Peat is widely used in the ornamental nursery industry as a major constituent of growing media for container plant production. In recent years, environmental concerns about peat extraction in wetland ecosystems have risen. Conservation of existing biodiversity in agricultural landscapes and the adoption of biodiversity-based practices have been proposed as ways of improving the sustainability of agricultural production through greater reliance on ecological goods and services with less damaging effects on environmental quality and biodiversity (Jackson et al., 2007). Furthermore, in southern Europe, peat is imported and its cost has become more expensive and its properties more variable (Ribeiro et al., 2007). Thus, the availability of environmentally friendly substrates with good quality, low cost, and obtainable in great quantity is attracting more attention.
Recently, several formulations of alternative materials for potting ornamental plants are being developed, in particular for herbaceous and annual species. The use of alternative growing media requires knowledge of their physical and chemical properties responsible for providing adequate support and a reservoir for air, water, and nutrients. The influence of the alternative substrates on plant growth and ornamental traits needs to be evaluated during the entire cultivation period. Studies have indicated that various organic substitutes can be used effectively as support media. Among these, coco fibers are increasingly used as substrate because they have many characteristics in common with peat (Lennartsson, 1997). This material is now being successfully used as a peat substitute for several container-grown ornamental plants such as Dieffenbachia (Stamps and Evans, 1997) and Grevillea (Offord et al., 1998). The feasibility of using pine bark mixtures in substrate formulation was shown in Pinus and Cupressus by Guerrero et al. (2002) and Hernández-Apaolaza et al. (2005). The effect of adding composted waste to a peat growing media is both economically and environmentally attractive (Erhart et al., 2005; Hargreaves et al., 2008). Studies on the use of green waste as a partial substitute for peat in growing media have been carried out, for example, in Gerbera (Pinamonti et al., 1997), Impatiens and Antirrhinum (Klock, 1997), Calendula and Calceolaria (Prasad and Maher, 2001), Cyclamen and Begonia (van der Gaag et al., 2007), and Philodendron (Grigatti et al., 2007). In Gerbera, coco peat was also successfully used (Barreto and Jagtap, 2006). Several studies concern the use of inorganic materials as peat substitutes for ornamental pot plant production. Expanded perlite appears to be the most used (Guérin et al., 2001; Marfà et al., 2002). Other inorganic substrates may also act as peat substitutes, like expanded clay, volcanic lapilli, and pumice (Fascella et al., 2003).
However, little literature is available on the effect of peat alternatives in the production of containerized woody ornamentals (Scagel, 2003), especially those which in nature grow in acidic soils (such as camellia, rhododendron, and azalea).
This study aimed to evaluate the suitability of four organic and one inorganic materials as partial peat substitutes for sustainable production of Camellia japonica L. To verify the influence of genotype on cultivation response, three cultivars were used.
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