Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for plant growth and reproduction. Intensive use of P fertilizers for crop production has led to eutrophication and deterioration of water quality, causing serious environmental concerns. P used in fertilizers is obtained from global phosphate rock reserves, and is a nonrenewable resource that could be depleted in 50–100 years (Marschner, 2012), and therefore, increasing the efficiency with which these reserves are used to produce crops is vital to maintain or increase crop productivity in current crop production systems (Cordell et al., 2009).
The major environmental impacts caused by horticulture operations include runoff that carries pollutants including P, which can be driven by overfertilization of P, excessive irrigation, or the use of soilless potting media with less ability to retain P than mineral soils (Whitcher et al., 2005; Yeager and Wright, 1982). Particularly, overfertilization of P has been a long-standing problem causing economic losses to farmers and negatively impacting environments. Conversely, insufficient P can lead to a loss of crop productivity and yield, and therefore, it is critical to precisely determine the P requirements of crops to ensure crop production and meet the growing environmental challenges.
A large number of studies have shown that early season P supply is critical for optimum crop yield of many field-grown crops (Grant et al., 2001), which might have led to the practice of providing P starter fertilizers for greenhouse and nursery crop production, and this practice is still common. Superphosphate is routinely incorporated into potting media followed by regular fertilization with either liquid fertilizer or controlled-release fertilizer containing P (Wright and Niemiera, 1987). Excessive concentrations of P have been applied for crop production during this practice, exaggerating the risk of P runoff to the environment. Little is known about optimum P rates for most greenhouse and nursery crop production (Bailey and Nelson, 2004; Warncke and Krauskopf, 1983), and therefore, P fertilizer has been applied far in excess of what is required to achieve high crop productivity. For example, in conventional horticultural production systems, plants are often grown with P concentrations ranging from 90 to 150 mg·L−1 to compensate for the lack of buffering capacity of soilless media (Bjerregård and Hansen, 1983; Williams and Nelson, 1996). Current application rates of P largely depend on nitrogen fertilizer recommendations. Due to a general perception that P stimulates root growth and helps the transplants to obtain a quick establishment, the application of fertilizers with low N:P ratios is still common (Broschat and Klock-Moore, 2000; Hansen and Lynch, 1998; Williams and Nelson, 1996). Alternatively, the fertilizers with a ratio of 2:1:2 are often recommended for commercial greenhouse crops (Nelson, 1996; Whitcher et al., 2005).
A few studies have been conducted to determine an optimum P concentration for container crop production (Wright and Niemiera, 1987). P applications of ≈10 mg·L−1 in the irrigation water have resulted in maximum growth of Ilex crenata (Yeager and Wright, 1982) and Chamaecyparis lawsoniana (Van der Boon, 1981), which was also true for the rooted cuttings of Rhododendron and Cotoneaster adpressus praecox (Havis and Baker, 1985). Meanwhile, maximum growth was achieved in Vinca and new guinea impatiens grown at P concentration around 20 mg·L−1 (Whitcher et al., 2005). Plant growth, biomass accumulation, and P dynamics can be affected during the transition from vegetative to reproductive growth as demonstrated in chrysanthemum (Hansen and Lynch, 1998). Therefore, plant growth stage should be considered when determining P requirement of a crop. Many additional factors can affect P requirement of the crop including growing media, and irrigation method and frequency (Majsztrik et al., 2011); however, it is important to define a baseline P concentration required for an optimum plant growth and the implications of such a baseline without interference with other factors.
The effects of P on root growth and root-to-shoot ratio present conflicting results among the studies on container crops. According to Harris (1992), authors of several publications state or imply that P fertilizations primarily stimulate root growth, while other studies reported that increasing P supply increased root growth but decreased root-to-shoot ratio (Hansen and Lynch, 1998; Kim et al., 2008; Lynch et al., 1991), or it had no effect on root growth or root-to-shoot ratio (Broschat and Klock-Moore, 2000; Dufault and Schultheis, 1994; Ristvey et al., 2007). Little is known about the P accumulation patterns and PUtE in container crops, and there are only a few reports on the effects of P fertilization on partitioning in relation to their productivity. Such information is critical as it will help design more efficient management strategies for P fertilizer by better aligning the P requirements of crops and the application amount and timing of the nutrient. An understanding of such relationships is important to determine sustainable management practices for P fertilization. The objective of this experiment was to critically analyze the effects of P on shoot and root growth, P partitioning, and PUtE in lantana (L. camara ‘New Gold’). Our results will aid in refining the effects of P on plant growth and flowering in ornamental crops, and establishing the best P management practices.
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