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  • Author or Editor: M.L. Smith x
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Soils, entomology, forestry and horticulture faculty were combined into a single merged Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences (NRES) during a recent College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences restructuring process at the University of Illinois. The merger initially spawned multiple concerns from faculty, but after an adjustment period, ultimately resulted in enhanced organization, accountability, and collaboration. New, multidisciplinary initiatives within NRES, such as the Illinois Green Industry Survey or development of a highly successful off-campus masters program, attest to the fact that the merger brought new strength and expanded opportunities to our unit.

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Experiments were conducted to determine the effect of time of planting, plant size, and nursery-growing environment on the performance of bare-rooted ‘Festival’ strawberry plants (Fragaria ×ananassa) at Nambour in southeastern Queensland, Australia, over 3 years. Yields were best with a planting in mid-March (1013 g/plant), with lower yields with a planting in early March (711 g/plant), late March/early April (765 g/plant), mid-April (671 g/plant), or late April/early May (542 g/plant). Plants obtained from Stanthorpe in southern Queensland, a warm-growing environment, were just as productive (695 g/plant) as those from Toolangi in Victoria (710 g/plant) or Kempton in Tasmania (701 g/plant), two cool-growing environments. In contrast, large plants from these nurseries with crown diameters ranging from 10 to 17 mm had 17% higher yields than small plants with crown diameters ranging from 6 to 10 mm (751 vs. 642 g/plant). These results suggest that planting in mid-March is optimal for ‘Festival’ in this environment. Lower yields with an earlier planting reflected the small size of the plants, whereas lower yields with later plantings reflected the shorter growing seasons. It can also be concluded that plant size is more important than nursery-growing environment in determining the productivity of strawberry fields in southeastern Queensland.

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The game-show format, used recurrently in an undergraduate-level, introductory plant propagation course, fostered a friendly, competitive incentive for students to master facts and concepts critical to understanding processes in plant physiology. Because student teams, rather than individuals, served as the contestants in each game, and because game points were never translated into grade points, participants and observers learned from and enjoyed the exercises without anxiety. Propagation-specific clues and questions were prepared for “Wheel of Fortune,” “Win, Lose, or Draw,” and other games. These were followed up at the end of each semester with several play-off rounds of a plant propagation variant of “Jeopardy!”, which served as an excellent means of course synthesis and review of key concepts. The format allowed for liberal use of humor as an effective pedagogical tool and resulted in the hands-on contributions of former students in construction of new game quizzes and puzzles for subsequent semesters.

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Micrografting is au effective technique for elimination of viruses, early diagnosis of grafting incompatibilities, rejuvenation of mature tissue, and bypassing the juvenile phase in fruit trees. Current micrografting procedures are difficult, impractical, expensive, and generally result in an inefficient rate of successful graft production. To alleviate some of these limitations, a unique apparatus was designed to splice the in vitro-derived scion and rootstock together during the micrografting process. The dual-layer device was constructed with an outer layer of aluminum foil, with flexibility to facilitate manipulation during the grafting of micro-scale plants. A delicate, absorbent inner layer of paper toweling cushions the plant tissue. It also may be treated with hormones and other compounds. After healing, it is easy to remove the grafting apparatus from the grafted plant without damaging the tissues. This apparatus may be used to unite a scion and a rootstock with different stem diameters. Shoot-tip cultures of `McIntosh' and M.7 apple and `North Star' sour cherry, and in vitro seedlings of lemon, orange, and grapefruit were used as a source of in vitro scions and rootstocks. Successful graft unions were developed, and the grafted plants were transplanted into the greenhouse environment.

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Field studies were conducted in North Carolina in 2019 and 2020 to determine the effect of a reduced-tillage, high-residue rye (Secale cereal) cover crop system on soil health, and growth and storage root yield of sweetpotato (Ipomoea batatas) cultivars having upright (NC04-0531 or NC15-650) or prostrate (Covington or Bayou Belle) vining characteristics. Sweetpotato canopy width expanded quicker in the conventional tillage system than the reduced-tillage rye system. Prostrate sweetpotato cultivars had greater late-season canopy widths than upright cultivars. Soil bulk density of raised beds was greatest in the reduced-tillage rye system, but both systems remained within the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommended range for soil bulk density. The conventional-tillage system resulted in 17% more marketable roots; however, no differences were observed in total marketable root weight between systems. ‘Covington’ and ‘NC15-650’ had greater marketable yield than ‘NC04-0531’ but less marketable yield than ‘Bayou Belle’.

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