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  • Author or Editor: Jonathan M. Frantz x
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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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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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Sweet corn (Zea mays L.) cultivars containing the shrunken-2 (sh2 ) gene have superior kernel quality but often germinate poorly and display poor seedling vigor. The transplanting of sh2 sweet corn was investigated as a method to improve stand establishment and hasten maturity. Three-week-old plants (sh2 cv. Krispy King) were raised in 200-cell polystyrene trays in either plug-trays (PT), float beds (FB), or ebb-and-flood (EF) production systems and compared with direct-seeded (DS) controls for transplant quality, successful establishment, and early harvest. In 1994, when plants were established in early June, PT plants matured 1 week earlier than DS and FB plants, which had similar mean times to harvest. In 1995, when field planting occurred in July, all plants flowered prematurely when only 60 cm tall. In 1996, the experiment was begun in early May, and survival of all transplants was >85% vs. 54% for DS plants. In 1996, transplants matured 10 to 13 days earlier than DS plants, however, >90% of DS plants produced marketable ears vs. 63%, 49%, and 44% of EF, FB, and PT plants, respectively. The DS plants were also taller with better root development than transplants in all years. Transplants produced smaller, lower-quality ears than did DS plants, thus nullifying the benefits of greater plant populations and earlier maturity. The EF system produced high-quality seedlings because of the greater control of water availability during seedling development. In some areas, the increased value of early sh2 sweet corn may be worth the additional cost of transplanting and greater percentage of unmarketable ears.

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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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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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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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