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Carolyn F. Scagel, Guihong Bi, David R. Bryla, Leslie H. Fuchigami and Richard P. Regan

One deciduous cultivar of Rhododendron L., Gibraltar (AZ), and two evergreen cultivars, P.J.M. Compact (PJM) and English Roseum (ER), were grown in containers for 1 year to determine the effects of irrigation frequency during container production on plant performance the next spring when the plants were transplanted into the landscape. While in the containers, each cultivar was irrigated once or twice daily, using the same amount of water per day, and fertilized with complete nutrient solutions containing 0, 35, 70, or 140 mg·L−1 nitrogen (N). Three months after transplanting into the landscape, nutrient uptake, growth, and flowering were evaluated. In general, the effects of irrigation frequency in containers on performance in the landscape differed between the deciduous cultivar and the evergreen cultivars. In AZ, less frequent irrigation in containers had a pre-conditioning effect that resulted in greater vegetative growth in the landscape but less reproductive growth. In contrast, less frequent irrigation reduced vegetative growth of evergreen cultivars in the landscape and improved flowering. Different growth responses to irrigation frequency between deciduous and evergreen cultivars appeared to be related to differences in timing of nutrient uptake and mobilization. In the deciduous cultivar, less frequent irrigation increased nutrient reserves and improved the ability of the plants to absorb and use nutrients after transplanting, but in the evergreen cultivars, it generally decreased nutrient uptake after transplanting. Less frequent irrigation also altered plant attributes that are important to consumers, including developing a sparser canopy in ER and a fuller canopy in PJM, and producing more but smaller inflorescences in both cultivars. Landscape performance was related to plant nutrition in containers; however, irrigation frequency in containers disrupted relationships between nutrition and performance in all three cultivars. Our results indicate that irrigation frequency during container production of Rhododendron results in a tradeoff between vegetative and reproductive growth the next spring when the plants are in the landscape.

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Carolyn F. Scagel, Guihong Bi, Leslie H. Fuchigami and Richard P. Regan

The influence of irrigation frequency (same amount of water per day given at different times) and nitrogen (N) fertilizer rate on water stress [stomatal conductance (g S)], N uptake, and growth (biomass) of container-grown evergreen Rhododendron ‘P.J.M. Compact’ and ‘English Roseum’ and deciduous Rhododendron ‘Gibraltar’ was evaluated. Both N deficiency and high N rate increased water stress. Water stress was greatest in plants fertilized with the highest N rate and g S of plants grown with the higher N rates changed more in response to water deficits resulting from irrigation treatments and seasonal climatic changes. Watering plants more frequently decreased water stress of plants fertilized with higher N rates and altering irrigation frequency had little impact on alleviating water stress of N-deficient plants. Increasing irrigation frequency decreased N uptake efficiency (N uptake per gram N applied), increased N use efficiency (growth per gram N uptake) and altered biomass allocation with little influence on total plant biomass. Response of biomass allocation to N rates was similar among cultivars and response of biomass allocation to irrigation frequency varied among cultivars. Altering irrigation frequency changed either the availability of N in the growing substrate or the ability of roots to absorb N. Our results indicate that transitory increases in plant water stress can alter N uptake, N use, and plant form without detectable changes in total plant biomass.

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Carolyn F. Scagel, Guihong Bi, Leslie H. Fuchigami and Richard P. Regan

The influence of fall sprays with urea on the uptake of nutrients other than nitrogen (N) was assessed using 1-year-old container-grown Rhododendron L. (Rhododendron ‘H-1 P.J.M’) and azalea (Rhododendron ‘Cannon's Double’) grown with different rates of N. Plants were grown with a complete fertilizer containing different N rates from May to Sept. 2004 sprayed or not with urea in the fall of 2004 and grown with a complete fertilizer containing different N rates in the spring of 2005. Urea sprays altered uptake of nutrients other than just N although fertilizer application with other nutrients ceased before plants were sprayed with urea. Across a wide range of plant sizes and N status, urea sprays increased net phosphorus (P), copper (Cu), and manganese (Mn) uptake and decreased net potassium (K) and magnesium (Mg) uptake during the year of urea application. Spraying plants with urea altered nutrient demand and storage in different plant structures during the winter. For azalea, urea sprays increased P demand by roots, Mn demand by 2004 stems, and Cu demand by stems. Urea also decreased storage of K in roots and 2004 stems of azalea and Mg in roots. For rhododendron, urea sprays increased P demand by 2003 stems and 2004 leaves and Mn demand by 2004 leaves. Urea sprays also decreased storage of K and Mg in 2004 leaves of rhododendron. For both cultivars, urea sprays increased mobilization of iron (Fe) from storage and demand for Fe in stems. Spraying Rhododendron with urea in the fall altered uptake and demand for certain nutrients during the following spring. Urea sprays in the fall of 2004 increased uptake and possibly demand for P, K, and sulfur during the spring of 2005 for both cultivars, the uptake of calcium by rhododendron, and the uptake of Mg and Mn by azalea. Our results indicate that when growers spray plants with urea in the fall, spring fertilizer practices may need to be modified to account for increased uptake or demand of certain nutrients.

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Carolyn F. Scagel, Guihong Bi, Leslie H. Fuchigami and Richard P. Regan

Growth, nitrogen (N) uptake, and N storage were assessed in transplanted 1-year-old rhododendron liners. Two evergreen cultivars, Rhododendron ‘P. J. Mezitt Compact’ (PJM) and R. ‘English Roseum’ (ER), and one deciduous cultivar, R. ‘Gibraltar’ (AZ), were transplanted into 1-gal. pots and given liquid fertilizer with (+N) or without (–N) N. Increased N availability increased growth after July (ER, PJM) or August (AZ), and resulted in three to five times more total biomass. Biomass continued to increase after stem elongation and leaf production ceased. Nitrogen uptake was correlated with growth of all plant structures on AZ, whereas N uptake was only correlated with stem and leaf growth on evergreen cultivars. The rate of N uptake was highest before July for AZ (1.9 mg·d−1) and in August and September for the evergreen cultivars (≈5 mg·d−1). Thirteen percent to 16% of total N uptake from between May and February occurred after N fertilization ceased at the beginning of September. Plants contained the most N in October (AZ), November (PJM), or December (ER). Biomass loss after November accounted for a loss of 14% to 48% of the maximum total plant N content. Nitrogen demand by roots and stems increased from May to February in all cultivars. The role of new and old leaves in N storage on evergreen cultivars varied with cultivar and time. Differences in N storage between the evergreen cultivars occurred primarily in their roots and leaves. Over the winter, PJM stored more N in its roots, whereas ER stored more N in its leaves. Changes in N concentrations and contents in different plant structures after November indicate that, during early winter, N stored in other structures moves to roots and old stems of PJM, old stems of ER, and roots and new and old stems of AZ. These results suggest that fertilizer application strategies for transplanted liners of these cultivars should include low N availability after transplanting followed by high N availability in mid to late summer. This type of strategy will not only improve N uptake efficiency from fertilizer, but also will minimize N loss from the containers. The results also demonstrated that N uptake in the autumn may play an important role in supplementing plant N reserves required for growth during the next season as well as for balancing N losses incited by leaf abscission, root turnover, and maintenance functions that occur over winter.