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  • Author or Editor: James Altland x
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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

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

Substrate stratification is a new research area in which multiple substrates, or the same substrate with differing physical properties, are layered within a container to accomplish a production goal, such as decreasing water use, nutrient leaching, or potentially reducing weed growth. Previous research using stratification with pine (Pinus sp.) bark screened to ≤1/2 or 3/4 inch reduced the growth of bittercress (Cardamine flexuosa) by 80% to 97%, whereas liverwort (Marchantia polymorpha) coverage was reduced by 95% to 99%. The objective of this study was to evaluate substrate stratification with pine bark screened to remove all fine particles as the top strata of the substrate and determine its effect on common nursery weeds and ornamental plants. Stratified treatments consisted of pine bark screened to either 1/8 to 1/4 inch, 1/4 to 1/2 inch, or 3/8 to 3/4 inch, applied at depths of either 1 or 2 inches on top of a standard ≤1/2-inch pine bark substrate. An industry-standard treatment was also included in which the substrate was not stratified but consisted of only ≤1/2-inch pine bark throughout the container. A controlled-release fertilizer was incorporated at the bottom strata in all stratified treatments (no fertilizer in the top 1 or 2 inches of the container media), whereas the industry standard treatment had fertilizer incorporated throughout. Compared with the nonstratified industry standard, substrate stratification decreased spotted spurge (Euphorbia maculata) counts by 30% to 84% and bittercress counts by 57% to 94% after seeding containers. The shoot dry weight of spotted spurge was reduced by 14% to 55%, and bittercress shoot dry weight was reduced by 71% to 93% in stratified treatments. Liverwort coverage was reduced by nearly 100% in all the stratified substrate treatments. Compared with the industry standard substrate, stratified treatments reduced shoot dry weight of ligustrum (Ligustrum japonicum) by up to 20%, but no differences were observed in growth index, nor were any growth differences observed in blue plumbago (Plumbago auriculata).

Open Access

Substrate stratification is a method of filling nursery containers with “layers” of different substrates, or different textures of the same substrate. Recently, it has been proposed as a means to improve drainage, substrate moisture dynamics, and optimize nutrient use efficiency. Substrates layered with larger particle bark as the top portion and smaller particle bark as the bottom portion of the container profile would theoretically result in a substrate that dries quickly on the surface, thereby reducing weed germination, but that would also retain adequate moisture for crop growth. The objective of this study was to evaluate the effect of stratified substrates on the growth of common nursery weeds and ornamental crops. This study evaluated the use of coarser bark (<0.5 or 0.75 inches) as the top substrate and finer bark (<0.38 inches) as the bottom substrate with the goal of reducing the water-holding capacity in the top 2 to 3 inches of the substrate to reduce weed germination and growth. Results showed that substrate stratification with more coarse bark on the top decreased the growth of bittercress (Cardamine flexuosa) by 80% to 97%, whereas liverwort (Marchantia polymorpha) coverage was reduced by 95% to 99%. Substrate stratification initially reduced the growth of ligustrum (Ligustrum japonicum) and blue plumbago (Plumbago auriculata), but there was no difference in the shoot or root dry weights of either species in comparison with those of nonstratified industry standard substrates at the end of 24 weeks. The data suggest substrate stratification could be used as an effective weed management strategy for container nursery production.

Open Access

Greenhouse growers must use water more efficiently. One way to achieve this goal is to monitor substrate moisture content to decrease leaching. A systems approach to irrigation management would include knowledge of substrate matric potentials and air-filled pore space (AS) in addition to substrate moisture content. To study the relationship between substrate moisture and plant growth, annual vinca (Catharanthus roseus L.) was subject to a 2 × 2 factorial combination of two irrigation treatments and two substrates with differing moisture characteristic curves (MCCs). A gravimetric on-demand irrigation system was used to return substrate moisture content to matric potentials of −2 or −10 kPa at each irrigation via injected drippers inserted into each container. Moisture characteristic curves were used to determine gravimetric water content (GWC), volumetric water content (VWC), and AS at target substrate matric potential values for a potting mix consisting of sphagnum moss and perlite and a potting mix consisting of sphagnum moss, pine bark, perlite, and vermiculite. At each irrigation event, irrigation automatically shut off when the substrate-specific weight of the potted plants associated with the target matric potential was reached. Irrigation was triggered when the associated weight for a given treatment dropped 10% from the target weight. VWC and AS differed between substrates at similar matric potential values. Irrigating substrates to −2 kPa increased the irrigation volume applied, evapotranspiration, plant size, leaf area, shoot and root dry weight, and flower number per plant relative to irrigating to −10 kPa. Fafard 3B had less AS than Sunshine LB2 at target matric potential values. Plants grown in Fafard 3B had greater leaf area, shoot dry weight, and root dry weight. Leachate fraction ranged from 0.05 to 0.08 and was similar across all treatment combinations. Using data from an MCC in conjunction with gravimetric monitoring of the container–substrate–plant system allowed AS to be determined in real time based on the current weight of the substrate. Closely managing substrate matric potential and AS in addition to substrate water content can reduce irrigation and leachate volume while maintaining plant quality and reducing the environmental impacts of greenhouse crop production.

Free access

Reusing irrigation water has technical, environmental, and financial benefits. However, risks are also associated with the accumulation of agrochemicals, in addition to ions, plant and food safety pathogens, and biofilm organisms. In this project, we measured the concentration of paclobutrazol (a persistent and widely used plant growth regulator) in recirculated water in greenhouses producing ornamental plants in containers. Solutions were collected from catchment tanks at nine commercial greenhouses across seven states in the United States in Spring and Fall 2014. Paclobutrazol was detected in all samples, with differences observed by season, greenhouse operation, paclobutrazol application method, and irrigation method. Across operations, the residual concentration of paclobutrazol was higher in spring for most greenhouses (ranging from 0 to 1100 µg·L−1) compared with the fall (ranging from 0 to 8 µg·L−1). The spray-drench application method resulted in the highest residual concentrations (up to 35 µg·L−1), followed by substrate drench (up to 26 µg·L−1) and foliage spray (concentrations under 3 µg·L−1). Residual concentrations were higher with overhead irrigation (up to 35 µg·L−1) compared with subirrigation systems (up to 15 µg·L−1). Our results indicate that paclobutrazol is likely to be a growth retardant risk in greenhouse operations recirculating water. A clear understanding of the risks associated with recirculated water intends to support the development and implementation of risk management strategies to ensure and promote safe use of recirculated water in greenhouses. Overall, the most effective preventative strategy is to ensure the use of the minimum amount of the a.i. necessary per unit of space and time.

Open Access

The objective of this study was to determine if there are growth differences in geranium (Pelargonium ×hortorum ‘Maverick Red’) produced in fresh or aged douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) bark (DFB). A second objective was to document nitrogen (N) immobilization and decomposition rates of fresh and aged DFB to better understand the cause of growth differences. A series of experiments to measure plant response, N draw-down index (NDI), and percentage of cumulative carbon (C) loss were conducted on fresh and aged DFB. Geranium plugs were transplanted to containers filled with fresh or aged DFB. Treatments were arranged in a 2 × 3 factorial with two DFB ages (fresh and aged) and three N fertilizer rates (200, 300, and 400 mg·L−1). Plant growth was affected by DFB age in that geraniums were smaller when grown in fresh DFB. N draw-down analysis demonstrated that a large fraction of N in solution was immobilized in fresh and aged DFB. Carbon loss, measured as a gauge of bark decomposition, was not affected by N rate or bark type. Similarities in C loss between fresh and aged DFB agree with the similar N immobilization potential (NDI) in the two materials.

Full 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