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  • Author or Editor: Maureen E. Thiessen x
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Phosphorus (P) fertilizers with high water-solubility are often applied in excessive amounts to porous horticultural substrates to produce high-quality plants. As a result, high P losses during containerized plant production have presented an environmental challenge to responsible growers. Poultry litter ash (PLA), a byproduct of bioenergy production, contains P concentrations comparable to conventional P fertilizers but is characterized as having lower water-solubility. Therefore, a series of experiments were conducted to characterize effects of PLA on container-plant growth and P leaching. PLA was compared with superphosphate (SP), a highly water-soluble P source, in ratios of 0:100, 25:75, 50:50, 75:25, and 100:0 (SP:PLA) in the production of Lantana camara L. ‘New Gold’. In 2011, lantana fertilized with higher ratios of PLA exhibited slower growth with lower shoot and root biomasses compared with 100% SP-fertilized lantana. However, in 2012, differences in fertilizer treatments lessened, with 100% PLA-fertilized lantana exhibiting 14% less shoot biomass and no differences in root biomass compared with 100% SP-fertilized lantana. Measurement of shoot:root biomass, a common indicator of P deficiency, was not different between any P treatments in 2011 or 2012. This indicates root growth was most likely the driving factor in P-treatment effects on shoot biomass in each year of the experiment. During a postproduction field trial, no differences in growth or biomass were observed between lantana previously fertilized with P, regardless of source. However, application of PLA as the single P source reduced dissolved reactive P (DRP) concentrations in leachate >90% and total P (TP) mass losses 69% compared with 100% SP-fertilized lantana during container production, with P treatments reducing DRP and TP losses as PLA ratios increased. Therefore, the benefit of P-loss reduction during container production achieved through PLA application may warrant the acceptance of slightly smaller plants or extending production cycles.

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