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  • Author or Editor: J. Ryan Stewart x
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Although there is increasing interest in propagating prairie plants native to the midwestern United States for managed and natural landscapes, several species, including new jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus), are difficult to germinate from seeds. New jersey tea, which is an attractive, compact woody shrub, is found in high-quality prairie remnants throughout the tallgrass prairie region. Developing a protocol to increase the uniformity of seed germination in this species would allow for more widespread horticultural cultivation of this stress-resistant, nitrogen-fixing species. We hypothesized that the germination response of seeds of new jersey tea would be enhanced by replicating conditions that mimic their natural environment, which included treatments under controlled conditions exposing seeds to chilling temperatures, sulfuric acid, and boiling water. Two minutes of exposure to boiling water followed by 60 days of cold-moist stratification at 4 °C resulted in the highest germination percentage (48%) and mean daily germination (2.18 seeds/day). Scarification with 98% sulfuric acid for 15 min followed by 60 days of cold-moist stratification resulted in significant, but lower levels of germination percentage than seeds exposed to boiling water and cold-moist stratification. Cold-moist stratification in darkness and in an 18-hour photoperiod at 4 °C did not stimulate germination to a level suitable for production purposes. However, tetrazolium tests indicated that 79% of the seeds were viable. We conclude that cold-moist stratification should be used with boiling-water or acid-scarification to uniformly produce germinated seedlings of new jersey tea. However, nonresponsive seeds should not be discarded because they may germinate in later years if kept under appropriate conditions.

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In recent years, biocontainers have been marketed as sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based containers in the green industry. However, biocontainers constructed with plant materials that are highly porous in nature (e.g., peat, wood fiber, straw) tend to require more frequent irrigation than conventional plastic products. As irrigation water sources become less abundant and more expensive, growers must consider water consumption in any assessment of their economic and environmental viability. This project evaluated plant growth and total water consumption for nine different biocontainers (seven organic alternatives, and two recently developed bioplastic alternatives) and a plastic control used to produce a short-term greenhouse crop, ‘Yellow Madness’ petunia (Petunia ×hybrida). Dry shoot weight and total water consumption differed by container type, with some of the more porous containers (wood fiber, manure, and straw) requiring more water and producing smaller plants by the end of the trial period. Intuitively, the more impervious plastic, bioplastic, and solid rice hull containers required the least irrigation to maintain soil moisture levels, though shoot dry weights varied among this group. Shoot dry weight was highest with the bioplastic sleeve and slotted rice hull containers. However, the latter of these two containers required a greater volume of water to stay above the drying threshold. Findings from this research suggest the new bioplastic sleeve may be a promising alternative to conventional plastic containers given the current production process.

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For the past several years, many college horticulture programs have experienced a decline in undergraduate enrollment, resulting in the elimination of some degrees. In this study, we compared postsecondary U.S. horticulture program availability from a survey completed in 1997 with offerings existing in 2012 and 2017. In 1997, 446 U.S. postsecondary institutions offered degrees and/or certificates in horticulture. In 2012, this number had decreased by 43% to 253 institutions, which included 98 with 4-year degrees, 215 with 2-year degrees, and 138 with certificate programs. In 2017, the total number of institutions offering horticulture-related degrees and/or certificates decreased to 209, representing a 53% decrease over the 20 years from 1997 to 2017 and a 17% decrease during the 5-year period between 2012 and 2017. In 2017, 85 institutions offered 4-year degrees, 133 offered 2-year degrees, and 98 offered certificate programs, which over this 5-year period represents decreases of 13%, 38%, and 29%, respectively. “Horticulture” was the most common program title in both 2012 and 2017, and the percentage of programs with this name increased during the 5-year period for all program types. In 2017, 28 horticulture programs not identified in the 1997 survey were found, but only two of these were confirmed to have been created since 1997. Overall, these data suggest a trajectory toward elimination of 2-year and certificate programs, and continued consolidation for 4-year degrees. If it continues, this trend is not favorable for the continued vitality of postsecondary horticulture programs in the United States and may impact progress negatively for the field of horticulture as a whole.

Open Access

While research on the use of alternative containers for greenhouse production is growing, most studies have focused on a limited number of types of alternative containers and primarily on short-term greenhouse crops. With the recent release of several new bioplastic alternatives, comparisons to established alternative containers and production of longer rotation ornamental crops should be investigated. Our work, therefore, investigates the performance of ten commercially available alternative containers and their effects on both a short-term ‘Sunpatiens Compacta’ impatiens (Impatiens ×hybrida) and a long-term greenhouse crop ‘Elegans Ice’ lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) at four different locations. Results indicated that plant growth in terms of dry weight differed by container at most locations. Combined analysis of all locations showed that only straw and a bioplastic sleeve outperformed plastic pots in terms of shoot dry weight and then only after 12 weeks of production. Leachate pH, but not electrical conductivity (EC), varied by container in both the short- and long-term crop with alternative containers made from composted cow manure and peat showing consistently higher and lower pH readings, respectively. Postharvest container strength varied significantly by container, with the plastic control maintaining the highest puncture resistance after both 6 and 12 weeks, in some instances matched by the puncture strength of coconut fiber pots. Some alternative containers, in particular, wood, manure, and peat showed algal growth after 6 and 12 weeks of greenhouse production. We conclude that while some alternative containers were linked to increased growth, most showed growth equal to the plastic control, and could therefore make appropriate alternatives to plastic pots. However, changes in pH, low puncture strengths after production, higher denesting times, and algal growth on manure, wood, and peat may make these pots less desirable alternatives than other pots under investigation. However, other factors not studied here, such as compostability, biodegradability in the landscape, water use, consumer preference, aesthetics, compatibility with mechanized operations, and cost may also need to be taken into account when deciding on an appropriate container for greenhouse production.

Free access

Nine commercially available biocontainers and a plastic control were evaluated at Fayetteville, AR, and Crystal Springs, MS, to determine the irrigation interval and total water required to grow a crop of ‘Cooler Grape’ vinca (Catharanthus roseus) with or without the use of plastic shuttle trays. Additionally, the rate at which water passed through the container wall of each container was assessed with or without the use of a shuttle tray. Slotted rice hull, coconut fiber, peat, wood fiber, dairy manure, and straw containers were constructed with water-permeable materials or had openings in the container sidewall. Such properties increased the rate of water loss compared with more impermeable bioplastic, solid rice hull, and plastic containers. This higher rate of water loss resulted in most of the biocontainers having a shorter irrigation interval and a higher water requirement than traditional plastic containers. Placing permeable biocontainers in plastic shuttle trays reduced water loss through the container walls. However, irrigation demand for these containers was still generally higher than that of the plastic control containers.

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As high-input systems, plant production facilities for liner and container plants use large quantities of water, fertilizers, chemical pesticides, plastics, and labor. The use of renewable and biodegradable inputs for growing aesthetically pleasing and healthy plants could potentially improve the economic, environmental, and social sustainability of current production systems. However, costs for production components to integrate sustainable practices into established systems have not been fully explored to date. Our objectives were to determine the economic costs of commercial production systems using alternative containers in aboveground nursery systems. We determined the cost of production (COP) budgets for two woody plant species grown in several locations across the United States. Plants were grown in plastic pots and various alternative pots made from wood pulp (WP), fabric (FB), keratin (KT), and coconut fiber (coir). Cost of production inputs for aboveground nursery systems included the plant itself (liner), liner shipping costs, pot, pot shipping costs, substrate, substrate shipping costs, municipal water, and labor. Our results show that the main difference in the COP is the price of the pot. Although alternative containers could potentially increase water demands, water is currently an insignificant cost in relation to the entire production process. Use of alternative containers could reduce the carbon, water, and chemical footprints of nurseries and greenhouses; however, the cost of alternative containers must become more competitive with plastic to make them an acceptable routine choice for commercial growers.

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