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Colin S. Campbell, Gaylon S. Campbell, Douglas R. Cobos, and Brody Teare

Knowledge of soil water, fertilizer, and temperature is important when growing plants in any type of growing media. Although instruments to measure these properties have been available for several years, they are often expensive, failure-prone, and require different calibration for individual soil types. Recently, a low-cost sensor (Trade name: ECH2O-TE) was released that measures volumetric water content, electrical conductivity (EC), and temperature. The objective of this study was to determine how the probe performed in various soil and soilless media, as well as various salinities. We found the probe performed very well over a wide range of soil types and salinities. From the data, it appears that a single calibration can be used for all mineral soils and organic potting soils. A second calibration equation may be required for substrates such as rockwool. The output of the probe was not affected by the salinity (EC) of the soil from 0.1 to greater than 10 dS/m and showed considerable improvement in temperature sensitivity compared to existing technology. These results suggest the sensor provides a low-cost, reliable, easier-to-use alternative to other sensors of its kind.

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Jay Young, Charles Heuser, and E.J. Holcomb

The use of spent mushroom compost (SMC) as a media amendment for containerized greenhouse and nursery crop production is a promising alternative to disposal of this by-product of mushroom production. Fresh SMC is the compost that is removed from the mushroom house and used without further weathering. The objectives of this study include first, identification of key factors involved its successful use and second demonstration of the effective use of SMC by nurserymen. The plant material used includes both bedding plants and woody perennial species. Results demonstrate that the key factor in the use of SMC for plant production is high soluble salts. Leaching can reduce the high soluble salts. In addition, special consideration should be given to the reduction in potted media volume over time due to composting that continues after the material is removed from mushroom production. SMC as the sole growing media was not as effective as when SMC was amended with a commercial nursery growing mix. Several species were grown in 0%, 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100% mixtures of SMC and a commercial nursery mix. All species grew well in 50% SMC/50% nursery mix.

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Erin James and Marc van Iersel

The negative effects of nutrient runoff on the environment has come more to the forefront of greenhouse issues in the past few years. Alternative irrigation systems that reduce or eliminate runoff that are widely used in Europe have not yet gained much popularity in the southeastern United States, in part due to a lack of available information on their use. One such system is ebb-and-fl ow, which is a completely closed recirculating system, having no runoff whatsoever. In order to learn more about optimum growing practices using the ebb-and-fl ow system for bedding plants, marigolds and sunflowers were grown under a variety of conditions. After a 6-week period, pH of growing media of both marigolds and sunflowers decreased by 1, while EC increased by ≈1 dS/m. There were also significant differences in EC due to the different media types. The soilless medium with the highest percentage of vermiculite and lowest percentage of pine bark had the highest EC. Different types of fertilizer and fertilizer rates will be discussed, as well as interactions between fertilizer and media.

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Bert T. Swanson and James B. Calkins

Five composted Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) (garbage) products and a composted manure were evaluated as container growing media components on eight woody and herbaceous plants. Plant growth response to the different composts and to the quality of compost used was species-specific. Media UM Manure 100 provided the greatest increase in plant height across all species during the first year. However, only one species, V. lentaga, actually ranked number one in UM Manure 100. J.h. `Blue Chip' and A. tuberosa both grew the tallest in Control I. The remaining five species grew tallest in five different media. Therefore, several amended media can provide increased plant height for specific species; however, the top three media for plant height across all species were: #1 UM Manure 100, #2 Prairieland 50, and #3 Pennington 50. Plant height was the lowest in Recomp 100 media. Pennington 50 provided the greatest increase in plant volume. Media producing the highest plant dry weights across all species were: #1 Prairieland 50, #2 Pennington 50 and #3 UM Manure 50. Plants grown in Recomp 100 had the lowest plant dry weight. Media physical properties such as media drainage and aeration were affected by amendment quality and quantity.

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Houchang Khatamjan and Sudeep Vyapari

One-year-old liners of Firebird crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica L. 'Firebird') and Vicary golden privet (Ligustrum X vicaryi) were planted in 7.6 liter containers. The growing media consisted of 3 pinebark: 1 Canadian peat moss: 1 sand and 3 sawdust: 1 Canadian peat moss: 1 sand (v/v/v). Both media were amended with NH4NO3 and dolomite. Several controlled release fertilizers at varying rates were incorporated into each medium prior to planting. Thirty, 60 and 90 days after planting, leachate samples were collected and tested for E.C. and pH. Fertilizer Sierra (17-6-10) and Osmocote (18-7-13) resulted in maximum shoot dry weight with both species and media types followed by Osmocote (24-4-8) and Escote (20-4-11). Plants grew equally well in pinebark and sawdust medium. After 30 and 60 days leachate from Sierra (17-6-10) had highest E.C. levels. Osmocote (18-7-13 and 24-4-8) recorded highest E.C. at 90 day sampling date. The sawdust medium had higher pH values than the pinebark.

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Jeffrey H. Gillman and Carl J. Rosen

Phosphorus contamination of surface water is a growing problem associated with container production of nursery plants. Iron and iron compounds have the ability to adsorb phosphorus and render it immobile. Incorporating iron compounds into media at the base of nursery containers serves to filter out phosphorus from fertilizers while still allowing the plant to collect enough phosphorus to grow. Two experiments were devised. The first experiment examined how much phosphorus various iron compounds would adsorb. Metallic iron adsorbed the most phosphorus, followed by HCl reacted magnetite (a form of iron ore), Fe2O3, Fe3O4 and magnetite. In the second experiment, PVC tubes (4 cm inner diam.) were filled to a level of 5 cm with a phosphorus adsorbing layer containing growing media that was 25% or 50% by weight iron compounds. Compounds included metallic iron, HCl reacted magnetite and magnetite. Plain media was used as a control. A layer of 15 cm of media and slow-release fertilizer was applied above the adsorptive layer. One hundred milliliters of distilled water was applied to PVC tubes daily to simulate irrigation. Metallic iron reduced phosphorus leachate to almost 0 for over 2 weeks. HCl reacted magnetite was also effective in reducing phosphorus leachate. Magnetite only affected phosphorus leachate slightly.

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M. Arenas, C.S. Vavrina, J.A. Cornell, E.A. Hanlon, and G.J. Hochmuth

Sixteen media prepared from peat, coir, vermiculite, or perlite were used to determine the optimum growing media for tomato (Lycopersicum esculentum Mill.) transplants. Medium composition did not affect tomato seed emergence, although seedling emergence was higher in winter (90%) than summer (85%). Greatest transplant root dry weight, stem diameter, and leaf area were achieved in 50% to 75% peat + 25% to 50% vermiculite in summer. In winter, greatest transplant root dry weight, stem diameter, and leaf area were achieved in eight media: 100% peat, 75% peat + 25% vermiculite, 75% peat + 25% perlite, 50% peat + 50% vermiculite, 50% peat + 50% perlite, 25% peat + 50% coir + 25% vermiculite, 50% peat + 25%coir + 25% vermiculite, and 25% peat +25% coir +25% vermiculite +25% perlite. Transplants grown with >50% coir exhibited reduced plant growth compared to peat-grown transplants, a response that may be associated with high N immobilization by microorganisms and high C:N ratio. Despite transplant growth differences during the summer, fruit yields generally were unaffected by transplant media.

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Carinne Peters and Marla S. McIntosh

Pour-through extraction can provide data indicating geranium container nutrient status for growers to diagnose nutritional problems and prevent plant loss. The objective of this study was to examine changes in growing media pH and electrical conductivity during the production cycle of 10 cultivars from each of the three geranium classes (zonal, ivy, and regal). Thirty cultivars of geraniums were grown in pots using standard commercial greenhouse production guidelines for 12 weeks. Pour-through extractions were performed every 5 d and media pH and electrical conductivity were determined on the collected leachate. While there was a significant reduction in media pH for zonal and ivy geraniums 36 d after transplanting plugs, only one regal cultivar exhibited a decrease in pH during the production cycle. Statistically significant differences for mean media pH and electrical conductivity were also observed among cultivars within each class at several sampling dates. The results of this study indicate that zonal, ivy, and one regal cultivar's media pH decreases rapidly from day 21 to day 36, and then returns to initial levels by day 46. Because of the importance of media pH to nutrient uptake, this study allows for a better understanding of nutritional problems that are linked to pH that frequently occur at the stage of growth. It also suggests that fertigation rates should be adjusted by cultivar and growth stage to address this pH variation.

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Kimberly A. Klock

Ornamental horticulture industries have the opportunity to utilize compost products as components in growing media, but heterogeneity among compost products can cause unpredictability in the activity of some growth regulators when applied as a drenches to the growing medium. These experiments evaluated the effect of 0%, 30%, 60%, or 100% compost (by volume) in the medium on the efficacy of paclobutrazol applied as a drench on Impatiens wallerana Hook. In experiment 1, paclobutrazol was applied at active ingredient (a.i.) drench rates of 0, 0.016, 0.032, 0.06, or 0.125 mg/pot 16 days after transplanting impatiens `Accent Red'. In experiment 2, paclobutrazol was applied at a.i. drench rates of 0, 0.25, 0.50, 1.0, or 2.0 mg/pot 14 days after transplanting impatiens `Dazzler Punch'. In both experiments, final height and size were reduced by paclobutrazol treatments compared to untreated plants. In experiment 1, shoot dry mass of treated plants was on the average of 0.92 g less than untreated plants, while shoot dry mass, in experiment 2, did not show a significant difference between treated and untreated plants. In both experiments, final height, size and shoot dry mass were significantly different among the media, with the greatest growth in 100% compost.

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Michael J. Lamb, George H. Clough, and Delbert D. Hemphill

The effects of supplemental Ca and varying NO3:N H4 ratios on transplant growth and NH4-N utilization were studied using watermelon (Citrullus vulgaris L. `Crimson Sweet') seeded in plastic multicell trays. The growing media consisted of a commercial peat mix amended with CaCO3 (10% w/v). Fertigation with five NO3:N H4 ratios and five levels of supplemental Ca (4, 8, 12, 16 mmol.) was applied daily in factorial combinations. The highest NO3:N H4 ratio produced greatest shoot dry weight, shoot N, and shoot NO3-N and K concentrations. Increasing NH4 and Ca decreased media pH and increased EC. After 21 days, supplemental Ca decreased shoot N and dry weight, but after 28 days had no effect. Additional Ca increased shoot Ca but decreased Mg and K. Supplemental Ca and N ratio interacted to affect leaf area. Pretransplant N ratio and supplemental Ca effects on seedling field performance, flowering, and yield were evaluated.