The Effect of Substrate pH on the Rooting of Rhododendron with Subirrigation

in HortScience
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  • 1 Dept. of Plant Sciences, Univ. of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI 02881

Subirrigation is a viable alternative to mist for the cutting propagation of many woody and herbaceous plants. However, poor success has been reported with rhododendron cuttings. This study evaluated the rooting of two Rhododendron cultivars in a subirrigation system maintained at two different levels of substrate pH. Stem cuttings of Rhododendron `PJM' and R. `Catawbiense album' were wounded, treated with Dip `n Grow (1:10 dilution), and rooted in subirrigated perlite subirrigated with tap water (pH 7.5), or tap water adjusted to pH 4.5 with weak sulfuric acid (1N H2SO4). Percent rooting and root ball displacement were recorded after 7 weeks. The pH of the subirrigation system dramatically affected root initiation and development. At pH 4.5 `PJM' cuttings rooted 100% with an average displacement of 7.6 ml; cuttings of `Catawbiense Album' rooted 88% with an average displacement of 12.1 ml. At pH 7.5, `PJM' cuttings rooted 52.5%, with an average displacement of 0.8 ml, while `Catawbiense album' rooted 73% with an average displacement of 2.5 ml. A root ball displacement of ≥3 ml was judged to be commercially acceptable for rooted cuttings of `PJM' rhododendron, ≥4.5 ml for `Catawbiense album'. At pH 7.5 only 15% of the `Catawbiense album' cuttings and none of the `PJM' cuttings produced commercially acceptable rooted cuttings. At pH 4.5, 83% of the `Catawbiense album' cuttings and 93% of the `PJM' cuttings were commercially acceptable. Subirrigation is a suitable method of irrigating rhododendron cuttings during rooting if a low substrate pH is maintained.

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