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Christine M. Rainbolt, Jayesh B. Samtani, Steven A. Fennimore, Celeste A. Gilbert, Krishna V. Subbarao, James S. Gerik, Anil Shrestha and Bradley D. Hanson

Methyl bromide (MB) has been widely used in California cut-flower production for effective control of a broad range of soil pests, including plant pathogens and weeds. However, MB is an ozone-depleting substance, and its availability to growers is limited according to the Montreal Protocol guidelines. Steam has been suggested as a nonchemical option for preplant soil disinfestation. Five trials were conducted in protected greenhouse structure or open-field cut-flower nurseries in Monterey, San Luis Obispo, and Ventura counties to evaluate the effect of steam application, alone or in combination with solarization, on soilborne plant pathogen populations, weed densities, and crop growth. Several steam application methods were used including steam blanket, spike-hose, buried drip irrigation lines, or drain tile, and these varied among trials. Calla lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica) nursery trials initiated in 2007 and 2008 showed that steam alone or with solarization was similar to or more effective than MB:chloropicrin (MBPic), applied via drip lines, in controlling weeds and Verticillium dahliae at 6-inch depth. Trials conducted in Spring and Fall 2009 in an oriental hybrid lily (Lilium sp.) nursery showed that, 112 days after steam treatment (DAT) in the spring, the steam (spike-hose) treatment had fewer Fusarium oxysporum propagules than the MB treatment. Lily plant growth in the steam-treated plots was similar to MB-treated plots and taller than in control plots. In the fall trial, fewer lily plants emerged by 44 DAT in the untreated control than in steam- and MB-treated plots and steam was not as effective as MB in reducing Pythium populations. In the 2010 sunflower (Helianthus annuus) and bupleurum (Bupleurum griffithii) trial, all steam treatments reduced Pythium and Phytophthora cactorum survival compared with the untreated control plots, whereas weed densities were reduced only in the spike-hose steam-treated plots. These trial studies showed that steam appeared as effective as MB in suppressing pathogens and weeds and improving crop growth in cut-flower nurseries. However, additional information on fuel consumption, treatment time efficiency, and long-term effects of steam treatment on soil health are needed before steam can be recommended as a viable alternative to MB in California cut-flower nurseries.