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James E. Altland and Charles Krause

Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) bark is the primary component of nursery container substrates in the eastern United States. Shortages in pine bark prompted investigation of alternative substrates. The objective of this research was to determine if ground switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) could be used for short production-cycle woody crops. Two experiments were conducted using ‘Paprika’ rose (Rosa L. ‘ChewMayTime’) potted in 15-cm tall and wide containers. In Expt. 1, substrates were composed of coarse-milled switchgrass (processed in a hammermill with 1.25- and 2.5-cm screens) amended with 0%, 30%, or 50% peatmoss and fertilized with 100, 250, or 400 mg·L−1 nitrogen (N) from ammonium nitrate. In Expt. 2, substrates were composed of coarse-milled (similar to Expt. 1) or fine-milled switchgrass (processed through a single 0.48-cm screen), amended with 0% or 30% peatmoss, and fertilized with the same N rates as in Expt. 1. Summarizing across both experiments, coarse switchgrass alone had high air space and low container capacity. Fine switchgrass had physical properties more consistent with what is considered normal for nursery container substrates. Switchgrass pH was generally high and poorly buffered against change. Fine switchgrass had higher pH than coarse switchgrass. Tissue analysis of rose grown in switchgrass substrate for 7 to 9 weeks revealed low to moderate levels of calcium and iron, but all other nutrients were within acceptable ranges. Despite varying substrate physical properties and pH levels, all roses at the conclusion of the experiment were of high quality. Switchgrass processed to an appropriate particle size and amended with typical nursery materials should provide a suitable substrate for short production-cycle woody crops.

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James E. Altland and Charles Krause

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) biomass is being evaluated as a potential alternative to pine bark as the primary potting component in containerized nursery crops. Substrates composed entirely of switchgrass have higher pH than what is considered desirable in container substrates. The objective of this research was to evaluate the influence of elemental S, sphagnum moss, and municipal solid waste compost (MSC) as amendments for reducing substrate pH and buffering it against large changes over time. Three experiments were conducted; the first two experiments were conducted using annual vinca (Catharanthus roseus ‘Pacifica Blush’) to quickly assess how pH was affected by the three amendments, and the final experiment was conducted with blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum ‘Duke’) to assess the long-term effects of substrate amendments. Summarizing across the three experiments, elemental S was effective in reducing substrate pH; however, rates 1 lb/yard3 or greater reduced pH below the recommended level of 5.5 and lower S rates did not maintain lowered pH over time. Sphagnum moss and MSC together at 20% and 10% (v/v), respectively, were effective at reducing substrate pH and buffering against change. Sphagnum moss and MSC provided the additional benefit of improving physical properties of the switchgrass substrates.

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James E. Altland and Charles R. Krause

Pine bark (PB) is currently imported from southern U.S. states to nursery growers in the upper midwest and northeast United States. Alternatives to PB that are regionally abundant and sustainable are needed for nursery substrates. The objective of this research was to determine the influence of pine wood (PW), which consisted of chipped and hammermilled pine trees (excluding branches and needles) on substrate physical properties when substituted partially or wholly for PB in substrates typical of Ohio. Four cooperating nursery sites, each with unique substrates comprised primarily of PB, were recruited to use PW as a substitute for 0%, 50%, or 100% of the PB fraction in their substrate. All other physical and chemical amendments used traditionally at each site were incorporated. Physical properties including particle size distribution (PSD), air space (AS), container capacity (CC), total porosity (TP), unavailable water (UAW), bulk density (Db), and moisture characteristic curves (MCC) were determined for each substrate at each cooperator site. Pine wood was generally more coarse than all but one of the PB materials used by the four cooperating sites. Amendment with PW did not have any consistent or predictable effect on AS, CC, TP, or Db of the resultant substrates. Pine wood had little identifiable effect on plotted MCC, although it reduced calculated easily available water in one substrate. It was concluded that substitution of PB with PW can result in changes to substrate physical properties that might lead to irrigation management changes, but none of these changes were considered negative or drastic enough to cause physical properties to be outside of acceptable ranges.

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James E. Altland, James C. Locke and Charles R. Krause

Cation exchange capacity (CEC) describes the maximum quantity of cations a soil or substrate can hold while being exchangeable with the soil solution. Although CEC has been studied for peatmoss-based substrates, relatively little work has documented factors that affect CEC of pine bark substrates. The objective of this research was to determine the variability of CEC in different batches of pine bark and determine the influence of particle size, substrate pH, and peat amendment on pine bark CEC. Four batches of nursery-grade pine bark were collected from two nurseries, and a single source of sphagnum moss was obtained, separated in to several particle size classes, and measured for CEC. Pine bark was also amended with varying rates of elemental sulfur and dolomitic limestone to generate varying levels of substrate pH. The CEC varied with pine bark batch. Part of this variation is attributed to differences in particle size of the bark batches. Pine bark and peatmoss CEC increased with decreasing particle size, although the change in CEC from coarse to fine particles was greater with pine bark than peatmoss. Substrate pH from 4.02 to 6.37 had no effect on pine bark CEC. The pine bark batch with the highest CEC had similar CEC to sphagnum peat. Amending this batch of pine bark with sphagnum peat had no effect on composite CEC.

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Heping Zhu, James Altland, Richard C. Derksen and Charles R. Krause

Spray deposition and coverage at different application rates for nursery liners of different sizes were investigated to determine the optimal spray application rates. Experiments were conducted on 2- and 3-year-old ‘Autumn Spire’ red maple (Acer rubrum) liners. A traditional hydraulic sprayer with vertical booms between tree rows was used to apply the spray applications. Application rates were 10, 20, 30, and 40 gal/acre for the 2-year-old liners and were 20, 40, 60, and 80 gal/acre for the 3-year-old liners. Nylon screens were used to collect spray deposition of a fluorescent tracer dissolved in water, and water-sensitive papers were used to quantify spray coverage inside canopies. Spray deposition, coverage, and droplet density inside both 2- and 3-year-old liner canopies increased as the application rate increased. The minimum rates to spray 6.6-ft-tall, 2-year-old ‘Autumn Spire’ red maple liners and 8.7-ft-tall, 3-year-old liners were 20 and 40 gal/acre, respectively. An exponential equation was derived from these results to estimate the spray application rate required for different tree liner heights and to minimize excessive chemical use in rapidly growing tree liners.

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Rose Palumbo, Wai-Foong Hong, Jinguo Hu, Charles Krause, David Tay and Guo-Liang Wang

The Ornamental Plant Germplasm Center (OPGC) maintains a collection of herbaceous ornamental plants in order to protect future breeders from a loss of genetic diversity. The current Pelargonium collection includes ≈870 accessions. Our preliminary studies showed that TRAP (Target Region Amplified Polymorphism) has promise for analyzing the variation in our collection, and so we have expanded the study to analyze the entire Pelargonium collection. We have used the same primers for this screening of the Pelargonium collection as were used on sunflowers, and TRAP results run on a sequencing gel showed 90–150 bands that segregate the population into groups of similar accessions. In order to facilitate analysis of OPGC's large population, we have converted the method to a high throughput technique that efficiently analyzed the entire population. We used a 96-well DNA extraction kit from Qiagen that produced high quality DNA in spite of the high phenol levels in some Pelargonium species. Also, the use of labeled primers allowed analysis of the gels to be aided by a computer. These results produce a categorization of the collection that, combined with morphology and taxonomy, will form the basis for future studies that will use target genes specific to Pelargonium.

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Jonathan M. Frantz*, Dharmalingam S. Pitchay, James C. Locke and Charles Krause

Silica (Si) is not considered to be an essential plant nutrient because without it, most plants can be grown from seed to seed without its presence. However, many investigations have shown a positive growth effect if Si is present, including increased dry weight, increased yield, enhanced pollination, and most commonly, increased disease resistance, which leads to its official designation as a beneficial nutrient. Surprisingly, some effects, such as reduced incidence of micronutrient toxicity, appear to occur even if Si is not taken up in appreciable amounts. The literature results must be interpreted with care, however, because many of the benefits can be obtained with the counterion of the Si supplied to the plant. Determining a potential benefit from Si could be a large benefit to greenhouse plant producers because more production is using soilless media that are devoid of Si. Therefore, Si must be supplied either as a foliar spray or nutrient solution amendment. We investigated adding Si to New Guinea Impatiens (Impatiens hawkeri Bull), marigold (Tagetes erecta), pansy (Viola wittrockiana), spreading petunia (Petunia hybridia), geranium (Pelargonium spp.), and orchid (Phalaenopsis spp.). Using SEM, energy dispersive X-ray analysis, and ICP analysis, Si content and location was determined. This information and other growth characteristics will be used as a first step in determining the likelihood of using Si as a beneficial element in greenhouse fertilizer solutions for higher quality bedding plants with fewer agrochemical inputs.

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Dharmalingam S. Pitchay*, Jonathan M. Frantz, Jonathan M. Locke and Charles Krause

Growers tend to over fertilize their plants as a way to minimize the likelihood of encountering nutrient deficiencies that would reduce the quality of their plants. Much of the nutrition literature focuses on the nutritional extremes namely of toxicity and deficiency. Once plants get to this stage, little can be done to correct the problem. Characteristics of plant performance in super-optimal conditions, yet below toxic levels, is less well known, and needs to be developed to help growers identify problems in their production practices before they impact sales. New Guinea Impatiens were grown over a wide range of N, K, and B levels, from 15% to 400% full strength Hoagland's solution for each nutrient after establishing transplanted rooted cuttings in a peat: perlite soilless media. Plants were grown for four weeks during treatment, during which time the flowers were pinched. After only 2 weeks of treatment, plants with 200% and 400% N were significantly shorter than control plants and plants with 15% N. Reflectance measurements and photographs were made twice a week. At the end of the four weeks, plant tissue was analyzed for form of N, root development and structure, and leaf area. Tissue samples were also analyzed with SEM and energy dispersive X-ray analysis to determine changes in nutrient location and tissue structure. This data provides insight into the nutrition economy of plants in general, tests the use of reflectance spectrometry as a method of detecting super-optimal fertilizer concentrations, and will help growers optimize their fertilization requirements to reduce production costs yet maintain high plant quality.

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Dharmalingam S. Pitchay, John Gray, Jonathan M. Frantz, Leona Horst and Charles Krause

Geranium (Pelargonium ×hortorum) typically follows the C3 metabolic pathway. However, it switches to CAM metabolism under certain abiotic stress environments. This switch may affect the nutritional requirement and appearance of visible deficiency symptoms of these plants. Because potassium (K) plays a key role in stomatal function, K-deficiency was studied in geranium. Plants were grown hydroponically in a glass greenhouse. The treatments consisted of a complete, modified Hoagland's solution with millimolar concentrations of macronutrients, 15 NO3-N, 1.0 PO4-P, 6.0 K, 5.0 Ca, 2.0 Mg, and 2.0 SO4-S and micromolar concentrations of micronutrients, 72 Fe, 9.0 Mn, 1.5 Cu, 1.5 Zn, 45.0 B, and 0.1 Mo, and an additional solution devoid of K. It took longer to develop the classic K deficiency symptoms than other bedding plant species commonly require. The K-stress plants' dry weight was 10% and 37% of control at incipient and advanced stage, respectively. When portions of geranium leaves were covered, symptomology on leaves with K stress developed rapidly (within 2 days) compared to the uncovered portion of the leaf blade. Control plants contained an abundance of marble-shaped K crystals in the adaxial surface of leaf mesophyll, but were lacking in the K-deficient plants. Geranium is more prone to K stress during short days than long days and an additional supply of K would be needed for normal growth in short days.

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James E. Altland, Charles Krause, James C. Locke and Wendy L. Zellner

The objective of this research was to determine the suitability of a steel slag product for supplying micronutrients to container-grown floriculture crops. Geranium (Pelargonium ×hortorum L.H. Bailey ‘Maverick Red’) and tomato (Solanum lycopersicon L. ‘Megabite’) were grown in 11.4-cm containers with a substrate composed of 85 peatmoss : 15 perlite (v/v). A group of containers referred to as the commercial control (C-control) were amended with 4.8 kg·m−3 dolomitic lime and fertilized with a commercial complete fertilizer providing macro and micronutrients (Jack’s 20N–4.4P–16.6K–0.15Mg–0.02B–0.01Cu–0.1Fe–0.05Mn–0.01Mo–0.05Zn) at a concentration of 100 mg·L−1 nitrogen (N). Another group of containers, referred to as the micronutrient control (M-control), were amended with a commercial granular micronutrient package at 0.9 kg·m−3 and dolomitic lime at 4.8 kg·m−3. The M-controls were fertilized with 7.1 mm N (100 mg·L−1 N) with ammonium nitrate and 2 mm potassium phosphate. A final group of containers were amended with 1.2, 2.4, or 4.8 kg·m−3 of steel slag and fertilized with 3.6 mm ammonium nitrate and 2 mm potassium phosphate. Both control groups resulted in vigorous and saleable plants by the conclusion of the experiment. In both crops, chlorophyll levels, root ratings, and shoot dry mass were lower in all steel slag–amended plants compared with either control groups. In geranium, foliar nutrient concentrations suggest Cu and Zn were limiting whereas B and Zn were limiting in tomato. Based on the results of this research, steel slag does not provide sufficient micronutrients, most notably B, Cu, and Zn, to be the sole source of micronutrient fertilization in container-grown crops.