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  • Author or Editor: David S. Ross x
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Many agronomic and horticultural studies on nutrient uptake and use-efficiency have indicated, in general, that agricultural crops are poor competitors for nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) in soil-based systems, with estimates of overall nutrient efficiency being less than 50% for N and 10% for P. Low efficiencies are due to losses from leaching, runoff, gaseous emissions and soil fixation, but uptake efficiency is also affected by rate and timing (i.e. seasonal effects) of applications. Controlled-release fertilizers (CRF's) have been promoted as a technology that can slowly release nutrients; the release rate is most often a function of prill coating and temperature. There are few data in the ornamental literature that have directly compared the total uptake efficiency of CRF's to soluble fertilizer sources. From 1999-2002, we collected three annual N and P budgetary datasets, comparing two species (Rhododendron cv. azalea and Ilex cornuta cv.`China Girl') with different growth rates and hence nutrient requirements. Plant N and P uptake efficiencies were usually less than 20% of the total applied, but all datasets included a significant soluble fertilization component. In 2003, a new study with Ilex cornuta cv.`China Girl' was initiated, where nutrients were supplied only from two CRF sources, as we want to determine whether this technology can significantly increase nutrient uptake efficiency at similar rates. A preliminary analysis of the data indicate that total N and P uptake efficiencies between different CRF sources were similar, but leaching losses between sources varied during the growing season. It appears that the primary determinant of uptake efficiency is not source material or timing, but the overall rate of nutrient application.

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Quantifying the range of fertilizer and irrigation application rates applied by the ornamental nursery and greenhouse industry is challenging as a result of the variety of species, production systems, and cultural management techniques that are used. To gain a better understanding of nutrient and water use by the ornamental industry in Maryland, 491 potential operations (including multiple addresses and contacts) in the state were mailed a packet of information asking for their voluntary participation. Of the 491 potential operations, it was determined that 348 operations were currently in operation. Of those 348 operations, 48 (14% of the operations in the state) participated in a site visit and an in-depth interview, and a detailed site analysis of the water and nutrient management practices was performed on a production management unit (MU) basis. The authors define an MU as a group of plants that is managed similarly, particularly in regard to nutrient and irrigation application. Greenhouse operations reported, on average, 198, 122, and 196 kg/ha/year of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P, as P2O5), and potassium (K, as K2O) fertilizer used, respectively, for 27 operations, representing 188 MUs. Twenty-seven outdoor container nursery operations had a total of 162 MUs, with an average of 964, 390, and 556 kg/ha/year of N, P2O5, and K2O fertilizer used, respectively. Field nursery (soil-based) operations were represented by 17 operations, producing 96 MUs, with an average of 67, 20, and 25 kg/ha/year of N, P2O5, and K2O fertilizer used, respectively. Irrigation volume per application was greatest in container nursery operations, followed by greenhouse and field nursery operations. Data were also analyzed by creating quartiles, which represent the median of the lowest 25%, the middle 50%, and highest 75% of values. It is likely that the greatest quartile application rates reported by growers could be substantially reduced with little to no effect on plant production time or quality. These data also provide baseline information to determine changes in fertilization practices over time. They were also used as inputs for water and nutrient management models developed as part of this study. These data may also be useful for informing nutrient application rates used in the Chesapeake Bay nutrient modeling process.

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