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  • Author or Editor: Guihong Bi x
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Containers made from natural fiber and recycled plastic are marketed as sustainable substitutes for traditional plastic containers in the nursery industry. However, growers’ acceptance of alternative containers is limited by the lack of information on how alternative containers impact plant growth and water use (WU). We conducted experiments in Michigan, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Texas to test plant growth and WU in five different alternative containers under nursery condition. In 2011, ‘Roemertwo’ wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei) were planted in three types of #1 (≈1 gal) containers 1) black plastic (plastic), 2) wood pulp (WP), and 3) recycled paper (KF). In 2012, ‘Green Velvet’ boxwood (Buxus sempervirens × B. microphylla siebold var. koreana) was evaluated in 1) plastic, 2) WP, 3) fabric (FB), and 4) keratin (KT). In 2013, ‘Dark Knight’ bluebeard (Caryopteris ×clandonensis) was evaluated in 1) plastic, 2) WP, and 3) coir fiber (Coir). Plants grown in alternative containers generally had similar plant growth as plastic containers. ‘Roemertwo’ wintercreeper had high mortality while overwintering in alternative containers with no irrigation. Results from different states generally show plants grown in fiber containers such as WP, FB, and Coir used more water than those in plastic containers. Water use efficiency of plants grown in alternative containers vs. plastic containers depended on plant variety, container type, and climate.

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As high-input systems, plant production facilities for liner and container plants use large quantities of water, fertilizers, chemical pesticides, plastics, and labor. The use of renewable and biodegradable inputs for growing aesthetically pleasing and healthy plants could potentially improve the economic, environmental, and social sustainability of current production systems. However, costs for production components to integrate sustainable practices into established systems have not been fully explored to date. Our objectives were to determine the economic costs of commercial production systems using alternative containers in aboveground nursery systems. We determined the cost of production (COP) budgets for two woody plant species grown in several locations across the United States. Plants were grown in plastic pots and various alternative pots made from wood pulp (WP), fabric (FB), keratin (KT), and coconut fiber (coir). Cost of production inputs for aboveground nursery systems included the plant itself (liner), liner shipping costs, pot, pot shipping costs, substrate, substrate shipping costs, municipal water, and labor. Our results show that the main difference in the COP is the price of the pot. Although alternative containers could potentially increase water demands, water is currently an insignificant cost in relation to the entire production process. Use of alternative containers could reduce the carbon, water, and chemical footprints of nurseries and greenhouses; however, the cost of alternative containers must become more competitive with plastic to make them an acceptable routine choice for commercial growers.

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