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  • Author or Editor: James S. Owen Jr x
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Pine bark is the primary constituent of nursery container media (i.e., soilless substrate) in the eastern United States. Pine bark physical and hydraulic properties vary depending on the supplier due to source (e.g., lumber mill type) or methods of additional processing or aging. Pine bark can be processed via hammer milling or grinding before or after being aged from ≤1 month (fresh) to ≥6 month (aged). Additionally, bark is commonly amended with sand to alter physical properties and increase bulk density (Db). Information is limited on physical or hydraulic differences of bark between varying sources or the effect of sand amendments. Pine bark physical and hydraulic properties from six commercial sources were compared as a function of age and amendment with sand. Aging bark, alone, had little effect on total porosity (TP), which remained at ≈80.5% (by volume). However, aging pine bark from ≤1 to ≥6 months shifted particle size from the coarse (>2 mm) to fine fraction (<0.5 mm), which increased container capacity (CC) 21.4% and decreased air space (AS) by 17.2% (by volume) regardless of source. The addition of sand to the substrate had a similar effect on particle size distribution to that of aging, increasing CC and Db while decreasing AS. Total porosity decreased with the addition of sand. The magnitude of change in TP, AS, CC, and Db from a nonamended pine bark substrate was greater with fine vs. coarse sand and varied by bark source. When comparing hydrological properties across three pine bark sources, readily available water content was unaffected; however, moisture characteristic curves (MCC) differed due to particle size distribution affecting the residual water content and subsequent shift from gravitational to either capillary or hygroscopic water. Similarly, hydraulic conductivity (i.e., ability to transfer water within the container) decreased with increasing particle size.

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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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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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Nursery and greenhouse growers use a variety of practices known as best management practices (BMPs) to reduce sediment, nutrient, and water losses from production beds and to improve efficiency. Although these BMPs are almost universally recommended in guidance manuals, or required by regulation in limited instances, little information is available that links specific BMPs to the scientific literature that supports their use and quantifies their effectiveness. A previous survey identified the most widely used water management, runoff, and fertilizer-related BMPs by Virginia nursery and greenhouse operators. Applicable literature was reviewed herein and assessed for factors that influence the efficacy of selected BMPs and metrics of BMP effectiveness, such as reduced water use and fertilizers to reduce sediment, nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P) loads in runoff. BMPs investigated included vegetative zones (VZs), irrigation management strategies, and controlled-release fertilizers (CRFs). Use of vegetative buffers decreased average runoff N 41%, P 67%, and total suspended solids 91%. Nitrogen, P, and sediment removal efficacy increased with vegetative buffer width. Changes in production practices increased water application efficiency >20% and decreased leachate or runoff volume >40%, reducing average N and P loss by 28% and 14%, respectively. By linking BMPs to scientific articles and reports, individual BMPs can be validated and are thus legitimized from the perspective of growers and environmental regulators. With current and impending water use and runoff regulations, validating the use and performance of these BMPs could lead to increased adoption, helping growers to receive credit for actions that have been or will be taken, thus minimizing water use, nutrient loss, and potential pollution from nursery and greenhouse production sites.

Open Access

Nursery and greenhouse producers, research and extension faculty, and representatives from allied fields collaborated to formulate a renewed vision to address water issues affecting growers over the next 10 years. The authors maintained the original container irrigation perspective published in “Strategic vision of container nursery irrigation in the next ten years,” yet broadened the perspective to include additional challenges that face nursery crop producers today and in the future. Water availability, quality, and related issues continue to garner widespread attention. Irrigation practices remain largely unchanged due to existing irrigation system infrastructure and minimal changes in state and federal regulations. Recent concerns over urbanization and population growth, increased climate variability, and advancements in state and federal regulations, including new groundwater withdrawal limitations, have provided an inducement for growers to adopt efficient and innovative practices. Information in support of the overarching issues and projected outcomes are discussed within.

Open Access