ranging from 0:100 to 40:60. During the second experiment, the same species were grown in hydroponic nutrient solutions at 7.14 mEq·L–1 N with NH4+:NO3– ratios ranging from 0:100 to 30:70, and data were collected over a 6-day period. In substrate, species increased root zone pH when supplied 0:100 solution, except for cucumber, which did not change substrate pH. Increasing the NH4+:NO3– ratio to 40:60 increased acidity and decreased pH across species. Similar trends were observed in hydroponics, in which the most basic response occurred across species with 0:100, and the most acidic response occurred with 30:70. Arugula was the only species that increased root zone pH with all three NH4+:NO3– ratios in substrate and hydroponics. In substrate and hydroponics, mEq of acidity (negative) or basicity (positive) produced per gram dry weight gain per plant (mEq·g−1) correlated positively with mEq·g−1 net cation minus anion uptake, respectively, in which greater cation uptake resulted in acidity and greater anion uptake resulted in basicity. In hydroponics, the greatest net anion uptake occurred with 0:100, and increasing the NH4+:NO3– ratio increased total cation uptake across species. Cucumber had the most acidic effect and required less than 10% of N as NH4+-N for a neutral pH over time, arugula was the most basic and required more than 20% NH4+-N, and the remaining species had neutral percent NH4+-N between 10% and 20% of N. Increasing the NH4+:NO3– ratio decreased Ca2+ uptake across all species in hydroponics, which could potentially impact tip burn and postharvest quality negatively. Controlling root zone pH in substrate and hydroponic culture requires regular pH monitoring in combination with NH4+:NO3– adjustments and other pH management strategies, such as injecting mineral acid to neutralize irrigation water alkalinity or adjusting the limestone incorporation rate for substrate.
We thank the U.S. Department of Agriculture–Agricultural Research Service Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative #58-3607-8-725, and industry partners of the Floriculture Research Alliance at the University of Florida (floriculturealliance.org), including Knox Nursery, for supporting this research.
Thanks to James Colee from the Department of Statistics, University of Florida IFAS, for providing statistical support.
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