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  • Author or Editor: James S. Owen x
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Regulatory and economic incentives to improve water and fertilizer use efficiency have prompted the nursery industry to seek new and advanced techniques for managing the production of ornamental crops. The development of best management practices, especially with regard to fertilizer and irrigation management, is largely based on research that looks at season-long trends in water and nutrient use. Understanding how water moves through a substrate during a single irrigation event may allow for the refinement of recommended best management practices that improve water and fertilizer use efficiency in container-grown plant production systems. Therefore, a study was conducted to characterize the movement of irrigation water at three growth stages [4, 9, and 17 weeks after transplanting (WAT)] throughout the production cycle of Ilex crenata Thunb. ‘Bennett’s Compactum’ that were container-grown in a bark-based substrate alongside fallow (i.e., without a plant) containers. Tensiometers were placed at three horizontal insertion depths and three vertical heights throughout the substrate profile to detect changes in matric potential (ψ; kPa), during individual irrigations. At 4 WAT, the pre-irrigation ψ in the upper substrate profile was 12.3 times more negative (i.e., drier) than the substrate near the container’s base and 6.0 times more negative than the middle of the container. This gradient was decreased at 9 and 17 WAT as roots grew into the lower portion of the substrate profile. On average, water began to drain from the base of containers 59.9 s ± 1.0 se and 35.7 s ± 1.3 se after irrigation commencement for fallow containers and plant-containing treatments, respectively, indicating channeling through the substrate of plant-containing treatments. A pattern of plant water uptake by roots induced a gradient in the substrate’s pre-irrigation moisture distribution, where portions of the substrate profile were relatively dry where plant roots had taken up water. Consequently, the application of water or fertilizer (i.e., fertigation) through irrigation has the potential to be highly inefficient if applied under dry substrate conditions where channeling may occur. Therefore, water application using cyclic irrigation or substrate moisture content (MC) thresholds (not letting MC fall below an undetermined threshold where channeling may occur) may improve water application efficiency. Furthermore, fertigation should occur when the substrate MC in the upper portion of the container is higher than the pre-irrigation MCs observed in this study to minimize the occurrence of channeling. The effect of root growth should also be taken into account when seeking the proper balance between pre-irrigation substrate MC and irrigation application rate to reduce the risk of unwanted channeling.

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A survey, focusing on the use of irrigation and fertilization best management practices (BMPs), was designed and released to Virginia nursery and greenhouse growers. The objectives of the survey were to determine the most widely used BMPs, assess the reasons for their use, and identify barriers to BMP adoption. The survey was distributed in person, via e-mail attachment, or link to 357 Virginia growers in 2016 with 60 respondents. Survey results demonstrate that the most widely used BMPs in Virginia included irrigation scheduling, integrated pest management (IPM) implementation, altering irrigation practices to optimize irrigation efficiency, controlled-release fertilizer (CRF) use, and plant need–based watering. Respondents selected environmental/resource savings as one of the most cited reasons behind BMP use for water, fertilizer, and runoff management. Cost was the most cited barrier to BMP adoption for all BMPs. Fertilizer management BMP implementation was primarily an economic decision. The value of determining the most widely used BMPs and impediments to BMP adoption is that we can 1) communicate this information to growers who currently do not employ BMPs to encourage BMP adoption and 2) subsequently inform the regulatory community of BMP use. Increased BMP use can boost the potential for mitigation of agricultural nutrient and sediment runoff into impaired waterways, including the Chesapeake Bay, and help growers increase efficiency of operation inputs, such as water and fertilizer resources, while potentially saving money.

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The amount of phosphorus (P) conventionally recommended and applied to container nursery crops commonly exceeds plant requirements, resulting in unused P leaching from containers and potentially contributing to surface water impairment. An experiment was replicated in the Middle Atlantic Coastal Plain (MACP) and Ridge and Valley ecoregions of Virginia to compare the effect of a low-P controlled-release fertilizer (CRF, 0.9% or 1.4% P depending on species) vs. a conventional CRF formulation (control, 1.7% P) on plant shoot growth, crop quality, and substrate nutrient concentrations of four species: ‘Natchez’ crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica × Lagerstroemia fauriei), ‘Roblec’ Encore azalea (Rhododendron hybrid), ‘Radrazz’ Knock Out rose (Rosa hybrid), and ‘Green Giant’ arborvitae (Thuja plicata × Thuja standishii). In both ecoregions, the low-P CRF resulted in 9% to 26% lower shoot dry weight in all four species compared with those given the conventional formulation, but quality ratings for two economically important species, ‘Radrazz’ Knock Out rose and ‘Green Giant’ arborvitae, were similar between treatments. When fertilized with the low-P CRF, ‘Roblec’ Encore azalea and ‘Natchez’ crape myrtle in both ecoregions, and ‘Green Giant’ arborvitae in the MACP ecoregion had ∼56% to 75% lower substrate pore-water P concentrations than those that received the control CRF. Nitrate-nitrogen (N) concentrations in substrate pore water at week 5 were more than six times greater in control-fertilized plants than in those that received a low-P CRF, which may have been a result of the greater urea-N content or the heterogeneous nature of the low-P CRFs. Lower water-extractable pore-water P and N indicate less environmental risk and potentially increased crop efficiency. Our results suggest low-P CRFs can be used to produce certain economically important ornamental nursery crops successfully without sacrificing quality; however, early adopters will need to evaluate the effect of low-P CRFs on crop quality of specific species before implementing on a large scale.

Open Access

A cold hardiness evaluation of 57 cultivars and species of grevillea (Grevillea) was conducted from 2011 to 2014 in Aurora, OR, to assess landscape suitability in the Pacific Northwest United States. Plants were established using irrigation in 2011, but they received no supplemental water, mineral nutrients, or pruning from 2012 to 2014. Plants were evaluated for injury in Mar. 2012 and Jan. 2014 after winter cold events with minimum temperatures of −4 and −13 °C, respectively. Damage, at least on some level, occurred on most selections following their first winter after planting in 2011. During Winter 2013, further damage to, or death of, 33 grevillea cultivars or species occurred. The grevillea that exhibited the least cold damage and the most promise for landscape use and further evaluation in the Pacific Northwest United States were ‘Poorinda Elegance’ hybrid grevillea, southern grevillea (G. australis), cultivars of juniper-leaf grevillea (G. juniperina) including Lava Cascade and Molonglo, and oval-leaf grevillea (G. miqueliana), all of which exhibited minor foliage damage.

Open Access

The physical and chemical properties of pine bark yield low water and nutrient efficiency; consequently, an engineered substrate altering the substrate properties may allow greater water and nutrient retention. Past research has focused on controlling the quantity and rate of water and nutrient inputs. In this study, pine bark was amended at 8% (by volume) with a Georgiana palygorksite-bentonite blended industrial mineral aggregate with a particle size of 850 μm-4.75 mm or 300 μm-710 μm to improve water and nutrient efficiency. Each particle size was pretreated at temperatures of ≈140 °C (pasteurized) or ≈390 °C (calcined). The study was a 2 (particle size) × 2 (heat pretreatment) factorial in a randomized complete-block design with four replications. The control was a pine bark substrate amended with 11% sand (by volume). Containers (14 L) were topdressed with 17–5–12 controlled release fertilizer. A 0.2 leaching fraction was maintained by biweekly monitoring container influent from spray stakes and effluent volume measured daily. An aliquot of the daily collected effluent was analyzed for phosphorus (P). After 112 days, tops and roots were harvested, dried, and weighed for dry weight comparisons. Compared to pine bark amended with sand the 300 μm-710 μm particle size mineral decreased mean daily water application by ≈0.4 L/day per container. The calcined mineral reduced P leaching by ≈10 mg of P per container or 60% over the course of the study compared to pine bark: sand. Top and root dry weights were unaffected. These results suggest 300 μm–710 μm calcined mineral provided the most significant decreases in water use and P leaching while growing an equivalent plant.

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Production of containerized nursery crops requires high inputs of water and mineral nutrients to maximize plant growth to produce a salable plant quickly. However, input efficiencies remain below 50% resulting in major quantities of water and nutrients leached. This study was conducted to determine if production factors could be altered to increase water and phosphorus uptake efficiency (PUE) without sacrificing plant growth. The effects of a pine bark substrate amendment (clay or sand) and a 50% reduction in both P application rate (1.0 g or 0.5 g) and leaching fraction (LF = effluent ÷ influent) (0.1 or 0.2) were investigated. Containerized Skogholm cotoneaster (Cotoneaster dammeri Schnied. ‘Skogholm’) was grown on gravel floor effluent collection plots that allowed for calculation of water and nutrient budgets. Pine bark amended with 11% (by vol.) Georgiana 0.25 to 0.85 mm calcined palygorksite-bentonite mineral aggregate (clay) increased available water 4% when compared with pine bark amended with 11% (by volume) coarse sand. Decreasing LF from 0.2 to 0.1 reduced cumulative container influent 25% and effluent volume 64%, whereas total plant dry weight was unaffected by LF. Reduction of target LF from 0.2 to 0.1 reduced dissolved reactive P concentration and content by 8% and 64%, respectively. In a sand-amended substrate, total plant dry weight decreased 16% when 1.0× P rate was reduced to 0.5× P, whereas total plant dry weight was unaffected by rate of P when pine bark was amended with clay. Plant content of all macronutrients, with the exception of N, increased when pine bark was amended with clay versus sand. Reducing P rate from 1.0× to 0.5× increased PUE 54% or 11% in a clay or sand-amended substrate, respectively. Amending pine bark with 11% (by volume) 0.25 to 0.85 mm calcined palygorksite-bentonite mineral aggregate produced an equivalent plant with half the P inputs and a 0.1 LF, which reduced water use 25% and P effluent losses 42% when compared with an industry representative substrate [8 pine bark : 1 sand (11% by volume)].

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Nonpoint source effluent containing nitrate N (NO3-N) and phosphorus (P) from containerized nursery production has garnered local, regional, and national concern. Industrial minerals have long been used as absorbents, agrochemical carriers, and barriers to retain heavy metals. Our objective was to determine the effects of a palygorskite–bentonite industrial mineral aggregate on the physical and chemical properties of a soilless substrate and the resulting impact on water and nutrient efficiency. The mineral aggregate had two particle size ranges (0.25 to 0.85 mm or 0.85 to 4.75 mm) in combination with two temperature pretreatments [low volatile material (LVM) or regular volatile material (RVM)]. A representative substrate (8 pine bark:1 coarse sand) of the southeastern United States nursery industry was also included in the study as a control. Cotoneaster dammeri C.K. Schneid. ‘Skogholm’ was grown in all substrates on collection pads that allowed for the quantification of daily influent and effluent volumes to calculate cumulative NO3-N, ammonium N (NH4-N), and dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP) loss for 112 days. There was a 13% to 15% decrease in daily water application volume with no effect on Skogholm cotoneaster growth, which equated into a savings of 22 to 26 L per 14-L container in mineral aggregate-amended substrates compared with a sand-amended substrate (control). Mineral aggregate-amended substrates decreased NH4-N and DRP effluent 39% and 34%, respectively, compared with the control. In addition, LVM and particle size 0.25 to 0.85 mm reduced effluent DRP compared with the 0.85 to 4.75-mm RVM aggregate. Plant dry weight was unaffected by any of the treatments. Substantial nutrient content reduction in effluent and reductions in water application were achieved with amending pine bark with 0.25 to 0.85 mm LVM industrial mineral aggregate. A 0.25 to 0.85-mm LVM industrial mineral aggregate pine bark-amended substrate reduced effluent DRP and NH4-N greater than 40% and reduced water application 15% or 26 L when compared with the industry representative substrate.

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Japanese-cedar has been underused in landscapes of the United States until recent years. There are now over 100 cultivars, many of which are grown in the southeast of the United States. Performance of cultivars has been described from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Zone 6b to USDA Zone 7b; however, there are no reports on how cultivars perform in USDA Zone 8. The current study was conducted to measure chlorophyll a, chlorophyll b, total chlorophyll, and carotenoid content and assign visual color ratings to determine if there was a relationship between pigment values and perceived greenness, which generally is regarded as a desirable and potentially heritable trait. Total chlorophyll (P = 0.0051), carotenoids (P = 0.0266), and the ratio of total chlorophyll to carotenoids (P = 0.0188) exhibited a positive relationship with greenness after accounting for season and tree effects. In contrast, the ratio of chlorophyll a to chlorophyll b did not have an effect on greenness. There was a linear relationship between total chlorophyll and carotenoid regardless of season (summer R 2 = 0.94; winter R 2 = 0.88) when pooled across 2 years. The observed correlation between chlorophyll and carotenoid content suggests they could be used interchangeably as predictors of greenness. There were large differences in rainfall between the 2 years that may have resulted in additional variation. Furthermore, the climate in which the evaluation was conducted differs greatly from the native distribution of japanese-cedar occurring in China and Japan.

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Cotoneaster Medik. is a genus of ornamental landscape plants commonly affected by fire blight. Fire blight is a disease caused by the bacterial pathogen, Erwinia amylovora (Burrill) Winslow et al., that attacks a wide range of taxa in the apple subfamily (Maloideae; Rosaceae). To assess susceptibility of species and identify potential sources of resistance, we inoculated 52 taxa of Cotoneaster with E. amylovora. Disease severity was scored by percent shoot necrosis (lesion length/total shoot length). Disease screenings were conducted over 2 years and varying levels of susceptibility were observed. Some taxa were highly susceptible to fire blight and the disease resulted in whole plant mortality (C. rhytidophyllus Rehder & E.H. Wilson, C. rugosus E. Pritzel ex Diels, and C. wardii W.W. Smith). Other taxa repeatedly exhibited moderate to high levels of disease resistance [C. arbusculus G. Klotz, C. chungtinensis (T.T. Yu) J. Fryer & B. Hylmö, C. delsianus E. Pritzel var. delsianus, C. sikangensis Flinck & B. Hylmö, C. simonsii Baker, and C. splendens Flinck & Hylmö]. Ongoing studies are being conducted to determine if taxa with high levels of resistance under artificial inoculation will exhibit high levels of resistance in the field under natural disease pressure. Identifying sources of disease resistance will be useful for breeding programs to increase tolerance of these landscape plants with desirable horticultural characteristics to fire blight.

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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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