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Jeb S. Fields, Kristopher S. Criscione, and Ashley Edwards

Substrate stratification is an emerging substrate management strategy involving layering multiple substrate materials within a single container to modify physiochemical characteristics of the substrate system. Specifically, stratifying allows growers and researchers to rearrange the air–water balance within a container to modify hydraulic characteristics. Moreover, fertilizer can be incorporated into just the upper strata to reduce leaching. Research to date has shown benefits associated with resource efficiency, production timing, and weed control. With the associated benefits for substrate stratification, interested growers will need pragmatic solutions for onsite trials. Therefore, the objective of this study was to identify a cost-effective solution for growers interested in exploring stratification options. As such, this research was designed to identify a single-screen bark separation to generate fine and coarse bark textures suitable for use as the top and bottom substrate strata. Loblolly pine bark (Pinus taeda) was screened with either a 4.0-mm, 1/4-inch, or 3/8-inch screen, with the particles passing through the screen (unders) separated from retained particles (overs). Stratified substrate systems were engineered with an individual screen wherein the fines were layered atop the coarse particles from the same screen. ‘Natchez’ crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) liners were planted in either of the three stratified substrate treatments or a nonstratified control. Substrate physical characteristics were assessed for each strata by pre- and postproduction properties to identify changes of substrate. The final growth index of the crop was unaffected by the substrate treatment (P = 0.90); however, stratified substrates did increase dry root weight (P = 0.02), with the smallest screen (4.0 mm) resulting in the greatest root weight. Separation of roots between the two strata indicated the presence of more roots in the upper strata in all substrates. However, the stratified substrates resulted in a greater shift in root location, encouraging increased rooting in the upper strata with fine particles, with the largest screen (3/8 inch) resulting in the greatest differentiation between upper and lower rooting. Each stratified treatment had increase in water-holding capacity in the lower (coarser) strata without changes in the upper strata. Thus, we conclude that single screens can be used to build stratified substrate systems. Moreover, screen aperture size may be used to achieve different outcomes with regard to root growth and development as well as water–air balance. Further research may indicate that screen selection may be used to target specific crop needs.