Search Results

You are looking at 21 - 29 of 29 items for

  • Author or Editor: James S. Owen x
Clear All Modify Search

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

Water-efficient soilless substrates need to be engineered to address diminishing water resources. Therefore, we investigated soilless substrates with varying hydrologies to determine their influence on crop growth and plant water status. Aged loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) bark was graded into four particle size fractions. The coarsest fraction was also blended with either sphagnum peat or coir at rates that mimic static physical properties of the unfractionated bark or conventional substrate used by specialty crop producers within the eastern United States. Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Fort Myers’ plugs were established in each of the seven substrates and maintained at optimal substrate water potentials (−50 to −100 hPa). After a salable crop was produced 93 days after transplanting, substrate was allowed to dry until plants completely wilted. Crop morphology and water use was affected by substrate hydrology. Increased substrate unsaturated hydraulic conductivity (K) allowed for plants to access higher proportions of water and therefore increased crop growth. Maintaining optimal substrate water potential allowed plants to be produced with <18 L water. Measurements of plant water availability showed that the substrate water potential at which the crop ceases to withdraw water varied among substrates. Pore uniformity and connectivity could be increased by both fibrous additions and particle fractionation, which resulted in increased substrate hydraulic conductivity (K s). Plants grown in substrates with higher hydraulic conductivities were able to use more water. Soilless substrate hydrology can be modified and used in concert with more efficient irrigation systems to provide more water sustainability in container crop systems.

Free access

An understanding of how dissolved mineral nutrient ions (solutes) move through pine bark substrates during the application of irrigation water is vital to better understand nutrient transport and leaching from containerized crops during an irrigation event. However, current theories on solute transport processes in soilless systems are largely based on research in mineral soils and thus do not necessarily explain solute transport in soilless substrates. A study was conducted to characterize solute transport through a 9 pine bark:1 sand (by volume) substrate by developing and analyzing breakthrough curves (BTCs). Columns filled with pine bark substrate were subjected to the application of a nutrient solution (tracer) and deionized water under saturated and unsaturated conditions. Effluent drained from the columns during these applications was collected and analyzed to determine the effluent concentration (C) of the bulk ions in solution through electrical conductivity (EC) and nitrate (NO3 ), phosphate, and potassium (K+) concentrations. The BTCs were developed by plotting C relative to the concentration of the input solution (Co) (i.e., relative concentration = C/Co) as a function of the cumulative effluent volume. Solutes broke through the column earlier (i.e., with less cumulative effluent) and the transition from C/Co = 0 to 1 occurred more abruptly under unsaturated than saturated conditions. Movement of the anion, NO3 , through the substrate was observed to occur more quickly than the cation K+. Throughout the experiment, 37% of the applied K+ was retained by the pine bark. The adsorption of K+ to pine bark cation exchange sites displaced calcium (Ca2+) and magnesium (Mg2+), of which the combined equivalent charge accounted for 43.1% of the retained K+. These results demonstrate the relative ease that negatively charged fertilizer ions could move through a pine bark substrate while solution is actively flowing through substrate pores such as during irrigation events. This approach to evaluating solute transport may be used in horticultural research to better understand how mineral nutrients move through and subsequently leach from soilless substrates during irrigation. Expanding this knowledge base may lead to the refinement of production practices that improve nutrient and water use efficiency in container nurseries.

Free access

Soilless substrates are routinely amended with dolomite and sulfate-based micronutrients to improve fertility, but the effect of these amendments on phosphorous (P) in substrate pore-water during containerized crop production is poorly understood. The objectives of this research were as follows: compare the effects of dolomite and sulfate-based micronutrient amendments on total P (TP), total dissolved P (TDP), orthophosphate P (OP), and particulate P (PP; TP − TDP) concentrations in pour-through extracts; to model saturated solid phases in substrate pore-water using Visual MINTEQ; and to assess the effects of dolomite and micronutrient amendments on growth and subsequent P uptake efficiency (PUE) of Lagerstroemia L. ‘Natchez’ (crape myrtle) potted in pine bark. Containerized crape myrtle were grown in a greenhouse for 93 days in a 100% pine bark substrate containing a polymer-coated 19N–2.6P–10.8K controlled-release fertilizer (CRF) and one of four substrate amendment treatments: no dolomite or micronutrients (control), 2.97 kg·m−3 dolomite (FL); 0.89 kg·m−3 micronutrients (FM); or both dolomite and micronutrients (FLM). Pour-through extracts were collected approximately weekly and fractioned to measure pore-water TP, TDP, and OP and to calculate PP. Particulate P concentrations in pour-through extracts were generally unaffected by amendments. Relative to the control, amending pine bark with FLM reduced water-extractable OP, TDP, and TP concentrations by ≈56%, had no effect on P uptake efficiency, and resulted in 34% higher total dry weight (TDW) of crape myrtle. The FM substrate had effects similar to those of FLM on plant TDW and PUE, and FM reduced pore-water OP, TDP, and TP concentrations by 32% to 36% compared with the control. Crape myrtle grown in FL had 28% lower TDW but pour-through OP, TDP, and TP concentrations were similar to those of the control. Chemical conditions in FLM were favorable for precipitation of manganese hydrogen phosphate (MnHPO4), which may have contributed to lower water-extractable P concentrations in this treatment. This research suggests that amending pine bark substrate with dolomite and a sulfate-based micronutrient fertilizer should be considered a best management practice for nursery crop production.

Open Access

Pine tree substrates (PTSs) may provide growers with sustainable substrate component options. Improved processing of PTS components has provided new materials with little scientific evaluation or understanding of their hydrophysical behavior and properties. Moisture retention characteristics were developed for two PTSs and four traditional greenhouse components: sphagnum peat, coconut coir, perlite, pine bark, shredded-pine-wood (SPW), and pine-wood-chips (PWC). Mixtures of peat containing 10%, 20%, 30%, 40%, and 50% of perlite, SPW, or PWC were also characterized. Hydrophysical properties were measured, allowing for comparison of the PTS components to the more traditional substrate components (peat, coir, perlite, and pine bark). The SPW was constructed to retain water similarly to peat and pine bark, whereas the PWC was made to increase drainage like perlite. Shredded pine wood had higher total porosity and more easily available water than did PWC components. Total porosities of SPW and PWC were similar to pine bark and coir; air space and drainage were higher than peat and coir because of the lower percentage of fine particles in the PTS components. The two PTS components had a greater influence on water drainage and retention dynamics than did perlite when amended with peat as an aggregate. Water release patterns of SPW or PWC components at low tensions were lower than peat and greater than pine bark; drainage was similar to perlite at higher tensions. Equilibrium capacity variable models predicted similar physical properties (and trends) across multiple container sizes for peat mixes amended with perlite, SPW, or PWC. The impact of PWC on drainage and aeration was similar to perlite in all containers, but these effects were greater in smaller containers.

Free access

New markets for organic northern highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum L.) have stimulated interest in using composts specifically tailored to the plant’s edaphic requirements. Because composts are typically neutral to alkaline in pH (pH 7 to 8), and blueberry requires acidic soil (pH 4.2 to 5.5), we investigated elemental sulfur (S0) addition as a methodology for reducing compost pH. The objectives were to 1) characterize initial compost chemistry, including the pH buffering capacity of compost (acidity required to reduce pH to 5.0), 2) measure changes in compost chemistry accompanying acidification, and 3) evaluate plant growth and mineral nutrition of blueberry in soil amended with an untreated or acidified compost. Ten composts prepared from diverse feedstocks were obtained from municipalities and farms. Addition of finely ground S0 reduced compost pH from 7.2 to 5.3, on average, after 70 d at 22 °C, and increased the solubility of nutrients, including K (from 22 to 36 mmol(+)/L), Ca (from 5 to 19 mmol(+)/L), Mg (from 5 to 20 mmol(+)/L), and Na (from 6 to 9 mmol(+)/L). Sulfate-S, a product of S0 oxidation, also increased from 5 to 45 mmol(−)/L. The composts were incorporated into soil at a high rate (30% v/v) in a greenhouse trial to evaluate their suitability for use in blueberry production. Shoot and root growth were strongly affected by compost chemical characteristics, including pH and electrical conductivity (EC). Potassium in compost was highly variable (2–32 g·kg−1). Concentration of K in the leaves increased positively in response to compost K, whereas shoot dry weight and root growth declined. Leaf Mg also declined in response to compost K, suggesting that elevated K concentrations in compost may cause Mg deficiency. Composts with the highest K were also high in total N, pH, and EC. Compost acidification to pH ≤ 6 improved growth and increased leaf Mg concentration. On the basis of these results, composts derived from animal manures or young plant tissues (e.g., green leaves) appear to be unsuitable for high-rate applications to blueberry because they usually require high amounts of S0 for acidification and are often high in EC and K, whereas those derived from woody materials, such as local yard debris, appear promising based on their C:N ratio, compost acidification requirement, and EC.

Free access

US nurseries are experiencing a workforce shortage that is expected to intensify. A mixed-mode survey of decision-makers representing the US nursery industry was conducted in 2021. The survey assessed practices used in 2020 to elicit a better understanding of nursery approaches to the challenges presented by persistent labor scarcity. We compare our results with survey data collected ∼15 years earlier at container nurseries. Survey responses revealed that nurseries were undertaking strategies that aimed to improve production efficiency, better recruit and retain employees, and secure other sources of labor to overcome this shortage. Specifically, more than 65% of surveyed US nurseries increased worker wages, and more than 55% of respondents adopted automation to address the labor shortage. Strategies in use by ≥23% of respondents may limit future growth or jeopardize long-term nursery survival. These include diversifying tasks of current employees, reducing production of labor-intensive plants, or delaying expansion plans. Survey results suggested that production tasks excluding irrigation were on average 31% automated or mechanized at container nurseries, an increase from 16% during the prior survey. Field nurseries were 35% automated or mechanized in 2020. Newly developed or yet-to-be developed automated and mechanized technology (AMT) that decision-makers perceive as being helpful were reported. This article explores linkages between nursery characteristics and AMT adoption and highlights research and extension programming initiatives that are needed to help growers make informed decisions regarding adopting automation.

Open Access