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Jonathan M. Frantz, Dharmalingam S. Pitchay, Glen Ritchie and Heping Zhu

Nitrogen (N) is often supplied to plants in excess to minimize the possibility of encountering N deficiency that would reduce the plant quality due to leaf chlorosis and necrosis. This is not only costly, but it can reduce the quality of plants, predispose the plants to biotic stress such as Botrytisgray mold, and extend the production cycle. Several tools can be used to identify N deficiency in plants, and most are based on chlorophyll reflectance or transmittance. While sensitive when plants are experiencing N deficiency, spectral signals can saturate in an ample N supply and make it difficult to discern sufficient and supra-optimal N nondestructively. Three diverse ornamental species (begonia, Begoniacea×tuberhybrida; butterflybush, Buddlejadavidii; and geranium, Pelargonium×hortorum) were grown with a broad range of N supplied (1.8 to 58 mm) in three separate studies that resulted in a range of 1.8% to 6% tissue N concentration. Using a spectroradiometer, we measured reflectance from the whole plants twice over a period of 3 weeks. A first-derivative analysis of the data identified six wavebands that were strongly correlated to both begonia and butterflybush tissue N concentration (r 2 ∼ 0.9), and two of these also correlated well to geranium N concentration. These wavebands did not correlate to chlorophyll peak absorbance, but rather blue, green, red, and far-red “edges” of known plant pigments. These wavebands hold promise for use as a nondestructive indicator of N status over a much broader range of tissue N concentration than current sensors can reliably predict.

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

Geranium (Pelargonium ×hortorum) is considered to be one of the top-selling floriculture plants, and is highly responsive to increased macro- and micronutrient bioavailability. In spite of its economic importance, there are few nutrient disorder symptoms reported for this species. The lack of nutritional information contributes to suboptimal geranium production quality. Understanding the bioenergetic construction costs during nutrient deficiency can provide insight into the significance of that element predisposing plants to other stress. Therefore, this study was conducted to investigate the impact of nutrient deficiency on plant growth. Pelargonium plants were grown hydroponically in a glass greenhouse. The treatment consisted of a complete modified Hoagland's millimolar concentrations of macronutrients (15 NO3-N, 1.0 PO4-P, 6.0 K, 5.0 Ca, 2.0 Mg, and 2.0 SO4-S) and micromolar concentrations of micronutrients (72 Fe, 9.0 Mn, 1.5 Cu, 1.5 Zn, 45.0 B, and 0.1 Mo) and 10 additional solutions each devoid of one essential nutrient (N, P, Ca, Mg, S, Fe, Mn, Cu, Zn, or B). The plants were photographed and divided into young, maturing, and old leaves, the respective petioles, young and old stems, flowers, buds, and roots at “hidden hunger,” incipient, mid- and advanced-stages of nutrient stress. Unique visual deficiency symptoms of interveinal red pigmentation were noted on the matured leaves of P- and Mg-deficient plants, while N-deficient plants developed chlorotic leaf margins. Tissue N concentration greatly influenced bioenergetic construction costs, probably due to differences in protein content. This information will provide an additional tool in producing premium geraniums for the greenhouse industry.

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

Silica (Si) is not considered to be an essential plant nutrient because without it, most plants can be grown from seed to seed without its presence. However, many investigations have shown a positive growth effect if Si is present, including increased dry weight, increased yield, enhanced pollination, and most commonly, increased disease resistance, which leads to its official designation as a beneficial nutrient. Surprisingly, some effects, such as reduced incidence of micronutrient toxicity, appear to occur even if Si is not taken up in appreciable amounts. The literature results must be interpreted with care, however, because many of the benefits can be obtained with the counterion of the Si supplied to the plant. Determining a potential benefit from Si could be a large benefit to greenhouse plant producers because more production is using soilless media that are devoid of Si. Therefore, Si must be supplied either as a foliar spray or nutrient solution amendment. We investigated adding Si to New Guinea Impatiens (Impatiens hawkeri Bull), marigold (Tagetes erecta), pansy (Viola wittrockiana), spreading petunia (Petunia hybridia), geranium (Pelargonium spp.), and orchid (Phalaenopsis spp.). Using SEM, energy dispersive X-ray analysis, and ICP analysis, Si content and location was determined. This information and other growth characteristics will be used as a first step in determining the likelihood of using Si as a beneficial element in greenhouse fertilizer solutions for higher quality bedding plants with fewer agrochemical inputs.

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Dharmalingam S. Pitchay*, Jonathan M. Frantz, Jonathan M. Locke and Charles Krause

Growers tend to over fertilize their plants as a way to minimize the likelihood of encountering nutrient deficiencies that would reduce the quality of their plants. Much of the nutrition literature focuses on the nutritional extremes namely of toxicity and deficiency. Once plants get to this stage, little can be done to correct the problem. Characteristics of plant performance in super-optimal conditions, yet below toxic levels, is less well known, and needs to be developed to help growers identify problems in their production practices before they impact sales. New Guinea Impatiens were grown over a wide range of N, K, and B levels, from 15% to 400% full strength Hoagland's solution for each nutrient after establishing transplanted rooted cuttings in a peat: perlite soilless media. Plants were grown for four weeks during treatment, during which time the flowers were pinched. After only 2 weeks of treatment, plants with 200% and 400% N were significantly shorter than control plants and plants with 15% N. Reflectance measurements and photographs were made twice a week. At the end of the four weeks, plant tissue was analyzed for form of N, root development and structure, and leaf area. Tissue samples were also analyzed with SEM and energy dispersive X-ray analysis to determine changes in nutrient location and tissue structure. This data provides insight into the nutrition economy of plants in general, tests the use of reflectance spectrometry as a method of detecting super-optimal fertilizer concentrations, and will help growers optimize their fertilization requirements to reduce production costs yet maintain high plant quality.

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Dharmalingam S. Pitchay, John Gray, Jonathan M. Frantz, Leona Horst and Charles Krause

Geranium (Pelargonium ×hortorum) typically follows the C3 metabolic pathway. However, it switches to CAM metabolism under certain abiotic stress environments. This switch may affect the nutritional requirement and appearance of visible deficiency symptoms of these plants. Because potassium (K) plays a key role in stomatal function, K-deficiency was studied in geranium. Plants were grown hydroponically in a glass greenhouse. The treatments consisted of a complete, modified Hoagland's solution with millimolar concentrations of macronutrients, 15 NO3-N, 1.0 PO4-P, 6.0 K, 5.0 Ca, 2.0 Mg, and 2.0 SO4-S and micromolar concentrations of micronutrients, 72 Fe, 9.0 Mn, 1.5 Cu, 1.5 Zn, 45.0 B, and 0.1 Mo, and an additional solution devoid of K. It took longer to develop the classic K deficiency symptoms than other bedding plant species commonly require. The K-stress plants' dry weight was 10% and 37% of control at incipient and advanced stage, respectively. When portions of geranium leaves were covered, symptomology on leaves with K stress developed rapidly (within 2 days) compared to the uncovered portion of the leaf blade. Control plants contained an abundance of marble-shaped K crystals in the adaxial surface of leaf mesophyll, but were lacking in the K-deficient plants. Geranium is more prone to K stress during short days than long days and an additional supply of K would be needed for normal growth in short days.

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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.

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James L. Gibson, Brian E. Whipker, Dharmalingam S. Pitchay, Paul V. Nelson and C. Ray Campbell

Elemental deficiencies of N, P, K, Ca, Mg, S, Fe, Mn, Cu, Zn, and B were induced in `Osaka White' ornamental cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. acephala L.) plants. Seedlings were planted in 4.7-L plastic containers and fertilized with a complete modified Hoagland's solution or this solution minus the element that was to be investigated. Plants were harvested for tissue analysis as well as dry weight when initial foliar symptoms were expressed and later under advanced deficiency symptoms. Root architecture was also recorded for the plants treated with the solutions. The containers were replicated three times for each of the two harvests and were randomized in a complete-block design. Deficiency symptoms for all treatments were observed within five weeks. The most dramatic expression of foliar symptoms occurred with N (a purplish tinge on underside of lower foliage leading to necrotic margins on the mature leaves), P (elongated internodes and a purplish tinge on underside of mature leaves), K (compact internodes with chlorotic lower foliage leading to necrotic patches on the leaf margins and blade), Fe (bright yellow upper foliage leading to a bleach white appearance), Ca (complete meristem necrosis with lower foliage becoming chlorotic then necrotic), and B (deformed young leaves and fully expanded leaves becoming thick, leathery, and brittle). The dry weight of plants treated with solutions not containing N, P, Ca, Fe, or B was significantly lower when compared to the control. Foliar tissue concentration data will assist plant tissue analysis laboratories in establishing foliar symptom standards for grower samples.

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Dharmalingam S. Pitchay, James L. Gibson, C. Ray Campbell, Paul V. Nelson and Brian E. Whipker

The margin of error in pinpointing the difference in deficiency symptoms between calcium and boron is high. Several experiments were conducted in the greenhouse to induce as well as to differentiate the exact foliar and root symptoms of Ca and B. The experiments were conducted with modified Hoagland nutrient solutions. The treatments were with or without Ca or B salts for inducing total deficiency symptoms. Symptoms were expressed on the upper part including the growing point of the plant. In absence of Ca, marigold and zinnia plant heights were reduced by 58% and 37%, respectively, from the control. However, the reduction in height was only in the 27% and 25% range for B deficiency. Ca deficiency was noted as a blackened region on the leaf blade (early stage symptoms) which progressed into necrotic spots on the newly formed leaves. Severe necrosis, was observed on the growing point with advanced Ca deficiency. B deficiency results in a leathery and gray color in zinnia, needle like and narrow leaflets in marigold. The leaf blades were brittle in all B deficient species. B deficient plants roots were stiff and leathery and lateral roots possessed black nodule like endings at the tips. The Ca deficient roots expressed less side branching and at the advanced stage the roots were shorter and fewer with severe necrotic symptoms. The above initial and advanced deficiency symptoms appeared earlier in treatments without Ca than B. Images of Ca and B deficiency symptoms, as well as tissue concentration values will be presented.