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Ilex vomitoria Ait. `Nana' root and-shoot growth increased as rate of fertilizer applied from a 6N-1P-3K solution increased from 0.5 to 2.5 g N/3-liter container during a 26-week experiment. Percentage of applied N, P, and Kin the plant and growth medium decreased as N applied increased. Dividing the fertilizer among one, two, or four applications per week resulted in similar use of applied N, P, and K. Shoot dry weights for the 0.5 g N/container treatment were less than for the Osmocote (18N-2.6P-10K) treatment (2.5 g N/container), but the percentage of applied N, P, and K in the plant and growth medium (55%, 42%, and 75%, respectively) was greater than for the Osmocote treatment (31%, 15%, and 27%, respectively).

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Nursery operators had the opportunity to participate in a process to develop a voluntary incentive-based regulation that consummated the consensus of nursery and regulatory personnel regarding the best fertilization and irrigation cultural practice information available for producing plants in containers. Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), which has statutory authority to develop and adopt practices by administrative rule, administered the process, and they relied on university extension personnel to provide education so nursery operators would be prepared to implement practices consistent with the regulation. Nursery operators who voluntarily implemented these practices received a waiver of liability from the recovery costs associated with the cleanup of groundwater contaminated with nitrate nitrogen if each of the following activities had taken place: 1) a notice of intent was filed with FDACS to implement accepted practices; 2) practices based on consensus of the industry were used and guidelines followed; and 3) fertilization and irrigation records were maintained. Participation in an industry-driven regulatory program where nursery operators agreed to use the best cultural practices available prior to the identification of a specific groundwater issue was a significant proactive step for the industry.

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The nursery industry in Broward County, Fla., had to choose between partaking in the resolution needed to achieve 10 ppb total phosphorus discharged to the Everglades or face regulation. The industry decided to pursue the proactive route and implement best management practices (BMPs). Teams of industry personnel were formed to develop the content of the Florida Container Nursery BMP Guide that contained the following chapters: 1) nursery layout, 2) container substrate and planting practices, 3) fertilization management, 4) container substrate nutrient monitoring, 5) irrigation water quality, 6) irrigation application, 7) irrigation uniformity, 8) erosion control and runoff water management, 9) pesticide management, and 10) waste management. Each team was to determine the content of their chapter, based on cultural practices producers were currently using, or could be using, which would minimize or reduce surface water movement of phosphorus from the nursery to adjacent water. Cultural practices, brought forth after a consensus was achieved by each team in concert with governmental agencies, associations, and allied industries, were meshed with research information, or the “best” information available from academic sources to ensure that the resolutions or BMPs that were written would contribute to resolving the confl ict (i.e., elevated total phosphorus in canal waters). Consensus development is a new challenge for most academicians but it is important because unbiased and science-based knowledge is needed to assist in BMP development. Furthermore, consensus of those directly and indirectly involved in the nursery industry helps facilitate the use of BMPs. Once the Florida Container Nursery BMP Guide is adopted by rule under the statutory authority of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, nursery operators voluntarily using the BMPs and keeping appropriate records will receive a waiver of liability from cleanup costs associated with contaminated ground or surface water, and be presumed to be in compliance with state water quality standards.

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A survey was conducted of nursery operators participating in workshops in west-central Florida. The purpose of the survey was to identify the irrigation best management practices (BMPs) adopted by container nurseries in west-central Florida and obtain information regarding emphasis of future extension educational programs. Workshops were conducted in Hillsborough County, Fla., and Manatee County, Fla., and participation was voluntary. Respondents were asked about BMPs used in the nurseries according to the irrigation system used and it was found that the majority of the nurseries relied on well water as the primary source for irrigation. While 69% of the nurseries monitored uniformity of microirrigation systems, only 35% monitored uniformity of overhead irrigation systems. Thirty-four percent of the nurseries collected irrigation or rain runoff and 9% knew the water holding capacity of their substrate. Most of the nurseries grouped plants by irrigation requirements (74%) and grouped container sizes by irrigation requirements (69%). The survey indicates that many BMPs are not widely adopted by nurseries in west-central Florida. The information from this survey can be used as a guide to focus the efforts of university extension educational programs to achieve greater adoption of BMPs.

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Irrigation scheduling in container nurseries is challenging due to the wide range of plant production conditions that must be accounted for at any given time. An irrigation scheduling system should also consider weather affecting evapotranspiration to apply proper amounts of water that will ensure optimal growth with minimal runoff (container drainage). We developed an automated system that relies on routine leaching fraction (leachate/water applied) testing and real-time weather recorded on-site to make adjustments to irrigation. A web-based program (CIRRIG) manages irrigation zone inputs [weather and leaching fraction (LF) test results] and outputs irrigation run times that can be implemented automatically with programmable logic controllers. In this study conducted at a nursery in central Florida, we compared the automated technology (CIRRIG) with the nursery’s traditional irrigation practice (TIP) of manually adjusting irrigation based on substrate moisture status of core samples taken twice weekly. Compared with TIP, CIRRIG reduced water use in six of seven unreplicated trials with water savings being greater for microirrigated crops grown in large containers than for sprinkler-irrigated crops in small containers. Reduced pumping cost associated with water savings by CIRRIG was estimated to be $3250 per year, which was insignificant compared with the labor savings of $35,000 to $40,000 anticipated by the nursery using CIRRIG in lieu of TIP. At the end of the project, the necessary hardware was installed to expand CIRRIG nursery-wide and control 156 zones of irrigation.

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As limitations on water used by container nurseries become commonplace, nurseries will have to improve irrigation management. Several ways to conserve water and improve on the management of irrigation water applied to container plants are discussed in this review. They include 1) uniform application, 2) proper scheduling of irrigation water, 3) substrate amendments that retain water, 4) reducing heat load or evaporative loss from containers, and 5) recycling runoff water.

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The objective of these experiments was to evaluate the use of tensiometers to monitor substrate moisture tensions for Metro-Mix 500 and 2 pine bark: 1 Canadian peat: 1 sand (PBPS, by volume) used for container-grown azalea Rhododendron indicum L. `Mrs. G.G. Gerbing' and chrysanthemum (Dendranthema grandiflora Tzvelez.) `Coral Charm.' Commercially available ceramic cups of two sizes, small [0.374 inch (0.95 cm) diameter and 1.125 inches (2.86 cm) long] and large [0.874 inch (2.22 cm) diameter and 3.0 inches (7.62 cm) long] were used to construct pressure transducer-equipped tensiometers. Data from these greenhouse experiments, indicate that either the small or large ceramic cup could be used to monitor substrate tensions at which water would be available to container-grown plants.

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Increasing environmental concerns and legislation in many states and in other countries require that we take a more comprehensive sustainable “best management” approach to production techniques in nursery and greenhouse operations. This is particularly important because these production facilities are typically intense users of resources that are applied to relatively small land areas. We have developed an online knowledge center to facilitate the implementation of more sustainable practices within the nursery and greenhouse industry. A web-based knowledge center provides the most cost-effective mechanism for information delivery, as our potential audiences are extremely diverse and widespread. We currently have a registered user database of over 450 educators, growers, and industry professionals, and undergraduate and graduate students. A gateway website provides an overview of the issues and the goals of the project. The associated knowledge center currently has 25 in-depth learning modules, designed in a Moodle learning management framework. These learning modules are designed to actively engage learners in topics on substrate, irrigation, surface water, and nutrient and crop health management, which are integral to formulating farm-specific strategies for more sustainable water and nutrient management practices. Additional modules provide assessment and implementation tools for irrigation audits, irrigation methods and technologies, and water and nutrient management planning. The instructional design of the learning modules was paramount because there can be multiple strategies to improve site-specific production practices, which often require an integration of knowledge from engineering, plant science, and plant pathology disciplines. The assessment and review of current practices, and the decision to change a practice, are often not linear, nor simple. All modules were designed with this process in mind, and include numerous resources [pictures, diagrams, case studies, and assessment tools (e.g., spreadsheets and example calculations)] to enable the learner to fully understand all of the options available and to think critically about his/her decisions. Sixteen of the modules were used to teach an intensive 400-level “Principles of Water and Nutrient Management” course at the University of Maryland during Spring 2008 and 2009. The water and nutrient management planning module also supports the nursery and greenhouse Farmer Training Certification program in Maryland. The Maryland Department of Agriculture provides continuing education credits for all consultants and growers who register and complete any module in the knowledge center. Although these learning resources were developed by faculty in the eastern region of the United States, much of the information is applicable to more widespread audiences.

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