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Brian E. Jackson, Robert D. Wright and Jake F. Browder

Many industrial and agricultural wastes have been evaluated for use as alternative container substrate components. Recently, a new material produced from ground pine logs (Pinus taeda L.) has been utilized as a substitute for peat moss and pine bark (PB). On 17 Aug. 2005, japanese holly (Ilex crenata `Compacta' Thunb.) plants were potted in milled PB (Pinus taeda L.) and debarked ground pine chips (PC). Pine chips were ground with a hammermill to pass through a 6.35-mm screen. Osmocote Plus 15–9–12 (15N–4P–10K) was incorporated in both PB and PC substrates at the rates of 3.5, 5.9, 8.3, and 10.6 kg·m-3. Plants were greenhouse grown until 22 Nov. 2005. Substrate solution nutrient content and pH were determined for all treatments in each substrate. Shoots were dried, weighted, and tissue analyzed for N, P, K, Ca, Mg, S, Fe, Cu, Mn, and Zn. Shoot weights were higher in plants grown in PB than PC at the 3.5 and 5.9 kg·m-3 fertilizer rates. At the 8.3 kg·m-3 rate, shoot dry weight was about the same for each substrate, but at the 10.6 kg·m-3 rate, growth was higher for plants grown in PC than in PB. Substrate EC increased with increasing fertilizer rates and with the exception of Cu, was higher in PB substrates at all fertilizer rates. Plant tissue levels generally increased as fertilizer rate increased in both substrates but were higher in plants grown in PB than PC with the exception of Cu. Therefore, higher rates of fertilizer are required to produce optimal plant growth in PC compared to PB.

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Brian E. Jackson, Robert D. Wright and Michael C. Barnes

‘Prestige’ poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima Willd. Ex Klotzsch) were grown at different fertilizer rates in three pine tree substrates (PTS) made from loblolly pine trees (Pinus taeda L.) and a peat-based control. Pine tree substrates were produced from pine trees that were chipped and hammer-milled to a desired particle size. Substrates used in this study included peat-lite (PL), PTS produced with a 2.38-mm screen (PTS1), PTS produced with a 4.76-mm screen (PTS2), and PTS produced with a 4.76-mm screen and amended with 25% peatmoss (v/v) (PTS3). Initial and final substrate physical properties and substrate shrinkage were determined to evaluate changes over the production period. Poinsettias were grown in 1.7-L containers in the fall of 2007 and fertilized at each irrigation with 100, 200, 300, or 400 mg·L−1 nitrogen (N). Shoot dry weight and growth index were higher in PL at 100 mg·L−1 N but similar for all substrates at 300 mg·L−1 N. Bract length was generally the same or longer in all PTS-grown plants compared with plants grown in PL at each fertilizer rate. Postproduction time to wilting was the same for poinsettias grown in PL, PTS1, and PTS3. Initial and final air space was higher in all PTSs compared with PL and container capacity (CC) of PTS1 was equal to PL initially and at the end of the experiment. The initial and final CC of PTS2 was lower than PL. The incorporation of 25% peat (PTS3) increased shoot dry weight and bract length at lower fertilizer rates compared with 4.76 mm PTS alone (PTS2). Substrate shrinkage was not different between PL and PTS1 but greater than shrinkage with the coarser PTS2. This study demonstrates that poinsettia can be successfully grown in a PTS with small particles (2.38-mm screen) or a PTS with large particles (4.76-mm screen) when amended with 25% peatmoss, which results in physical properties (CC and air space) similar to those of PL.

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Brian E. Jackson, Robert D. Wright and Mark M. Alley

The objective of this study was to compare substrate solution nitrogen (N) availability, N immobilization, and nutrient leaching in a pine tree substrate (PTS), peat-lite (PL), and aged pine bark (PB) over time under greenhouse conditions. Pine tree substrate was produced from loblolly pine logs (Pinus taeda L.) that were chipped and hammer-milled to a desired particle size. Substrates used in this study were PTS ground through a 2.38-mm hammer mill screen, PL, and aged PB. A short-term (28-d) N immobilization study was conducted on substrates fertilized with 150 or 300 mg·L−1 NO3-N. Substrates were incubated for 4 days after fertilizing and NO3-N levels were determined initially and at the end of the incubation. A second medium-term study (10-week) was also conducted to evaluate the amount of N immobilized in each substrate when fertilized with 100, 200, 300, or 400 mg·L−1 N. In addition to determining the amounts of N immobilized, substrate carbon dioxide (CO2) efflux (μmol CO2/m−2·s−1) was also measured as an assessment of microbial activity, which can be an indication of N immobilization. A leaching study on all three substrates was also conducted to determine the amount of nitrate nitrogen (NO3-N), phosphorus, and potassium leached over 14 weeks under greenhouse conditions. Nitrogen immobilization was highest in PTS followed by PB and PL in both the short- and medium-term studies. Nitrogen immobilization increased as fertilizer rate increased from 100 mg·L−1 N to 200 mg·L−1 N in PL and from 100 mg·L−1 N to 300 mg·L−1 N for PB and PTS followed by a reduction or no further increase in immobilization when fertilizer rates increased beyond these levels. Nitrogen immobilization was generally highest in all substrates 2 weeks after potting, after which immobilization tended to decrease over the course of several weeks with less of a decrease for PTS compared with PL and PB. Substrate CO2 efflux levels were highest in PTS followed by PB and PL at each measurement in both the short- and medium-term studies. Patterns of substrate CO2 efflux levels (estimate of microbial populations/activity) at both fertilizer rates and over time were positively correlated to N immobilization occurrence during the studies. Nitrate leaching over 14 weeks was lower in PTS than in PB or PL through 14 weeks. This work provides evidence of increased microbial activity and N immobilization in PTS compared with PB and PL. Increased N immobilization in PTS explains the lower nutrient (primarily N) levels observed in PTS during crop production and justifies the additional fertilizer required for comparable plant growth to PL and PB. This work also provides evidence of less NO3-N leaching in PTS compared with PL or PB during greenhouse crop production despite the higher fertilizer rates required for optimal plant growth in PTS.

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Brian E. Jackson, Robert D. Wright and John R. Seiler

The objective of this study was to evaluate a pine tree substrate (PTS) for decomposition, changes in physical and chemical properties, and substrate carbon dioxide (CO2) efflux (microbial activity) during a long-term production cycle under outdoor nursery conditions. Substrates used in this study were PTS constructed using a 4.76-mm hammer mill screen and aged pine bark (PB). Plastic nursery containers were filled with each substrate and amended with either 4.2 or 8.4 kg·m−3 Osmocote Plus fertilizer and planted with Cotoneaster horizontalis or left fallow. Substrate solution chemical properties and nutrient concentrations were determined each month during the summers of 2006 and 2007 in addition to measuring substrate CO2 efflux (μmol CO2/m−2·s−1) as an assessment of microbial activity. Substrate breakdown (decomposition) was determined with particle size analysis and physical property determination on substrates at the conclusion of the study (70 weeks). Substrate solution pH was higher in PTS than in PB at both fertilizer rates in 2006, but pH levels decreased over time and were lower in PTS at both fertilizer rates in 2007. Substrate solution electrical conductivity levels, nitrate, phosphorus, and potassium concentrations were all generally higher in PB than in PTS at both fertilizer rates through both years. Pine tree substrate decomposition was higher when plants were present in the containers [evident by an increase in fine substrate particles (less than 0.5 mm) after 70 weeks], but breakdown was equal at both fertilizer rates. Shrinkage of PTS in the presence of plants was equal to the shrinkage observed in PB with plants, but shrinkage was higher in fallow PTS containers than PTS with plants. Substrate air apace (AS) was highest in PTS and container capacity (CC) was equal in PB and PTS at potting. Substrate AS decreased and CC increased in both substrates after 70 weeks but remained in acceptable ranges for container substrates. Substrate CO2 efflux rates were higher in PTS compared with PB at both fertilizer rates indicating higher microbial activity, thereby increasing the potential for nutrient immobilization and substrate breakdown. This work provides evidence that PTS decomposition is unaffected by fertilizer rate and that substrate shrinkage in containers with plants is similar to PB after two growing seasons (70 weeks), which addresses two major concerns about the use and performance of PTS for long-term nursery crop production. This work also shows that the higher microbial activity in PTS increases the potential of microbial nutrient immobilization, which is likely the reason for the lower substrate nutrient levels reported for PTS compared with PB over 70 weeks.

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Brian E. Jackson, Robert D. Wright and Nazim Gruda

This work was conducted to evaluate the effect of limestone additions to pine tree substrate (PTS) and PTS amended with peatmoss on pH and plant growth. ‘Inca Gold’ marigold (Tagetes erecta L.) and ‘Rocky Mountain White’ geranium (Pelargonium ×hortorum L.H. Bailey) were grown in three PTSs—100% PTS, PTS plus 25% peatmoss (v/v), and PTS plus 50% peatmoss (v/v)—made from freshly harvested loblolly pine trees (Pinus taeda L.) chipped and hammermilled through a 4.76-mm screen and a peatmoss/perlite (4:1 v/v; PL) control. Each substrate was amended with various rates of dolomitic limestone and used to grow marigolds in 10-cm square (l-L) plastic containers and geraniums in round 15-cm (1.25-L) plastic containers in a glasshouse. Regardless of limestone rate, pH was highest in 100% PTS and decreased with peat additions with PL having the lowest pH. As percent peat increased from 25% to 50%, more limestone was required to adjust pH to a particular level showing that PTS is more weakly buffered against pH change than peatmoss. Adding limestone did not increase the growth of marigold in 100% PTS, but additions of limestone did increase growth of marigold when grown in PTS containing peatmoss or in PL. Geranium growth was higher in PTS containing peatmoss (25% or 50%) and PL than in 100% PTS at all limestone rates. This research demonstrates that PTS produced from freshly harvested pine trees has an inherently higher pH than PL, and the additions of peatmoss to PTS require pH adjustment of the substrate for optimal plant growth.

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Brian E. Jackson, Robert D. Wright and Michael C. Barnes

The use of freshly harvested and processed pine trees as a container substrate for greenhouse and nursery crop production is a relatively new concept, and fundamental knowledge of the construction of a pine tree substrate (PTS) for optimal physical properties is insufficient. Therefore, this research was conducted to determine the influence of mixing PTSs produced with different wood particle sizes and adding other amendments to PTS on substrate physical properties and plant growth compared with traditional substrates. Coarse pine wood chips produced from 15-year-old loblolly pine trees (Pinus taeda L.) were ground in a hammermill fitted with either a 4.76-mm screen or with no screen (PTS-NS) allowing a fine and a coarse particle PTS to be produced. Increasing proportions of the finer (4.76-mm) PTS to the coarser PTS (PTS-NS) resulted in increased container capacity (CC) and shoot growth of ‘Inca Gold’ marigold (Tagetes erecta L.). In another study, PTSs were manufactured in a hammermill fitted with different screen sizes: 4.76, 6.35, 9.54, or 15.8 mm as well as PTS-NS. After being hammermilled, each of the five PTSs was then amended (by mixing) with 10% sand (PTS-S), 25% peatmoss (PTS-PM), or left unamended. Pine tree substrates were also produced by adding 25% aged pine bark (PB) to pine wood chips before being ground in a hammermill with each of the five screen sizes mentioned (PTS-HPB). These five substrates were used unamended as well as amended with 10% sand after grinding (PTS-HPBS). Control treatments included peat-lite (PL) and 100% aged PB for a total of 27 substrates evaluated in this study. Container capacity and marigold growth increased as screen size decreased and with the additions of peatmoss (PTS-PM) or hammering with PB (PTS-HPB) to PTS. Container capacity for all substrates amended with peatmoss or PB was within the recommended range of 45% to 65% for container substrates, but only with the more finely ground PTS-4.76-mm resulted in marigold growth comparable to PL and PB. However, when the PTS-NS was amended by mixing in 25% peat or hammering with 25% PB, growth of marigold was equal to plants grown in PL or PB. In a third study, hammering PTS-NS with 25% PB followed by the addition of 10% sand increased dry weight of both azalea (Rhododendron ×hybrida ‘Girard Pleasant White’) and spirea (Spiraea nipponica Maxim. ‘Snowmound’) resulting in growth equal to plants grown in 100% PB. This work shows that amending coarsely ground PTS with finer particle PTS or with other materials (peatmoss, aged PB, or sand) can result in a substrate with comparable physical properties such as CC and plant growth compared with 100% PL or PB.

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Brian E. Jackson, Robert D. Wright, Jake F. Browder, J. Roger Harris and Alex X. Niemiera

Recent interest in the use of wood substrates in horticulture crop production has justified the need for determining fertilizer requirements in these substrates compared with traditional pine bark (PB) and peatmoss substrates. The objective was to determine the response of japanese holly (Ilex crenata Thunb. ‘Compacta’) and azalea (Rhododendron obtusum Planck. ‘Delaware Valley’) grown in a pine tree substrate (PTS) (trade name WoodGro™) or milled PB to fertilizer rate. Pine tree substrate is produced from freshly harvested loblolly pine trees (Pinus taeda L.) that are delimbed, chipped, and ground in a hammer mill to a desired particle size. Japanese holly plants were grown in 2.8-L containers in the fall of 2005 and again in the spring of 2007 with the addition of azalea. Plants grown in PTS or PB were fertilized by incorporating Osmocote Plus fertilizer (15N–3.9P–10K) at rates of 3.5, 5.9, 8.3 or 10.6 kg·m−3 for japanese holly and 1.2, 3.5, 5.9, or 8.3 kg·m−3 for azalea. After 3 months, shoot dry weights were determined for japanese holly and azalea. Japanese holly root dry weights were determined for both experiments, and substrate CO2 efflux (μmol CO2 m−2·s−1) was measured on the treatments at the end of the experiment using a LI-6400 soil CO2 flux chamber. In 2005, japanese holly shoot dry weights of PTS-grown plants were comparable to plants grown in PB at the 8.3 kg·m−3 fertility rate, and shoot dry weights of PTS-grown plants were higher than PB at the 10.6 kg·m−3 rate. In 2007, japanese holly and azalea shoot dry weights of PTS-grown plants were comparable to PB plants at the 5.9 kg·m−3 fertilizer rate. Both japanese holly and azalea achieved shoot growth in PTS comparable to shoot growth in PB with ≈2.4 kg·m−3 additional fertilizer for PTS. Substrate CO2 efflux rates were higher in PTS compared with PB indicating higher microbial activity, thereby increasing the potential for nutrient immobilization in PTS.

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Robert D. Wright, Brian E. Jackson, Michael C. Barnes and Jake F. Browder

The objective of this study was to evaluate the landscape performance of annual bedding plants grown in a ground pine tree substrate (PTS) produced from loblolly pine trees (Pinus taeda) or in ground pine bark (PB) when transplanted into the landscape and grown at three different fertilizer rates. Begonia (Begonia ×semperflorens-cultorum) ‘Cocktail Vodka’, coleus (Solenostemen scutellarioides) ‘Kingswood Torch’, impatiens (Impatiens walleriana) ‘Dazzler White’, marigold (Tagetes erecta) ‘Bonanza Yellow’, petunia (Petunia ×hybrid) ‘Wave Purple’, salvia (Salvia splendens) ‘Red Hot Sally’, and vinca (Catharanthus roseus) ‘Cooler Pink’ were evaluated in 2005, and begonia ‘Cocktail Whiskey’, marigold ‘Inca Gold’, salvia ‘Red Hot Sally’, and vinca ‘Cooler Pink’ were evaluated in 2006 and 2007. Landscape fertilizer rates were 1 lb/1000 ft2 nitrogen (N) in 2005 and 0, 1, and 2 lb/1000 ft2 N in 2006 and 2007. Visual observations throughout each year indicated that all species, whether grown in PTS or PB, had comparable foliage quality in the landscape trial beds during the growing period. With few exceptions, dry weight and plant size for all species increased with increasing fertilizer additions, regardless of the substrate in which the plants were grown. For the unfertilized treatment, when comparing plant dry weight between PB and PTS for each species and for each year (eight comparisons), PTS-grown plant dry weight was less than PB-grown plants in three out of the eight comparisons. However, there were fewer differences in plant dry weight between PTS- and PB-grown plants when fertilizer was applied (PTS-grown plants were smaller than PB-grown plants in only 2 of the 16 comparisons: four species, two fertilizer rates, and 2 years), indicating that N immobilization may be somewhat of an issue, but not to the extent expected. Therefore, the utilization of PTS as a substrate for the production of landscape annuals may be acceptable in the context of landscape performance.

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Robert D. Wright, Brian E. Jackson, Jake F. Browder and Joyce G. Latimer

A pine tree substrate (PTS), produced by grinding loblolly pine trees (Pinus taeda), offers potential as a viable container substrate for greenhouse crops, but a better understanding of the fertilizer requirements for plant growth in PTS is needed. The purpose of this research was to determine the comparative fertilizer requirements for chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum ×grandiflora ‘Baton Rouge’) grown in PTS or a commercial peat-lite (PL) substrate. The PTS was prepared by grinding coarse (1-inch × 1-inch × 0.5-inch) pine chips from debarked loblolly pine logs in a hammer mill fitted with 3/16-inch screen. The PL substrate composed of 45% peat, 15% perlite, 15% vermiculite, and 25% bark was used for comparative purposes. Rooted chrysanthemum cuttings were potted in each of the substrates on 15 Oct. 2005 and 12 Apr. 2006 and were glasshouse grown. Plants were fertilized with varying rates of a 20N–4.4P–16.6K-soluble fertilizer ranging from 50 to 400 mg·L−1 nitrogen (N) with each irrigation. Plant dry weights and extractable substrate nutrient levels were determined. In 2005 and 2006, it required about 100 mg·L−1 N more fertilizer for PTS compared to PL to obtain comparable growth. At any particular fertilizer level, substrate electrical conductivity and nutrient levels were higher for PL compared to PTS accounting for the higher fertilizer requirements for PTS. Possible reasons for the lower substrate nutrients levels with PTS are increased nutrient leaching in PTS due to PTS being more porous and having a lower cation exchange capacity than PL, and increased microbial immobilization of N in PTS compared to PL. This research demonstrates that PTS can be used to grow a traditional greenhouse crop if attention is given to fertilizer requirements.

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Amy N. Wright, Robert D. Wright, Jake F. Browder and Brian E. Jackson

Posttransplant root growth is critical for landscape plant establishment. The Horhizotron provides a way to easily measure root growth in a wide range of rhizosphere conditions. Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia L.) plants were removed from their containers and planted in Horhizotrons in a greenhouse in Auburn, Ala., and outdoors in Blacksburg, Va. Each Horhizotron contained four glass quadrants extending away from the root ball, and each quadrant within a Horhizotron was filled with a different substrate (treatment): 1) 100% pine bark (Pinus taeda L., PB), 2) 100% soil, 3) a mixture of 50 PB: 50 soil (by volume), or 4) 100% soil along the bottom of the quadrant to a depth of 10 cm (4 inches) and 100% PB layered 10 cm (4 inches) deep on top of the soil. Root growth along the glass panes of each quadrant was measured biweekly in Auburn and weekly in Blacksburg. Roots were longer in all treatments containing pine bark than in 100% soil. When pine bark was layered on top of soil, roots grew into the pine bark but did not grow into the soil. Results suggest that amending soil backfill with pine bark can increase posttransplant root growth of container-grown mountain laurel.