Ground Bovine Bone as a Perlite Alternative in Horticultural Substrates

in HortTechnology
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  • 1 Department of Horticulture, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR 72701.

Two grades of ground bovine bone were evaluated as potential alternatives to perlite in horticultural substrates. The bulk density of small and large bone-amended substrates was significantly higher than equivalent perlite-amended substrates. Large and small bone increased the air-filled pore space of sphagnum peat. However, at 10% and 20% (v/v), neither size of bone resulted in as high an air-filled pore space as equivalent amounts of perlite. At 30% and 40%, incorporation of small bone resulted in a similar air-filled pore space as incorporation of equivalent amounts of perlite, and incorporation of large bone resulted in a higher air-filled pore space than incorporation of equivalent amounts of perlite. Water-filled pore space and water-holding capacities of substrates were inversely related to air-filled pore space. When placed in a moist substrate, mineral elements within the bone were able to leach into the substrate over time. Substrates amended with 40% large and small bone had significantly higher concentrations of ammonium (NH4+), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), sodium (Na), and chloride (Cl-) than the 40% perlite-containing substrates. Substrates amended with 40% large bone had similar concentrations of magnesium (Mg), sulfur (S), iron (Fe), and copper (Cu) while substrates amended with 40% small bone had higher levels of these elements than perlite-amended substrates. Substrate concentrations of nitrate (NO3-), manganese (Mn), zinc (Zn), and boron (B) were not different among the substrates after 4 weeks in the greenhouse. The pH, electrical conductivity (EC) and NH4+ levels of bone-amended substrates increased to levels significantly higher than recommended and resulted in rapid mortality of `Orbit Cardinal' geranium (Pelargonium × hortorum), `Cooler Blush' vinca (Catharanthus roseus), and `Dazzler Rose Star' impatiens (Impatiens walleriana) plants grown in bone-amended substrates. Therefore, ground bovine bone was not a feasible alternative to perlite for use in horticultural substrates.

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