Root growth is a critical factor in landscape establishment of container-grown woody ornamental species. Kalmia latifolia (mountain laurel) often does not survive transplanting from containers into the landscape. The objective of this experiment was to compare rate of root growth of mountain laurel to that of Ilex crenata `Compacta' (`Compacta' holly) and Oxydendrum arboreum (sourwood). Six-month-old tissue-cultured liners (substrate intact) of mountain laurel, 1-year-old rooted cutting liners (substrate intact) of `Compacta' holly (liner holly), 6-inch bare root seedling liners of sourwood, and 3-month-old bare-root rooted cuttings of `Compacta' holly were potted in containers in Turface™. Prior to potting, roots of all plants were dyed with a solution of 0.5% (w/v) methylene blue. Plants were greenhouse-grown. Destructive harvests were conducted every 2 to 3 weeks (six total harvests). Length, area, and dry weight of roots produced since the start of the experiment, leaf area, and dry weight of shoots were measured. Sourwood and liner holly had greater rate of increase in root length and root dry weight than mountain laurel and bare root holly. Rate of increase in root area was greatest for sourwood, followed by (in decreasing order) liner holly, mountain laurel, and bare-root holly. Increase in root length and root area per increase in leaf area was highest for liner holly, possibly indicating why this species routinely establishes successfully in the landscape. Increase in root dry weight per increase in shoot dry weight was lowest for mountain laurel. The slow rate of root growth of mountain laurel (compared to sourwood and liner holly) may suggest why this species often does not survive transplanting.
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