Nitrogen (N) deficiencies can significantly reduce plant growth as well as flower quantity and quality. However, excessive N application leads to increased production costs and may cause water contamination as a result of runoff. Ground-based remote sensing of plant chlorophyll content offers the possibility to rapidly and inexpensively estimate crop N status. The objective of this study was to test the reliability of three different Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) measuring methods and Soil-Plant Analyses Development (SPAD) chlorophyll meter values as indicators of geranium (Pelargonium ×hortorum L.H. Bailey) N status. Two potted geranium cultivars, Rocky Mountain White and Rocky Mountain Dark Red, were supplied with N at 0, 50, 100, and 200 mg·L−1 levels, respectively. NDVI readings were measured at 45 cm above the canopy or media of individual plants or 45 cm above the canopy of a group of plants (four plants treated with the same N rate were placed together). Significant correlations existed between indirect chlorophyll content measurements of SPAD values and NDVI readings regardless of four-pot group or single-pot measurements with N application rates and leaf N concentration. Using a cross-validation technique in discriminant analysis, 70.8% to 79.2% of sample cases were correctly categorized to the corresponding N statuses including very deficient, deficient, and sufficient. Therefore, ground-based, non-destructive measurements of a chlorophyll meter and pocket NDVI unit were able to indicate N status. Considering that flower color can interfere with NDVI measurements, the chlorophyll meter may better determine N content when flowers are present.
This research was conducted to investigate the potentials of normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), a Soil-Plant Analyses Development (SPAD) chlorophyll meter, and leaf nitrogen (N) concentration [% dry matter (DM)] for rapid determination of N status in potted geraniums (Pelargonium ×hortorum). Two F1 cultivars were chosen to represent a dark-green leaf cultivar, Horizon Deep Red, and a light-green leaf cultivar, Horizon Tangerine, and were grown in a soilless culture system. All standard 6-inch (15.24-cm) pots filled with a medium received an initial top-dress application of 5 g controlled-release fertilizer (15N–9P–12K), then plants were supplemented with additional N in the form of urea at 0, 50, 100, or 200 mg·L−1 N every few days to produce plants ranging from N-deficient to N-sufficient. The NDVI readings of individual plants from a NDVI pocket sensor developed by Oklahoma State University were collected weekly until the flowering stage. Data on flower traits, including number of pedicels (NOP), number of full umbels per pot (NOFU), total number of flowers per pot (TNF), number of flowers per pedicel (NOF), and inflorescences diameter (IFD), were collected 3 months after initial fertilizer treatment. After measuring flower traits, pedicels were removed from each pot, and SPAD value, NDVI, and leaf N concentration (g·kg−1 DM) were measured simultaneously. Cultivar and N rate significantly affected all but two flower and one N status parameters studied. The coefficient of determination R2 showed that NOP, NOFU, and TNF traits were more related to the N rates and the status parameters studied for ‘Horizon Tangerine’ than for ‘Horizon Deep Red’. For the latter cultivar, NOP and TNF traits were highly related to NDVI and SPAD values than N rates and leaf N content parameters. Correlation analysis indicated that the NDVI readings (R2 = 0.848 and 0.917) and SPAD values (R2 = 0.861 and 0.950) were significantly related to leaf N content (g·kg−1 DM) between cultivars. However, sensitivity of the NDVI and chlorophyll values to N application rate in geranium was slightly less than leaf N content. Strong correlations (R2 = 0.974 and 0.979, respectively) between NDVI and SPAD values were found within cultivars. The results demonstrated NDVI and SPAD values can be used to estimate N status in geranium. Because the pocket NDVI sensor will be cheaper than the SPAD unit, it has an advantage in determining N content in potted ornamentals.