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James E. Altland and Charles R. Krause

Pine bark (PB) is currently imported from southern U.S. states to nursery growers in the upper midwest and northeast United States. Alternatives to PB that are regionally abundant and sustainable are needed for nursery substrates. The objective of this research was to determine the influence of pine wood (PW), which consisted of chipped and hammermilled pine trees (excluding branches and needles) on substrate physical properties when substituted partially or wholly for PB in substrates typical of Ohio. Four cooperating nursery sites, each with unique substrates comprised primarily of PB, were recruited to use PW as a substitute for 0%, 50%, or 100% of the PB fraction in their substrate. All other physical and chemical amendments used traditionally at each site were incorporated. Physical properties including particle size distribution (PSD), air space (AS), container capacity (CC), total porosity (TP), unavailable water (UAW), bulk density (Db), and moisture characteristic curves (MCC) were determined for each substrate at each cooperator site. Pine wood was generally more coarse than all but one of the PB materials used by the four cooperating sites. Amendment with PW did not have any consistent or predictable effect on AS, CC, TP, or Db of the resultant substrates. Pine wood had little identifiable effect on plotted MCC, although it reduced calculated easily available water in one substrate. It was concluded that substitution of PB with PW can result in changes to substrate physical properties that might lead to irrigation management changes, but none of these changes were considered negative or drastic enough to cause physical properties to be outside of acceptable ranges.

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Heping Zhu, James Altland, Richard C. Derksen, and Charles R. Krause

Spray deposition and coverage at different application rates for nursery liners of different sizes were investigated to determine the optimal spray application rates. Experiments were conducted on 2- and 3-year-old ‘Autumn Spire’ red maple (Acer rubrum) liners. A traditional hydraulic sprayer with vertical booms between tree rows was used to apply the spray applications. Application rates were 10, 20, 30, and 40 gal/acre for the 2-year-old liners and were 20, 40, 60, and 80 gal/acre for the 3-year-old liners. Nylon screens were used to collect spray deposition of a fluorescent tracer dissolved in water, and water-sensitive papers were used to quantify spray coverage inside canopies. Spray deposition, coverage, and droplet density inside both 2- and 3-year-old liner canopies increased as the application rate increased. The minimum rates to spray 6.6-ft-tall, 2-year-old ‘Autumn Spire’ red maple liners and 8.7-ft-tall, 3-year-old liners were 20 and 40 gal/acre, respectively. An exponential equation was derived from these results to estimate the spray application rate required for different tree liner heights and to minimize excessive chemical use in rapidly growing tree liners.

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James E. Altland, James C. Locke, and Charles R. Krause

Cation exchange capacity (CEC) describes the maximum quantity of cations a soil or substrate can hold while being exchangeable with the soil solution. Although CEC has been studied for peatmoss-based substrates, relatively little work has documented factors that affect CEC of pine bark substrates. The objective of this research was to determine the variability of CEC in different batches of pine bark and determine the influence of particle size, substrate pH, and peat amendment on pine bark CEC. Four batches of nursery-grade pine bark were collected from two nurseries, and a single source of sphagnum moss was obtained, separated in to several particle size classes, and measured for CEC. Pine bark was also amended with varying rates of elemental sulfur and dolomitic limestone to generate varying levels of substrate pH. The CEC varied with pine bark batch. Part of this variation is attributed to differences in particle size of the bark batches. Pine bark and peatmoss CEC increased with decreasing particle size, although the change in CEC from coarse to fine particles was greater with pine bark than peatmoss. Substrate pH from 4.02 to 6.37 had no effect on pine bark CEC. The pine bark batch with the highest CEC had similar CEC to sphagnum peat. Amending this batch of pine bark with sphagnum peat had no effect on composite CEC.

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Jonathan M. Frantz, James C. Locke, Dharmalingam S. Pitchay, and Charles R. Krause

An appropriate blend of growing media components increases water holding capacity and reduces irrigation frequency. Synthetic commercial materials, referred to as hydrogels, have remarkable hydrating properties, but can add significantly (about 15%) to the cost of growing media. The literature generally states that the physical characteristics of hydrogels, such as polyacrylamide (PAM), are altered by the presence of divalent cations (Ca2+ and Mg2+). Few studies, however, have simultaneously investigated plant growth and development and media characteristics on a daily basis throughout plant production. Thus, the mechanisms explaining the reported beneficial and/or detrimental effects from PAM incorporation remain hidden. In this study, canopy ground cover of two species [pansy (Viola ×wittrockiana Gams) and new guinea impatiens (Impatiens hawkeri Bull)] was measured daily, from transplanting to marketable size, using digital imaging to determine growth differences of plants grown in media containing different amounts of PAM. Media water content was determined with time-domain reflectance probes every 10 minutes in media treatments. Total number of irrigation events, time between irrigation events, root development after 4 and 8 weeks of growth, flower number, flower longevity, and dry masses of the shoot were also measured. Scanning electron microscopy revealed significant structural differences in hydrated PAM depending on water quality. The pansy canopy coverage was significantly greater with hydrogels, and root growth early in production was enhanced with PAM. No such effect was observed for new guinea impatiens. Total flower numbers and flower longevity of new guinea impatiens decreased with increasing amount of PAM (16.7% or higher) in the media. PAM incorporation reduced the need for irrigation early in production for both species, but by the end of production, those new guinea impatiens plants were smaller (less shoot dry mass) and required irrigation as often as plants grown without PAM. This effect coincided with reduced media volume, air capacity, and total porosity in PAM-containing media. Theoretical analysis of the potential benefits from hydrogels confirms the potential benefit early in production with little to no benefit later in production and in post-production. These data will assist growers in determining if the benefits derived from the use of PAM justify the added cost of medium.

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Dharmalingam S. Pitchay, Jonathan M. Frantz, James C. Locke, Charles R. Krause, and George C. J. Fernandez

Plant performance and appearance in deficient and toxic levels of nutrients are well characterized. However, less is known about the potential subtleties of plant growth, form, development, nutrient uptake, and biotic stress tolerance in the broad tolerable range. Begonia [Beg (Begonia × tuberhybrida Voss)] and new guinea impatiens [NGI (Impatiens hawkeri Bull.)] were grown over a wide range of N (from 1.78 to 57.1 mm NH4:NO3 ratio at a 1:1 ratio supplied as nutrient solution) in a peat:perlite soilless substrate in greenhouse conditions. Plant growth, development, chlorophyll content, leaf angle, nutrient uptake, tissue caloric value, and susceptibility to Botrytis cinerea Pers.:Fr. disease were evaluated in two experiments. Elevated N supply resulted in decreased plant height (16% in Beg and 7% to 16% in NGI), flower count (3% to 48% in Beg and 7% to 49% in NGI), bud numbers (23% to 80% in Beg), canopy area (11% to 33% in NGI), and mass (21% to 33% in Beg and 18% to 58% in NGI). Chlorophyll content saturated at an N supply of 28.6 mm. N uptake efficiency, shoot N use efficiency, and shoot N utilization efficiency decreased with increasing N supply. Elevated levels of N supply from 7.15 to 57.1 mm also increased the susceptibility of Beg to B. cinerea disease by 10% to 80% in stems and 3% to 14% in leaves. The increase in susceptibility also corresponded with increased tissue energy content (kJ·g−1) and altered leaf orientation. This study indicates many plant changes occur between nutrient extremes that can have a significant impact on growth, development, and the ability to withstand disease.