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  • Author or Editor: William R. Graves x
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A laboratory exercise for illustrating aspects of biological nitrogen fixation (BNP) to students in plant science courses is described. Surface-sterilized seeds of black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia L.) and soybean (Glycine max Merill) were sown together in plastic containers filled with a sterile, soilless medium. Containers were assigned randomly to treatments designed to show how inoculation with two strains of rhizobial bacteria and application of nitrate affect root nodulation and plant growth. Results demonstrated that BNF occurs in diverse legumes, that legumes vary in the strains of rhizobia with which they associate, that nodulation is inhibited by nitrate, and that dependency on BNP can reduce growth compared with plants provided nitrate.

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A subirrigation method for rooting stem cuttings was compared to intermittent mist. Both methods resulted in 100% rooting of `Charm' chrysanthemum [Dendranthema × grandiflorum (Ramat.) Kitamura] and coleus (Coleus × hybridus Voss.) after 2 weeks. Subirrigated cuttings of `Charm' chrysanthemum had a lower mean root dry mass than misted cuttings, but root dry mass of coleus was not affected. Percentage rooting and mean root dry mass of subirrigated cuttings of `Franksred' red maple (Acer rubrum L.) were 95% and 321 mg, whereas the mean root dry mass of the 33% of cuttings that rooted under mist was 38 mg. For Japanese tree lilac [Syringa reticulata (Blume) Hara], the percentage of cuttings with living callus, mean callus diameter, and percentage rooting were higher for subirrigated cuttings than for misted cuttings. In a second study, cuttings of `Franksred' red maple were subirrigated with a solution containing 0 to 7.2 mol N/m3 and not misted. Cuttings given 3.6 or 7.2 mol N/m3 had > 90% rooting after 2 weeks, whereas only 8% of unfertilized cuttings had rooted, and root mass and chlorophyll content were highest for cuttings given 7.2 mol N/m3. Subirrigation can replace mist during propagation of some florist and nursery crops, and subirrigating with fertilizer solution improves rooting of `Franksred' red maple.

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The objective of this study was to determine the efficacy of plant growth regulators applied as foliar sprays on height and branching of seashore mallow (Kosteletzkya virginica). Five chemical plant growth regulators were applied: ancymidol [15, 25, and 50 mg·L–1 (ppm)] (A-Rest; Elanco Products Co., Indianapolis), dikegulac sodium (500, 1000, and 1500 mg.L–1) (Atrimmec; PBI/Gordon Corp., Kansas City, Mo.), paclobutrazol (10, 20, and 60 mg·L–1) (Bonzi; Uniroyal Chemical Co., Middlebury, Conn.), chlormequat chloride (CCC) (750, 1000, and 1500 mg·L–1) (Cycocel; Olympic Horticultural Products, Mainland, Pa.), and CCC/daminozide mixes (1000/2500, 1000/5000, and 1500/5000 mg·L–1) (Cycocel and B-Nine; Uniroyal Chemical Co.). Ten replicate plants of each concentration were evaluated weekly for plant height and number of branches for 8 weeks. Plants that received CCC and CCC/daminozide treatments at all concentrations and paclobutrazol at 60 mg·L–1 were 60%, 60%, and 48% shorter than control plants and had 113%, 100%, and 75% more branches than control plants, respectively. All concentrations of ancymidol and dikegulac sodium-treated plants were similar to control plants. Paclobutrazol was applied twice, and only the highest concentration was effective for height control. Chlormequat chloride at the lowest concentration was as effective as all other concentrations of CCC and CCC/daminozide.

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Our objectives were to quantify the growth and quality of herbaceous annuals grown in different types of bioplastic-based biocontainers in commercial greenhouses and quantify producer interest in using these types of biocontainers in their production systems. Seedlings of ‘Serena White’ angelonia (Angelonia angustifolia) and ‘Maverick Red’ zonal geranium (Pelargonium ×hortorum) that had been transplanted into nine different (4.5-inch diameter) container types [eight bioplastic-based biocontainers and a petroleum-based plastic (PP) (control)] were grown at six commercial greenhouses in the upper midwestern United States. Plants were grown alongside other bedding annuals in each commercial greenhouse, and producers employed their standard crop culture practices. Data were collected to characterize growth when most plants were flowering. Questionnaires to quantify producer perceptions and interest in using bioplastic-based biocontainers, interest in different container attributes, and satisfaction were administered at select times during the experiment. Container type interacted with greenhouse to affect angelonia growth index (GI) and shoot dry weight (SDW), as well as shoot, root, and container ratings. Container type or greenhouse affected geranium GI and shoot rating, and their interaction affected SDW, and root and container ratings. These results indicate that commercial producers can grow herbaceous annuals in a range of bioplastic-based biocontainers with few or no changes to their crop culture practices.

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We quantified the growth and quality of ‘Arizona Sun’ blanket flower (Gaillardia ×grandiflora) grown in different bioplastic containers and characterized the interest of commercial perennial producers in using bioplastic-based biocontainers in their herbaceous perennial production schemes. Plants were grown in three types of #1 trade gallon (0.75 gal) containers at five commercial perennial producers in the upper-midwestern United States. Containers included one made of polylactic acid (PLA) and a proprietary bio-based filler derived from a coproduct of corn ethanol production, a commercially available recycled paper fiber container twice dip-coated with castor oil–based biopolyurethane and a petroleum-based plastic (control) container. Plant growth data were collected when most plants had open flowers, and plant shoots, roots, and containers were rated by commercial grower participants. Questionnaires were administered at the beginning and at the end of the experiment to characterize the perceptions and interest of growers in using these containers, their interest in different bioplastic-based container attributes, and their satisfaction from using the containers. Container type and grower interacted to affect growth index (GI), shoot dry weight (SDW), and container rating. Root rating was affected by container type or grower and shoot rating was unaffected by either. Our results indicate that commercial producers can adapt these bioplastic-based biocontainers to blanket flower production with few or no changes to their crop cultural practices.

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We evaluated emerging biopolymer horticultural products that provide fertilizer nutrients to plants (fertilizing biocontainers, pelletized biopolymer fertilizer, and biopolymer fertilizer spikes) for their effectiveness during greenhouse production and garden growth of floriculture crops, and during postproduction culture of container ornamentals. Greenhouse experiments (in 4.5-inch containers) and garden trials were performed with tomato (Solanum lycopersicum), pepper (Capsicum annuum), petunia (Petunia ×hybrida), and marigold (Tagetes patula). Postproduction experiments were performed with 12-inch hanging baskets containing lobelia (Lobelia erinus), trailing petunia (Calibrachoa ×hybrida), and petunia, and with 13-inch patio planters containing zonal geranium (Pelargonium ×hortorum), spikes (Cordyline indivisa), bidens (Bidens ferulifolia), and trailing petunia. Although slightly less effective than synthetic controlled-release fertilizer (CRF), all three nutrient-containing biopolymer horticultural products were sufficient and suitable for providing fertilizer nutrients to plants grown in containers and in garden soil. Results of the postproduction experiment provided proof-of-concept for the effectiveness and potential of biopolymer fertilizer spikes as a sustainable method for providing fertilizer nutrients to containerized plants. The current formulation of pelletized biopolymer fertilizer was somewhat more effective for vegetable crops (pepper and tomato) than for floriculture crops (marigold and petunia). For plants produced in 4.5-inch containers, the combination of the fertilizing biocontainer with no additional fertilizer in the greenhouse, then burying the fertilizing container beneath the plant to degrade and provide nutrients in the garden was very effective. Biopolymer horticultural products represent a promising alternative to petroleum-based plastic containers and synthetic fertilizers. Adoption of some or all of these technologies could improve the environmental sustainability of the horticulture industry without reducing productivity or efficiency, and without increasing labor intensity.

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We evaluated the effects of seven types of 4.5-inch top-diameter biocontainers and five rates of paclobutrazol drench on the growth and development of angelonia (Angelonia angustifolia ‘Serena White’) and petunia (Petunia ×hybrida ‘Wave® Purple Improved Prostrate’) during greenhouse production. The container types included were biopolyurethane-coated paper fiber; uncoated paper fiber; rice hull; coconut coir; peat; two types of bioplastic container, one made from 90% polylactic acid (PLA) and 10% lignin [PLA-lignin (90/10 by weight)] and another made from 60% PLA and 40% soy polymer with adipic anhydride {SP.A [PLA-SP.A]; (60/40 by weight)}; and a petroleum-based plastic control. All containers were filled with 590 mL of substrate composed of (by vol) 75% canadian sphagnum moss and 25% perlite. Ten days after transplanting seedlings, 2-fl oz aliquots of deionized water containing 0, 1, 2.5, 5, 10, or 20 mg·L−1 paclobutrazol were applied to the substrate surface as drenches. The date of anthesis was recorded for each plant, and growth data were collected 6 weeks after transplant. Shoots were harvested and dried and shoot dry weight (SDW) was recorded. Height (angelonia only) and diameter of angelonia and petunia and time to flower were calculated. Container type and paclobutrazol concentration interacted to affect size and SDW of angelonia and petunia. Growth index of angelonia treated with 0 mg·L−1 paclobutrazol and grown in coir and peat containers was 19% to 29% and 29% to 38% smaller than that of plants in other container types, respectively. Diameter of untreated petunia grown in peat containers was similar to that of those grown in coir and uncoated paper fiber containers, but was smaller (10.9 to 13.5 cm) than that of plants grown in other container types. As paclobutrazol concentrations increased from 0 to 20 mg·L−1 treatments, SDWs of petunia grown in coir containers were suppressed by 23%, whereas plants grown in rice hull containers were up to 45% less. Our results indicate that growth suppression of angelonia and petunia grown in biocontainers using paclobutrazol drenches varies by the type of biocontainer. Producers should reduce paclobutrazol drench concentrations to produce plants of appropriate size if substituting coir or peat biocontainers for traditional petroleum plastics, whereas no adjustment in plant growth retardant (PGR) drench concentrations is required for plants produced in the other biocontainer types we evaluated.

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Biocontainers made of coconut coir, paper, peat, wood, or other natural fibers are considered sustainable alternatives to containers made of petroleum-based plastics, but growers’ acceptance and use of fiber containers have been limited by their comparatively high cost, low strength and durability, and poor water-use efficiency (WUE). We hypothesized that coating fiber containers with biopolymers would improve their strength, durability, and WUE during plant production. We compared the effectiveness of fiber containers of coir, paper, and wood that were either uncoated or coated with one of four biopolymers [polyamide (PA), polylactic acid (PLA), polyurethane (PU), or tung oil (TO)], peat-fiber containers that were uncoated, and injection-molded containers made of petroleum-based plastic. Ease of coating was assessed, along with the cost and strength of containers, their effectiveness during greenhouse production of ‘Honeycomb’ marigold (Tagetes patula), ‘Autumn Bell’ pepper (Capisicum annuum), ‘Madness Red’ petunia (Petunia ×hybrida), ‘St. John’s Fire’ salvia (Salvia splendens), and ‘Rutgers’ tomato (Solanum lycopersicum), and their WUE during production of salvia and tomato. Castor oil-based PU was the least expensive biopolymer coating and was easy to apply as a water-based dispersion. The other biopolymers required a hazardous and costly organic solvent (e.g., chloroform). Coatings of PA, PLA, and PU increased container strength and durability, and improved WUE during plant production. Coated paper-fiber containers resisted horizontal compression better than petroleum-plastic containers. Greenhouse-grown plants in containers coated with PA, PLA, or PU were larger and rated healthier and of better quality than plants grown in uncoated or TO-coated fiber containers. Plants grown in paper- and coir-fiber containers coated with PA, PLA, or PU were similar in health and size to plants grown in petroleum-plastic containers. Two coatings of PU on paper-fiber containers resulted in WUE similar to that of petroleum-plastic containers for both 4- to 5-inch and gallon sizes. Coating fiber containers with biopolymers slowed, but did not halt, their degradation in soil, indicating that decomposition in soil may be a suitable end-of-life option for biopolymer-coated fiber containers. Our results support the hypothesis that coating fiber containers with biopolymers can improve their effectiveness for crop production, while maintaining an improvement in sustainability over petroleum plastic. Paper-fiber containers coated with PU showed particular promise and were similar in material cost and performance to containers made of petroleum-based plastic.

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The container-crops industry relies heavily on single-use plant containers made from petroleum-based plastics, most of which contribute to the solid waste stream in landfills. Plant containers made from biorenewable materials have potential to be more sustainable, but most commercially available biocontainers are either not durable enough for common production cycles or do not effectively biodegrade in soil after use. In 2012 and 2013, we evaluated 28 novel biocontainers (injection-molded prototypes) for their performance during plant production and their biodegradation in soil at two sites with dissimilar soil and climate in Iowa and Nevada, and we compared their performance to that of commercially available biocontainers. Prototype containers made of blends or composites of polylactic acid (PLA) or polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) performed well during crop production, and many showed an effective rate of biodegradation in soil. Their rates of biodegradation in Nevada were either similar or lower than they were in Iowa, but the highest rated containers were acceptable for use in both locations. Adding biobased fibers of distiller’s dried grains with solubles or corn stover to form composite materials improved biodegradation over that of the base polymers (PLA or PHA) and had little effect on container performance under greenhouse conditions. Many of the injection-molded prototypes performed as well as the petroleum control containers during crop production, yet biodegraded at similar or faster rates than commercially available fiber containers.

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