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Kranti Macherla and Richard J. McAvoy

As water resources become limited, agricultural producers must resort to alternative sources for irrigation, including municipal reclaimed water which may contain impurities such as salts that can adversely impact irrigation management practices and crop yield. To test the effects of salinity on plant growth and nutrient composition under greenhouse conditions, zinnia (Zinnia elegans) was produced under two different subirrigation management regimes and exposed to various concentrations of NaCl to simulate the crop production challenges associated with poor water quality. Plants received either short- or long-cycle subirrigation to achieve differing levels of potting medium saturation at each irrigation event. Plants under these two irrigation management regimes were challenged with NaCl at concentrations up to 1.5 g·L−1 or 3 dS·m−1 . Zinnia plants accumulated more Na in shoot tissues as salinity in the irrigation water increased from 0 to 1.5 g·L−1. The electrical conductivity (EC) in the potting medium also increased over time, and the rate of leaf area expansion decreased with increasing levels of salinity in the irrigation water. Short-cycle irrigation management has been shown to increase fertilizer and water use efficiency (WUE), thereby reducing the costs associated with these resources and also reducing the environmental impacts of agricultural crop production. In our study, the medium under short-cycle subirrigation management had lower gravimetric water content (GWC), both before and after irrigation, than the medium under long-cycle subirrigation, but the drier medium conditions did not increase susceptibility to salt injury. Furthermore, plants grown under short-cycle irrigation management for 4 to 6 weeks accumulated less Na in shoot tissue than plants grown under long-cycle irrigation management. Sodium accumulation in the shoot tissues was a product of both the amount of sodium in the irrigation solution and the amount of water used by the plant over time. Therefore, short-cycle subirrigation can be used as an effective water management technique even when raw water quality is poor as represented by elevated salinity. Our research indicates that zinnia can be irrigated with saline water up to 0.5 g·L−1 NaCl (an EC of 1 dS·m−1) in a 5-week production cycle without adverse effects on growth.

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Martin P.N. Gent, Wade H. Elmer, Kranti Macherla, and Richard J. McAvoy

Can regulated deficit irrigation in an ebb and flow system alleviate the effects of salinity stress on poinsettia? Two cultivars of poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima Willd ex Klotzsch) were grown under partial- or full-saturation irrigation using a standard fertilizer solution, with or without the addition of 0.5 g·L−1 NaCl. The volumetric water content of the medium averaged 0.25 and 0.33 L·L−1 before irrigation, and 0.5 and 0.67 L·L−1 following irrigation, for partial- or full-saturation regimes, respectively. Plants had lower fresh weight with partial than full saturation. Sodium concentrations in bract, leaf, and stem tissues were higher (P ≤ 0.05) in plants exposed to salinity, and these plants accumulated less K in stems and less P in bracts. Eight cultivars were grown in a second study with or without salinity of 1.2 g·L−1 NaCl under drip or ebb and flow watering. Cultivar and watering had effects on plant fresh weight, but salinity did not. Of the cultivars tested, ‘DaVinci’, ‘Premium Picasso’, and ‘Prestige Red’ had the highest sodium in bracts under salinity with drip irrigation, whereas ‘Snowcap’ had the least. ‘Ruby Frost’ had the most sodium in stems, whereas ‘Snowcap’ had the least. For all cultivars, added salinity resulted in lower K in leaves and stem. Snowcap was the cultivar with the least sodium in stems and bracts under saline irrigation, with either drip or ebb and flow. Our research demonstrates that regulated deficit irrigation resulting in partial saturation of the growing medium is an effective water management option, when control of plant height and overall crop growth are desirable, and it limits the accumulation of sodium when raw water contains elevated salinity.