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Philippe Jobin, Jean Caron, Pierre-Yves Bernier, and Blanche Dansereau

Hydrophilic polymers or hydrogels have shown potential to increase water retention of media and to reduce irrigation frequency. This property would be particularly useful in the production of fast growing species in which large amounts of water are needed. This study evaluated the effect of two acrylic-based hydrogels on water desorption curve and hydraulic conductivity of substrates and on plant growth. The duration of their effects was also investigated. Rooted cuttings of Surfinia (Petunia ×hybrida `Brilliant Pink') were transplanted into 30-cm pots containing one of three different substrates amended with one of two types of hydrogels, a commercial acrylic polymer, and a commercial acrylic-acrylamide copolymer, and grown for 9 weeks under well watered conditions and then imposed with a drought. Results indicated that both polymer types gave similar results. The substrates' physical properties (air-filled porosity, available water) at potting time were significantly affected by hydrogel addition, but differences vanished within 9 weeks of growth. Hydrogels had no significant effect on the point at which plant wilted and on the substrate's unsaturated hydraulic conductivity. Shoot dry weight was affected by substrate and hydrogel and was positively correlated to water content between container capacity and -10 kPa of water potential, or between container capacity and the soil water potential at plant turgor loss.

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William C. Fonteno and Paul V. Nelson

Loose rockwool had a total porosity similar to peatmoss (92%, by volume) but with water retention capabilities similar to sand. Root media formulations containing loose rockwool were tested with seven plant species for plant response and nutrient uptake. The volume percent formulation, 20 rockwool : 10 peatmoss : 20 vermiculite : 45 pine bark : 5 perlite, was superior to formulations containing 10% or 30% rockwool. Plant response in this rockwool medium in bedding plant flats was superior to that in two high-performing commercial media for impatiens (Impatiens sultanii Hook), marigold (Tagetes patula L.), and petunia (Petunia hybrida Vilm) and equal to one commercial medium for tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.). However, response of chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum × morifolium Ramat.), geranium (Pelargonium × hortorum Bailey), and poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima Willd. ex Kl.) in 1.58-liter pots was inferior to both commercial media in one-half of the trials. Differential plant responses in the root media treatments did not relate directly to differences found to occur in plant nutrient composition. The high initial pH level of rockwool necessitated reduced application of limestone and increased application of calcium sulfate to offset Ca deficiency.

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Ian A. Merwin, Warren C. Stiles, and Harold M. van Es

This study was conducted to compare various orchard groundcover management systems (GMSs)—including a crownvetch “living mulch” (CNVCH), close-mowed (MWSOD) and chemically growth-regulated (GRSOD) sodgrasses, pre-emergence (NDPQT) and two widths of post-emergence (GLY1.5 and GLY2.5) herbicides, hay-straw mulch (STMCH), and monthly rototillage (tilled)—during the first 6 years in a newly established apple (Malus domestica Borkh.) planting. Mean soil water potential at 5 to 35 cm deep varied substantially among treatments each summer, and treatment × year interactions were observed. During most growing seasons from 1986 to 1991, soil water availability trends were STMCH > NDPQT > GLY2.5 > GLY1.5 > tilled > GRSOD > MWSOD > CNVCH. Soil organic matter content increased under STMCH, CNVCH, and MWSOD and decreased under NDPQT and tilled treatments. Water infiltration and saturated hydraulic conductivity after 4 years were lower under NDPQT and tilled, and soil under STMCH and GRSOD retained more water per unit volume at applied pressures approximating field water capacity. Mid-summer soil temperatures at 5 cm deep were highest (25 to 28C) in tilled and NDPQT plots, intermediate (22 to 24C) under GRSOD, and lowest (16 to 20C) under CNVCH and STMCH. These observations indicate that long-term soil fertility and orchard productivity may be diminished under pre-emergence herbicides and mechanical cultivation in comparison with certain other GMSs.

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Paul H. Henry and She-Kong Chong

There has been recent speculation in trade journals that landscape fabrics, while doing a excellent job of weed control, may have a detrimental effect upon ornamental plant growth. A study is in progress to investigate the manner in which applied landscape fabric affects soil aeration, soil temperature, and water infiltration rate over a period of 18 months. The experimental design is a split-plot with main plots identified as composted or non-composted areas. Within each main plot, the design is a randomized complete block with four blocks and three treatments per block (control, organic mulch, landscape fabric + organic mulch). Each plot has been planted with herbaceous perennials so as to allow analysis of treatment effects upon plant growth. Re-dox potential is measured on a weekly and infiltration rate is measured on a biweekly basis. Soil temperature within plots is monitored on a continuous basis. Preliminary results suggest that landscape fabrics have a detrimental effect on soil aeration and that this likely has a adverse effect upon plant growth. An attempt will be made in this study to contrast any adverse effects of landscape fabric use with the obvious benefits offered by increased weed control.

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Amy O'Leary, Paul Henry, and She-Kong Chong

There has been recent speculation in trade journals that landscape fabrics, while doing an excellent job of weed control, may have a detrimental effect on ornamental plant growth. A study is in progress to investigate the manner in which hardwood mulch and applied landscape fabric affect soil temperature, soil aeration, and water content over 18 months. Two experiments are in progress, one with compost incorporated at 50% soil volume, the other with no compost incorporation. The experimental design is a randomized complete block with four treatments (mulch, fabric, fabric plus mulch, and control) and four plants per plot. Each plot has been planted with herbaceous perennials so as to allow analysis of treatment effects on plant growth. Soil temperature within plots is monitored on a continual basis. Soil aeration is measured every two weeks using installed oxygen tubes. Water content is measured using time domain reflectometry 24 and 48 h after a significant rainfall event. Preliminary results suggest that hardwood mulch and landscape fabric are similar in their effect on soil water content 0 to 48 h after a significant rainfall event. However, after 48 h, hardwood mulch increases soil water retention compared to landscape fabric.

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B.H. Ownley, D.M. Benson, and T. E. Bilderback

One-year-old Rhododendron L. `Nova Zembla' were grown in four container media infested with Phytophthora cinnamomi Rands. The media (all v/v) were pine bark, 3 pine bark:1 sand, 3 pine bark:1 peat, and 1 peat: 1 sand: 1 soil. After 20 weeks, plants were evaluated for root rot symptoms and the total porosity, air space, moisture-holding capacity, and bulk density were determined for all media. All media provided adequate moisture-holding capacity for container production of rhododendron in noninfested media. Shoot fresh weight in noninfested media was positively correlated with bulk density and water (percent by volume) held in the 1.0- to 5.0-kPa matric tension range and negatively correlated with total porosity and air space. Root rot severity was greatest in peat: sand: soil, intermediate in pine bark: peat, and least in pine bark and pine bark: sand. Root rot severity was negatively correlated with total porosity and air space and positively correlated with bulk density and water (percent by volume) held in the 5.0- to 10.0-kPa matric tension range.

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W.C. Fonteno and T.E. Bilderback

Addition of a polyacrylamide hydrogel to pine bark and pine bark + sand substrates had no effect on total porosity, regardless of incorporation rate. Container capacity was increased with increasing rate of hydrogel in both substrates. Air space in pine bark was slightly increased at the lowest rate but was reduced with higher incorporation rates. Air space in pine bark + sand was reduced with all hydrogel additions. The dry weigh', of hydrogel cubes recovered from both substrates was similar to amounts predicted. This result indicates that blending hydrogel granules into the substrates was uniform and did not contribute to variability in hydrogel studies. After allowing dry hydrogel granules to expand freely in distilled water for 24 hours, hydrogel granules expanded 317 and 372 times their dry weights at the lowest and highest rates, respectively. Reduction of expansion (in water) at higher rates may have been due to physical restriction of expansion. Conversely, recovered hydrogel cubes from substrates watered to drainage (-10% excess) for 6 weeks absorbed 25 to 55 times their dry weight while in the container. Subsequent rehydration of extracted gels in distilled water was greater for hydrogel cubes from the pine bark + sand medium (104 to 130) than in pine bark alone (51 to 88). Because of anomalies in hydraulic conductivity and pressure plate contact, three techniques were used to study unavailable water content in gels expanded in distilled water. Hydrogel cubes placed in direct contact with the pressure plate released ≈95% of their water at pressures ≤ 1.5 MPa. Effectiveness of ployacrylamide gels in coarse-structured substrates is influenced by physical restrictions to expansion in the substrate and hydraulic conductivity between the hydrogel cubes and the surrounding substrate.

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Ted E. Bilderback, Stuart L. Warren, James S. Owen Jr., and Joseph P. Albano

Many research studies have evaluated potential organic and mineral container substrate components for use in commercial potting substrates. Most studies report results of plant growth over a single production season and only a few include physical properties of the substrates tested. Furthermore, substrates containing predominantly organic components decompose during crop production cycles producing changes in air and water ratios. In the commercial nursery industry, crops frequently remain in containers for longer periods than one growing season (18 to 24 months). Changes in air and water retention characteristics over extended periods can have significant effect on the health and vigor of crops held in containers for 1 year or more. Decomposition of organic components can create an overabundance of small particles that hold excessive amounts of water, thus creating limited air porosity. Mineral aggregates such as perlite, pumice, coarse sand, and calcined clays do not decompose, or breakdown slowly, when used in potting substrates. Blending aggregates with organic components can decrease changes in physical properties over time by dilution of organic components and preserving large pore spaces, thus helping to maintain structural integrity. Research is needed to evaluate changes in container substrates from initial physical properties to changes in air and water characteristics after a production cycle.

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E. Carmona, J. Ordovás, M.T. Moreno, M. Avilés, M.T. Aguado, and M.C. Ortega

Static hydrological properties [aeration capacity, easily available water, reserve water, water release curves: θvm), and specific humidity curves] and dynamic hydrological properties (saturated and unsaturated hydraulic conductivity) of sub strates based on industrial cork residue (the bark of Quercus suber L.) and cork compost were studied. Samples of similar granulometry have been used to establish the effect of cork composting on the afore mentioned physical properties. Different models were tested to describe the mechanism of water release from these materials. Van Genuchtens model (Van Genuchten, 1978) was the best fit and produced specific humidity curves that revealed slight differences in the ratio of water capacity function. When cork residues were composted for 7 months, important changes occurred in hydrological properties of the material as it became more wettable. Water retention significantly increased from 45% to 54%, at a potential of 5 kPa, although this did not necessarily result in increased water available to plants. A study of the unsaturated hydraulic conductivity (Kunsat) of these materials revealed a significant de crease in the Kunsat water potential at 0-5 kPa, which corresponds to the range in which the irrigation with these substrates was usually carried out. The long composting process resulted in increased Kunsat between 4 and 5 times that of uncomposted material, which would improve the water supply to the plant.

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Kenneth A. Shackel, H. Ahmadi, C. Greve, J. Labavitch, Liesbeth Verstreken, Paul Chen, and Jim Thompson

The pressure microprobe has been used to measure cell turgor and, in addition, to sample vacuolar tissues. In carrot, a rapid initial loss of tissue firmness (instron technique) occurred when the tissue was heater (cooked), and this could be entirely attributed to a loss in cell turgor. Turgor was well-correlated to firmness over the range of turgor measurements (0–0.8 MPa). In cherry and other fruits, turgor is typically 1 to 2 orders of magnitude lower than that expected based on cell osmotic potential, indicating the presence of apoplastic solutes. Cherry fruit firmness and cell turgor were well-correlated during the first 2 h of hydration at 20C, but, as fruit began to crack, tissue decreased, whereas turgor continued to increase.