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The objectives of Kentucky's Sustainable Nursery Production Practices Extension Program are for 1) the Kentucky nursery industry to continue sustained growth and 2) Kentucky growers to produce high quality plants, efficiently use pesticides, be stewards of their land and Kentucky's environment. Sustainable Nursery Program Components are 1) Integrated Pest Management (IPM): Nursery Scouting, Scout Training and Scouting Education for growers, Extension workers, and students; 2) Best Management Practice (BMP) Workshops: BMP VI: Disease Demolition Workshop; 3) Production Practice Demonstration: Pruning Training, Pesticide Handling, and Safety and Environmental Stewartship. 4.) Research: Pruning protocols; Media and media amendments; Precision Fertilization and Irrigation. The Kentucky Nursery Crops Scouting Program scouting guidelines were developed and contained: a weekly scouting/trapping guide; a listing of which pests to look for and on what host plants, and a detailed methodology of precisely how to look for the pest, its damage, and how to record this information such that comparisons could be made across nurseries and seasons.

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Two sensor-based irrigation scheduling systems were compared for water use and plant growth in container-grown Green Velvet boxwood (Buxus sempervirens L. × B. microphylla Siebold & Zucc. var. koreana ‘Green Velvet’) and slender deutzia (Deutzia gracilis Siebold & Zucc). These crops were chosen because they have different water requirements during production. The two sensor-based irrigation systems included a physiological-based on-demand (OD) irrigation system where the set point was derived from the relationship between substrate moisture and photosynthetic rate. The second system was a daily water use (DWU) method where the amount of water used by the crop was replaced each day. The objective of the study was to evaluate and compare water use and growth metrics using the OD and DWU irrigation scheduling regimes for two container-grown woody plants that differed in their water consumption. There were no differences in root and shoot biomass or growth index due to the irrigation schedule employed for either boxwood or deutzia. For boxwood plants, OD irrigation reduced water consumption by 35.5% and enhanced water use efficiency (WUE) by 54.5% compared with DWU. Total water use of deutzia in OD zones was reduced by 26.5% compared with DWU. DWU offers the labor scheduling advantage of irrigation occurring at a set time of day, and OD offers the advantage of watering as required, potentially reducing water stress as the season progresses and as the plant size and atmospheric demand increase.

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Nursery producers are challenged with growing a wide range of species with little to no detectable damage from insects or diseases. Growing plants that meet consumer demand for aesthetics has traditionally meant routine pesticide application using the most time-efficient method possible, an air-blast sprayer, despite its known poor pesticide application efficiency. New variable-rate spray technology allows growers to make more targeted applications and reduce off-target pesticide loss. In this study, a prototype laser-guided variable-rate sprayer was compared with a traditional air-blast sprayer. Pesticide volume, spray application characteristics, and the control of powdery mildew were evaluated over the course of two growing seasons. Spray application characteristics were assessed using water-sensitive cards (WSCs) and DepositScan software. This prototype sprayer reduced pesticide volume by an average of 54% across both years despite being tested against a low rate (<250 L⋅ha−1). In 2016, the conventional sprayer had more than double the deposit density on target WSCs among distal trees than the variable-rate sprayer; however, within proximal trees, there was no difference between the two sprayer types. In 2017, when the trees were larger, within both the distal and proximal trees, the conventional sprayer had greater deposit density on target WSCs than the variable-rate sprayer. In 2016, coverage on target WSCs was nearly 7-fold greater with the conventional treatment than with the variable-rate treatment. In 2017, when trees were larger, there was greater coverage on target WSCs in proximal trees (3.8%) compared with those in distal trees (1.0%) regardless of the sprayer type. This variable-rate spray technology provided acceptable control of powdery mildew severity on individual branches and whole trees and maintained the incidence of powdery mildew to levels comparable to that occurring among trees sprayed with a traditional air-blast sprayer. Therefore, the variable-rate spray technology has the potential to effectively control disease, dramatically reduce the pesticide footprint, and preserve natural resources such as ground and surface water, soil, and beneficial insects found within and around nurseries.

Open Access

Advanced variable-rate spray technology, which applies pesticides based on real-time scanning laser rangefinder measurements of plant presence, size, and density, was developed and retrofitted to existing sprayers. Experiments were conducted to characterize the application of four programmed spray rates (0.03, 0.05, 0.07, or 0.09 L·m−3 of crop geometric volume) when applied to Malus domestica Borkh. ‘Golden Delicious’ apple trees using this crop sensing technology. Water-sensitive cards (WSCs) were used as samplers to quantify spray coverage, deposits, and deposit density in the target and nontarget areas, and an overspray index based on a threshold of greater than 30% coverage was calculated. The application rate ranged from 262 L·ha−1 at the programmed spray rate of 0.03 L·m−3 to 638 L·ha−1 at the rate of 0.09 L·m−3. For a given WSC position, spray coverage and deposits increased as the spray rate increased. WSC positions 1 and 2 were oversprayed at all rates. The effect of spray rate on deposit density varied with WSC positions, with high densities achieved by low spray rates for WSCs closest to the sprayer but by high spray rates for WSCs positioned either deeper within or under the canopy. When coalescing deposits were accounted for, deposit densities met or exceeded the recommended pesticide application thresholds (insecticides 20–30 droplets/cm2; fungicides 50–70 droplets/cm2) at all WSC positions for each spray rate tested. The lowest spray rate reduced off-target loss to the orchard floor by 81% compared with the highest rate, dramatically reducing potential exposure to nontarget organisms, such as foraging pollinators, to come into contact with pesticide residues. Applying the lowest rate of 0.03 L·m−3 met deposit density efficacy levels while reducing spray volume by 83% compared with the orchard standard application of 1540 L·ha−1 and by 87% compared with the 1950 L·ha−1 application rate recommended when using the tree row volume method. Thus, there is potential for growers to refine pesticide application rates to further achieve significant pesticide cost savings. Producers of other woody crops, such as nursery, citrus, and grapes, who use air-assisted sprayers, may be able to achieve similar savings by refining pesticide applications through the use of laser rangefinder-based spray application technology.

Open Access

Japanese beetles (JB), Popillia japonica Newman, are destructive, highly polyphagous herbivores that show a general preference for Rosaceous plants. Choice and nochoice feeding assays were conducted to determine the level of resistance among 10 taxa of Malus spp. Mill. Under no-choice conditions, M. baccata (L.) Borkh. `Jackii', M. × `Hargozam' Harvest Gold and M. transitoria (Balatin) Schneider `Schmitcutleaf' Golden Raindrops were highly resistant, with <2 cm2 leaf area consumed in 24 hours. M. × `Radiant' was highly susceptible, with 7.6 cm2 consumed, and the remaining six cultivars were intermediate. Under choice conditions, eight taxa were resistant with <10% defoliation, M. × `Red Splendor' was intermediate with 26%, and M. × `Radiant' was susceptible with 73% defoliation. Feeding responses to eight individual phenolics were tested in artificial diets over a range from 0 to 100 mm. Phloridzin, phloretin, naringenin, and catechin were all feeding deterrents, whereas quercetin and rutin were feeding stimulants. Chlorogenic acid stimulated feeding at low concentrations and deterred feeding at higher concentrations (i.e., a peak response). Kaempferol had no effect. Analysis of endogenous foliar phenolics showed considerable variation in concentrations among taxa. Stepwise multiple regression analysis identified phloridzin as the only endogenous phenolic that was significantly related to resistance under both choice and no-choice feeding conditions.

Free access

Container-grown nursery crops generally require daily irrigation applications and potentially more frequent applications during the hottest part of the growing season. Developing management practices that make more efficient use of irrigation water is important for improving the sustainability of nursery crop production. Biochar, a byproduct of pyrolysis, can potentially increase the water-holding capacity and reduce water and nutrient leaching. In addition, the development of sensor-based irrigation technologies has made monitoring substrate moisture a practical tool for irrigation management in the nursery industry. The objective of this research was to determine the effect of switchgrass biochar on water and nutrient-holding capacity and release in container substrates of Buxus sempervirens L. × Buxus microphylla (‘Green Velvet’ boxwood) and Hydrangea paniculata (Pinky Winky® hardy hydrangea). Containers were filled with pine bark and amended with 0%, 10%, or 25% volume of biochar. Plants were irrigated when the volumetric water content (VWC) reached the water-buffering capacity set point of 0.25 cm3·cm−3. The sensor-based irrigation in combination with the low cost biochar substrate amendment increased substrate water-holding capacity and reduced irrigation requirements for the production of hydrangea, a high water use plant. Biochar application rate influenced irrigation frequency, which likely affected plant biomass for hydrangea, but boxwood dry weight was unaffected by biochar rate. Total irrigation applied was decreased by 32% in 10% biochar treatment without reducing hydrangea dry weight. However, in the 25% biochar treatment, total irrigation applied was reduced by 72%, whereas dry weight decreased by 50%. Biochar application reduced leaching volume and leaching fraction in both plants. Leachate analysis over the course of the 8-week experiment showed that the average mass of phosphate (PO4), potassium (K), and total carbon was greater in the leachate from containers that received 25% biochar compared with those receiving 0% or 10% biochar for both plant species. For hydrangea, mass of total nitrogen (TN) and nitrate (NO3) in leachate was not significantly affected by increasing the biochar rate. However, for boxwood, the mass of NO3 and TN was greater in the 25% biochar treatment leachate, whereas the mass of ammonium (NH4) was unaffected. In hydrangea, total nutrients lost from the containers was lower in biochar-amended containers (both 10% and 25% biochar) because of receiving a lower total volume of water. Amendment with biochar also affected concentration of phosphorus (P) and K, with the highest concentration in both leaf tissue and substrate from the 25% biochar application rate.

Free access

Controlling irrigation using timers or manually operated systems is the most common irrigation scheduling method in outdoor container production systems. Improving irrigation efficiency can be achieved by scheduling irrigation based on plant water needs and the appropriate use of sensors rather than relying on periodically adjusting irrigation volume based on perceived water needs. Substrate amendments such as biochar, a carbon (C)-rich by-product of pyrolysis or gasification, can increase the amount of available water and improve irrigation efficiency and plant growth. Previous work examined two on-demand irrigation schedules in controlled indoor (greenhouse) environments. The goal of this study was to evaluate the impact of these on-demand irrigation schedules and hardwood biochar on water use and biomass gain of container-grown Hydrangea paniculata ‘Silver Dollar’ in a typical outdoor nursery production environment. Eighteen independently controlled irrigation zones were designed to test three irrigation schedules on ‘Silver Dollar’ hydrangea grown in pine bark amended with 0% or 25% hardwood biochar. The three irrigation schedules were conventional irrigation and two on-demand schedules, which were based on substrate physical properties or plant physiology. Conventional irrigation delivered 1.8 cm water in one event each day. The scheduling of substrate-based irrigation was based on the soilless substrate moisture characteristic curve, applying water whenever the substrate water content corresponding to a substrate water potential of –10 kPa was reached. The plant-based irrigation schedule was based on a specific substrate moisture content derived from a previously defined relationship between substrate moisture content and photosynthetic rate, maintaining the volumetric water content (VWC) to support photosynthesis at 90% of the maximum predicted photosynthetic rate. Total water use for the substrate-based irrigation was the same as for the conventional system; the plant-based system used significantly less water. However, plant dry weight was 22% and 15% greater, water use efficiency (WUE) was 40% and 40% greater, and total leachate volume was 25% and 30% less for the substrate-based and plant-based irrigation scheduling systems, respectively, than for conventional irrigation. The 25% biochar amendment rate reduced leachate volume per irrigation event, and leaching fraction, but did not affect total water use or plant dry weight. This research demonstrated that on-demand irrigation scheduling that is plant based or substrate based could be an effective approach to increase WUE for container-grown nursery crops without affecting plant growth negatively.

Free access

Laser-guided variable-rate intelligent spray technology is anticipated to reduce pesticide use in production of crops and safeguard the environment. However, the ability of this technology to effectively control insect pests and diseases of crops must be validated before it becomes part of integrated pest management programs. Abilities of three different intelligent sprayers were tested to control pest insects and plant diseases at one fruit farm and two ornamental nurseries in Ohio during three consecutive growing seasons. The same sprayers with disabled intelligent functions were used as conventional constant-rate applications for comparisons. Test crops were apple (Malus pumila), peach (Prunus persica), blueberry (Vaccinium sect. Cyanococcus), black raspberry (Rubus occidentalis), crabapple (Malus sp.), maple (Acer sp.), birch (Betula sp.), and dogwood (Cornus florida). There were five insects and six diseases total involved in the investigations in the fruit farm and two nurseries. The field tests showed the intelligent spray applications reduced pesticide and foliar fertilizer use by ≈30% to 65% on average during the 3-year experiments. At the same time, intelligent spray technology was similar or more effective than conventional spray technology when controlling insects and diseases on a variety of crops. These results demonstrated that intelligent spray technology was environmentally friendly and more effective for control of insect and disease pests in fruit farms and ornamental tree nurseries.

Open 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