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  • Author or Editor: Raul I. Cabrera x
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Scarcity and competition for good quality and potable water resources are limiting their use for urban landscape irrigation, with several nontraditional sources being potentially available for these activities. Some of these alternative sources include rainwater, stormwater, brackish aquifer water, municipal reclaimed water (MRW), air-conditioning (A/C) condensates, and residential graywater. Knowledge on their inherent chemical profile and properties, and associated regional and temporal variability, is needed to assess their irrigation quality and potential short- and long-term effects on landscape plants and soils and to implement best management practices that successfully deal with their quality issues. The primary challenges with the use of these sources are largely associated with high concentrations of total salts and undesirable specific ions [sodium (Na), chloride (Cl), boron (B), and bicarbonate (HCO3 ) alkalinity]. Although the impact of these alternative water sources has been largely devoted to human health, plant growth and aesthetic quality, and soil physicochemical properties, there is emergent interest in evaluating their effects on soil biological properties and in natural ecosystems neighboring the urban areas where they are applied.

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Water availability, quality, and management, particularly under climate change constraints and fierce competition for water resources, are challenging the sustainability of intensively irrigated nursery crops. We created an online tool to estimate costs and benefits of a water recycling investment at a commercial nursery, given data on the operation input by the user. The online tool returns a “regulatory risk score” based on the user’s drought and pollution risk. Then, using a partial budget approach, it returns net present value of the investment, upfront capital cost, and expected change in annual cash flow. The present article seeks to cross-validate this computer model with results reported in the case study literature. We aggregated data on 38 nurseries and greenhouses profiled in five published studies into a meta study dataset. These data validated the computer tool’s assumptions about the relationship of operation size to total capital cost. Separate simulations on the profitability effects of varying public water rates and price premia due to green marketing corroborated the findings of earlier studies. A major finding of the simulation analysis not previously emphasized in the literature is that capital cost and profit vary significantly with the precise method that is used to size the recapture pond. A “minimalist” approach to this decision is likely to be the most cost-effective, but growers should also keep stormwater runoff and other issues of environmental best practices in mind.

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Organic and inorganic amendments are often used to improve chemical and physical properties of soils. The objective of this study was to determine how the inclusion of light-weight expanded shale in various organic matter blends would affect plant performance. Four basic blends of organic growing media were prepared using traditional or alternative organic materials: 1) 75% pine bark (PB) + 25% sphagnum peatmoss (PM), 2) 50% PB + 50% wastewater biosolids (BS), 3) 100% municipal yard waste compost (compost), and 4) 65% PB + 35% cottonseed hulls (CH). Light-weight expanded shale was then blended with each of these mixtures at rates of 0%, 15%, 30%, and 60% (v/v). Vinca (Catharanthus roseus), verbena (Verbena hybrida), and shantung maple (Acer truncatum) were planted into the growing media after they were transferred into greenhouse pots. Vinca growth was monitored for 3 months before harvesting aboveground plant tissue to determine total biomass yield and elemental composition. Verbena growth was monitored for 6 months, during which time aboveground plant tissue was harvested twice to determine total biomass yield. Additionally, aboveground vinca plant tissue was analyzed for nutrients and heavy metal concentrations. In the absence of expanded shale, verbena and shantung maple trees produced more aboveground biomass in the 50-PB/50-BS blends, whereas vinca grew more biomass in the pure compost blends. Inclusion of expanded shale in the various organic matter blends generally had a negative effect on plant growth, with the exception of shantung maple growth in the 65-PB/35-CH blend. Reduced plant growth was probably due to a lower concentration of nutrients in the growing media. Macro- and micronutrient uptake was generally reduced by addition of expanded shale to the organic growing media. Results suggest that organic materials that have been stabilized through prior decomposition, such as compost or PM, are safe and reliable growing media, but expanded shale offers few benefits to a container growing medium except in cases where additional porosity is needed.

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