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Kaylee A. South, Paul A. Thomas, Marc W. van Iersel, Cindy Young and Michelle L. Jones

Phalaenopsis orchids are an increasingly popular potted house plant in the United States. New cultivars have a long display life in home environments, but these epiphytes are often overirrigated by consumers. Irrigating potted Phalaenopsis orchids weekly with ice cubes has been recommended as a simple solution to help consumers, but concern has been raised about whether the ice cubes will cause low temperature damage in these tropical plants. The effect of ice cube irrigation on the display life and quality of four cultivars of potted Phalaenopsis orchids was, therefore, evaluated. Irrigation treatments included weekly application of three ice cubes or the equivalent volume of room-temperature tap water. The longevity of individual flowers and the overall display life of the orchid plants were determined. Monthly measurements determined the volume of leachate in the outer decorative pots after irrigation. The quantum yield of photosystem II (ΦPSII) in roots and leaves was evaluated monthly to determine if photosynthetic efficiency was affected by the ice irrigation. The temperature in the orchid bark growing media during irrigation events was recorded, and a programmable antifreeze bath was used to determine the temperature at which damage to PSII was observed in orchid roots. The flower longevity and display life were unaffected by irrigation treatment. In general, the leachate volume over time was the same or lower in ice irrigated orchids compared with those irrigated with the same volume of water. The lowest temperature in the bark media irrigated with ice cubes was ≈11 °C, while controlled freezing experiments showed that damage to photosystem II in orchid roots did not occur until bath temperatures were below −7 °C. The internal temperature of roots in direct contact with ice cubes decreased to around 4 °C. Ice cube irrigation had no detrimental effects on the quality or display life of potted Phalaenopsis orchids growing in bark, demonstrating that ice cubes are a viable method of irrigating these tropical house plants.

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Amanda Bayer, Imran Mahbub, Matthew Chappell, John Ruter and Marc W. van Iersel

Efficient water use is becoming increasingly important for horticultural operations to satisfy regulations regarding runoff along with adapting to the decreasing availability of water to agriculture. Generally, best management practices (BMPs) are used to conserve water. However, BMPs do not account for water requirements of plants. Soil moisture sensors can be used along with an automated irrigation system to irrigate when substrate volumetric water content (θ) drops below a set threshold, allowing for precise irrigation control and improved water conservation compared with traditional irrigation practices. The objective of this research was to quantify growth of Hibiscus acetosella ‘Panama Red’ (PP#20,121) in response to various θ thresholds. Experiments were performed in a greenhouse in Athens, GA, and on outdoor nursery pads in Watkinsville and Tifton, GA. Soil moisture sensors were used to maintain θ above specific thresholds (0.10, 0.15, 0.20, 0.25, 0.30, 0.35, 0.40, and 0.45 m3·m−3). Shoot dry weight increased from 7.3 to 58.8 g, 8.0 to 50.6 g, and from 3.9 to 35.9 g with increasing θ thresholds from 0.10 to 0.45 m3·m−3 in the greenhouse, Watkinsville, and Tifton studies, respectively. Plant height also increased with increasing θ threshold in all studies. Total irrigation volume increased with increasing θ threshold from 1.9 to 41.6 L/plant, 0.06 to 23.0 L/plant, and 0.24 to 33.6 L/plant for the greenhouse, Watkinsville, and Tifton studies, respectively. Daily light integral (DLI) was found to be the most important factor influencing daily water use (DWU) in the greenhouse study; DWU was also found to be low on days with low DLI in nursery studies. In all studies, increased irrigation volume led to increased growth; however, water use efficiency (grams of shoot dry weight produced per liters of water used) decreased for θ thresholds above 0.35 m3·m−3. Results from the greenhouse and nursery studies indicate that sensor-controlled irrigation is feasible and that θ thresholds can be adjusted to control plant growth.

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Jong-Goo Kang, Rhuanito Soranz Ferrarezi, Sue K. Dove, Geoffrey M. Weaver and Marc W. van Iersel

Abscisic acid (ABA) is a plant hormone involved in regulating stomatal responses to environmental stress. By inducing stomatal closure, applications of exogenous ABA can reduce plant water use and delay the onset of drought stress when plants are not watered. However, ABA can also cause unwanted side effects, including chlorosis. Pansy (Viola ×wittrockiana) has been shown to be particularly susceptible to ABA-induced chlorosis. The objective of this study was to determine if fertilization rate affects the severity of ABA-induced chlorosis in this species. ‘Delta Premium Pure Yellow’ pansy seedlings were fertilized with controlled-release fertilizer incorporated at rates from 0 to 8 g·L−1 of substrate. When plants had reached a salable size, half the plants were sprayed with a solution containing 1 g·L−1 ABA, whereas the other plants were sprayed with water. Leaf chlorophyll content was monitored for 2 weeks following ABA application. Leaf chlorophyll content increased greatly as fertilizer rate increased from 0 to 2 g·L−1, with little increase in leaf chlorophyll at even higher fertilizer rates. ABA induced chlorosis, irrespective of the fertilizer rate. Plant dry weight was lowest when no controlled-release fertilizer was incorporated, but similar in all fertilized treatments. ABA treatment reduced shoot dry weight by ≈24%, regardless of fertilization rate. This may be due to ABA-induced stomatal closure, which limits carbon dioxide (CO2) diffusion into the leaves. We conclude that ABA sprays induce chlorosis, regardless of which fertilizer rate is used. However, because leaf chlorophyll concentration increases with increasing fertilizer rates, higher fertilizer rates can mask ABA-induced chlorosis.

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Pai-Tsang Chang, Marc W. van Iersel, William M. Randle and Carl E. Sams

Dietary sources of selenium (Se) are associated with human health benefits, and Brassica species are good sources of Se in human diets. Selenium and S compete for absorption and accumulation in plant tissues; therefore, the ratios of Se to S in the growing environment determine the accumulation of selenium in plants. To determine responses for Brassica oleracea L., two levels of Na2SeO4 (96 mg·L−1 SeO4 2– and 0.384 mg·L−1 SeO4 2–) were added to nutrient solutions with or without MgSO4·7H2O (96 mg·L−1 SO4 2–). The highest plant fresh weight and S and SO4 2– accumulation were found when plants were grown in the medium with a SeO4 2– to SO4 2– ratio of 1 : 250 (0.384 mg·L−1 SeO4 2– and 96 mg·L−1 SO4 2–). However, the highest accumulation of Se was found when a low level of selenate (0.384 mg·L−1 SeO4 2–) was added to nutrient solutions without S. The activity of glutathione peroxidase (GPx) was regulated by Se status; the highest GPx activity was measured when a high level of SeO4 2– (96 mg·L−1) was supplied to nutrient solutions without S supplementation. The lowest concentration of total glucosinolates was found when adding SeO4 2– to nutrient solutions without S. We saw no difference in plant growth and mineral accumulation when plants were grown with K2SeO4 versus Na2SeO4, suggesting that the growth-inhibiting effect of Na2SeO4 was the result of the SeO4 2– rather than potentially toxic effects of Na+.

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Marc W. Van Iersel, Sue Dove, Jong-Goo Kang and Stephanie E. Burnett

More efficient irrigation practices are needed in ornamental plant production to reduce the amount of water used for production as well as runoff of fertilizers and pesticides. The objective of this study was to determine how different substrate volumetric water contents (θ) affected petunia (Petunia ×hybrida) growth and to quantify the daily water use of the plants. A soil moisture sensor-controlled irrigation system was used to maintain θ within ≈0.02 m3·m−3 of the θ threshold values for irrigation, which ranged from 0.05 to 0.40 m3·m−3. Shoot dry weight increased as the θ threshold increased from 0.05 to 0.25 m3·m−3 and was correlated with the total amount of irrigation water applied over the 3-week course of the experiment. The daily water use of the petunias grown with a θ threshold of 0.40 m3·m−3 was 12 to 44 mL/plant and was positively correlated with both plant age and daily light integral. Lower θ thresholds resulted in a decrease in both leaf water (ψ) and osmotic potential (ψS). A decrease in turgor pressure (P) at lower θ was seen at 11, but not 20 days after the start of the treatments. There were no significant effects of θ on ψ, ψS, or P on fully rehydrated plants at the end of the study. Plants were able to survive and grow at all θs, although water at a θ less than 0.20 m3·m−3 is generally considered to be unavailable to the plants. Results show that it is possible to automatically irrigate plants with the use of soil moisture sensors, and this approach to irrigation may have applications in controlling the growth of ornamental plants.

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Shuyang Zhen, Stephanie E. Burnett, Michael E. Day and Marc W. van Iersel

Two experiments were conducted to determine how different substrate volumetric water contents (θ equals volume of water per volume of substrate) affected morphology and physiology of three popular perennials using a capacitance sensor-automated irrigation system. In the first study, rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) was grown at one of eight θ set points ranging from 0.05 to 0.40 L·L−1. In the second study, Canadian columbine (Aquilegia canadensis ‘Pink Lanterns’) and cheddar pink (Dianthus gratianopolitanus ‘Bath’s Pink’) were grown at one of nine θ set points ranging from 0.05 to 0.45 L·L−1. Total leaf number and area as well as shoot fresh and dry weight of rosemary plants grown at θ of 0.20 L·L−1 or greater were approximately twice that of those grown at lower θ. Canadian columbine height increased as θ increased. Leaf area of cheddar pink grown at θ of 0.35 L·L−1 or higher was twice that of plants grown at the lowest θ. Shoot dry weight of Canadian columbine was not significantly affected by θ. Shoot dry weight of cheddar pink responded quadratically to increasing θ and peaked at θ of 0.35 L·L−1. θ also significantly influenced photosynthetic activities; net photosynthetic rate (AN) and stomatal conductance (g s) of Canadian columbine increased with increasing θ. AN of cheddar pink also increased as θ increased. Greater water volumes were applied to maintain higher θ set points. Irrigation water use efficiency (IWUE = shoot dry weight ÷ total amount of water applied per plant) of Canadian columbine and cheddar pink was not influenced by θ. Growth of all three plants was reduced when grown at lower θ; in the case of cheddar pink and Canadian columbine, this was attributable at least in part to reduced AN.

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Jeb S. Fields, James S. Owen Jr., James E. Altland, Marc W. van Iersel and Brian E. Jackson

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.

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John D. Lea-Cox, William L. Bauerle, Marc W. van Iersel, George F. Kantor, Taryn L. Bauerle, Erik Lichtenberg, Dennis M. King and Lauren Crawford

Wireless sensor networks (WSNs) transmit sensor data and control signals over long distances without the need for expensive infrastructure, allowing WSNs to add value to existing irrigation systems since they provide the grower with direct feedback on the water needs of the crop. We implemented WSNs in nine commercial horticulture operations. We provide an overview of the integration of sensors with hardware and software to form WSNs that can monitor and control irrigation water applications based on one of two approaches: 1) “set-point control” based on substrate moisture measurements or 2) “model-based control” that applied species-specific irrigation in response to transpiration estimates. We summarize the economic benefits, current and future challenges, and support issues we currently face for scaling WSNs to entire production sites. The series of papers that follow either directly describe or refer the reader to descriptions of the findings we have made to date. Together, they illustrate that WSNs have been successfully implemented in horticultural operations to greatly reduce water use, with direct economic benefits to growers.