Does Controlled-Release Fertilizer Technology Increase Nutrient Uptake Efficiency Per Se in Ornamental Plant Production?

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  • 1 Univ. of Maryland, Dept. of Natural Resource Sciences and Landscape Architecture, College Park, MD 20742
  • 2 Univ. of Maryland, Dept. of Natural Resource Sciences and Landscape Architecture, College Park, MD 20742
  • 3 Univ. of Maryland, Dept. of Biological Resources Engineering

Many agronomic and horticultural studies on nutrient uptake and use-efficiency have indicated, in general, that agricultural crops are poor competitors for nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) in soil-based systems, with estimates of overall nutrient efficiency being less than 50% for N and 10% for P. Low efficiencies are due to losses from leaching, runoff, gaseous emissions and soil fixation, but uptake efficiency is also affected by rate and timing (i.e. seasonal effects) of applications. Controlled-release fertilizers (CRF's) have been promoted as a technology that can slowly release nutrients; the release rate is most often a function of prill coating and temperature. There are few data in the ornamental literature that have directly compared the total uptake efficiency of CRF's to soluble fertilizer sources. From 1999-2002, we collected three annual N and P budgetary datasets, comparing two species (Rhododendron cv. azalea and Ilex cornuta cv.`China Girl') with different growth rates and hence nutrient requirements. Plant N and P uptake efficiencies were usually less than 20% of the total applied, but all datasets included a significant soluble fertilization component. In 2003, a new study with Ilex cornuta cv.`China Girl' was initiated, where nutrients were supplied only from two CRF sources, as we want to determine whether this technology can significantly increase nutrient uptake efficiency at similar rates. A preliminary analysis of the data indicate that total N and P uptake efficiencies between different CRF sources were similar, but leaching losses between sources varied during the growing season. It appears that the primary determinant of uptake efficiency is not source material or timing, but the overall rate of nutrient application.

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