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- Author or Editor: Jeff B. Million x
Irrigation that decreases the leaching fraction (LF; leachate/water applied) has been shown to reduce fertilizer N and P leaching during the production of sprinkler-irrigated, container-grown plants; however, little research involving outdoor production of microirrigated plants in large containers has been conducted. Two microirrigation schedules based on routine leaching fraction testing were compared to determine their effects on water use and leaching losses of N and P during the production of Dwarf Burford holly in 36-cm-diameter (trade #7) containers. Applied irrigation water and leachate were collected continuously and sampled weekly during the 12-month experiment. An irrigation schedule adjusted once every 1 to 3 weeks to a target LF of 20% resulted in the application of 36% less water (383 vs. 597 L/plant) and 43% less leachate (255 vs. 445 L/plant) than a schedule adjusted to a target LF of 40%; plant growth was unaffected (P > 0.05). Irrigation schedules had no effect (P > 0.05) on cumulative N and P leaching losses, which were attributed in large part to rain. Average leaching losses of N and P were 15.2 and 2.2 g per container (210 and 30 kg·ha−1·year−1), respectively. Both N and P leaching losses represented 35% of the 43.5 g N and 6.3 g P applied per container in two controlled-release fertilizer applications. The results support the best management practice of scheduling irrigation based on routine LF testing to reduce irrigation water use but not reduce N and P leaching.
The capacity for container-grown plants to capture sprinkler irrigation water plays a critical role in adjusting irrigation rates to deliver required amounts of water to the container substrate. The capture factor (CF) used to describe this capacity was defined as the amount of water captured with a plant relative to the amount captured without a plant. A wind-sheltered, irrigation test area was established to measure CF as affected by plant species, plant size, container size, container spacing, and sprinkler type. CF values for 11 marketable-sized, commonly grown plant species ranged from 1 to 4 with highest values exhibited by plant species with an upright, spreading growth habit. CF values increased as plant size increased. Close container spacings (less than one container diameter between adjacent containers) reduced CF when the allotted area outside the container limited the potential amount of water that could be captured. Compared with impact sprinklers, wobbler sprinklers increased irrigation capture 7% for Ligustrum japonicum grown in 27-cm-diameter containers but not in 16-cm-diameter containers. Results showed that CF is a dynamic parameter that depends on canopy size, container size, container spacing, and sprinkler type. A working knowledge of CF is crucial for determining irrigation requirements to maximize sprinkler irrigation efficiency in container nurseries.
Two experiments were conducted to determine if a leaching fraction (LF)-guided irrigation practice with fixed irrigation run times between LF tests (LF_FX) could be improved by making additional adjustments to irrigation run times based on real-time weather information, including rain, using an evapotranspiration-based irrigation scheduling program for container production (LF_ET). The effect of the two irrigation practices on plant growth and water use was tested at three target LF values (10%, 20%, and 40%). For both Viburnum odoratissimum (Expt. 1) and Podocarpus macrophyllus (Expt. 2) grown in 36-cm-diameter containers with spray-stake microirrigation, the change in plant size was unaffected by irrigation treatments. LF_ET reduced water use by 10% compared with LF_FX in Expt. 2 but had no effect (P < 0.05) on water use in Expt. 1. Decreasing the target LF from 40% to 20% reduced water use 28% in both experiments and this effect was similar for both irrigation practices. For the irrigation system and irrigation schedule used in these experiments, we concluded that an LF-guided irrigation schedule with a target LF of 10% resulted in plant growth similar to one with a target LF of 40% and that the addition of a real-time weather adjustment to irrigation run times provided little or no improvement in water conservation compared with a periodic adjustment based solely on LF testing.
Fabric containers (FAB), due to their root-pruning properties, can be used as an alternative to conventional plastic containers (PLA) in container nurseries. Because sidewall evaporation in FAB has been shown to reduce container substrate temperatures, our objective was to determine if FAB would reduce the release rate of controlled-release fertilizer (CRF), resulting in less leachate loss of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) and greater CRF longevity. Dwarf Burford holly were grown in 36-cm-diameter (18-L substrate) FAB or PLA in a bark-peat substrate with incorporated CRF. Spray stake irrigation was routinely adjusted to a target leaching fraction of 25%. Maximum daily substrate temperature, measured 3 cm from southwest-facing container wall, averaged 6 °C lower in FAB than in PLA. For two 31-week experiments where leachate was continuously collected and sampled weekly, FAB reduced leachate N loss by 30% and P loss by 47% despite requiring 66% more irrigation water and collecting 31% more leachate than with PLA. FAB reduced average N loss from 114 to 78 kg·ha−1 and average P loss from 16.0 to 8.6 kg·ha−1. FAB increased plant size by 8% and shoot dry weight by 12% for one experiment but had no effect in the other. We concluded that compared with PLA, the use of FAB can decrease leachate loss of N and P but require considerably more irrigation water to offset water loss via sidewall evaporation.
Irrigation scheduling in container nurseries is challenging due to the wide range of plant production conditions that must be accounted for at any given time. An irrigation scheduling system should also consider weather affecting evapotranspiration to apply proper amounts of water that will ensure optimal growth with minimal runoff (container drainage). We developed an automated system that relies on routine leaching fraction (leachate/water applied) testing and real-time weather recorded on-site to make adjustments to irrigation. A web-based program (CIRRIG) manages irrigation zone inputs [weather and leaching fraction (LF) test results] and outputs irrigation run times that can be implemented automatically with programmable logic controllers. In this study conducted at a nursery in central Florida, we compared the automated technology (CIRRIG) with the nursery’s traditional irrigation practice (TIP) of manually adjusting irrigation based on substrate moisture status of core samples taken twice weekly. Compared with TIP, CIRRIG reduced water use in six of seven unreplicated trials with water savings being greater for microirrigated crops grown in large containers than for sprinkler-irrigated crops in small containers. Reduced pumping cost associated with water savings by CIRRIG was estimated to be $3250 per year, which was insignificant compared with the labor savings of $35,000 to $40,000 anticipated by the nursery using CIRRIG in lieu of TIP. At the end of the project, the necessary hardware was installed to expand CIRRIG nursery-wide and control 156 zones of irrigation.
A goal of irrigation best management practices in container nurseries is to conserve water while maintaining optimal plant growth and quality. A web-based, container irrigation management program (CIRRIG) was developed to automatically provide daily irrigation run times for sprinkler-irrigated crops in container nurseries. The program estimates evapotranspiration rates based on weather uploaded from a weather station located on-site and plant production conditions monitored in each zone and adjusts irrigation run times based on irrigation application rate, the plant’s irrigation-capturing ability (for sprinkler irrigation), desired leaching fraction, and irrigation system uniformity. For this project we interfaced CIRRIG output with a programmable logic controller (PLC) to automatically irrigate a sprinkler-irrigated crop at a container nursery in Florida. Sweet viburnum (Viburnum odoratissimum) in 10-inch-diameter containers were grown by the nursery for 24 weeks in adjacent irrigation zones, one controlled automatically using CIRRIG and the other by the nursery’s traditional practice of manually turning on and off irrigation. Water use was monitored with flowmeters and plant growth by measuring plant size and shoot dry weight periodically throughout the trial. Plant growth was not different (P < 0.05) because of irrigation practice. CIRRIG reduced water use during the study period by 21% (42 vs. 53 inches) compared with the nursery’s irrigation practice. An assessment of the water-saving benefits of making daily adjustments to irrigation run times based on weather including rain indicated savings of 25% and 40% compared with biweekly adjustments with and without automatic rain cutoff, respectively. This trial demonstrated that CIRRIG coupled with an on-site weather station and a computer-controlled irrigation system can be used to manage irrigation while conserving water in a container nursery.
The capacity for evapotranspiration (ET)-based irrigation scheduling to reduce runoff volume and nutrient leaching was tested in Fall 2004 and Spring 2005. Runoff (container leachate plus unintercepted irrigation and precipitation) was collected continuously for 17 weeks during production of sweet viburnum [Viburnum odoratissimum (L.) Ker Gawl.] in 2.4-L (16-cm top diameter) containers fertilized with an 18N–2.6P–10K polymer-coated, controlled-release fertilizer. Treatments were a factorial arrangement of two irrigation rates (fixed rate of 1 cm·d−1 or a variable, ET-based rate) and two fertilizer rates (15 or 30 g/container in 2004 and 10 or 15 g/container in 2005). Averaged over the two experiments and compared with the 1-cm·d−1 rate, ET-based irrigation reduced the amount of irrigation water applied (L/container) by 39% and runoff volume (L/container) by 42% with greatest reductions observed during the second half of the 2004 experiment and the first half of the 2005 experiment. Compared with 1-cm·d−1 rate, ET-based irrigation reduced runoff nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) (mg/container) by 16%, 25%, and 22%, respectively, in 2004 and runoff K 15% in 2005 with irrigation effects varying on a weekly basis. Irrigation treatments did not affect the response of plants to fertilizer rate. Because shoot dry weight was unaffected by irrigation treatments, results indicate that compared with a fixed irrigation rate, ET-based irrigation can reduce irrigation and runoff volumes and to a lesser extent nutrient loss while providing adequate water for plant growth.
Drench applications of paclobutrazol (PBZ) are becoming increasingly popular as a means for controlling height in potted plants, and research is being conducted to quantify the distribution of PBZ following applications. In one trial, 120 ml of 0 or 1 mg 1-1 PBZ were applied to 15-cm pots filled with either Vergro Klay Mix (no bark) or Metro Mix 500 (bark). A bioassay using broccoli (Brassica oleracea L. Italica) seedlings was used to quantify PBZ in leachates and media following treatment drenches. Leachate PBZ concentrations were lower for Vergro than for Metro Mix 500; however, leachates for both media were <0.1 mg·liter–1. Concentrations of PBZ in media decreased with depth and were four to 10 times higher in the uppermost 2.5 cm than in lower horizons. For the uppermost 2.5 cm of media, higher PBZ concentrations were recovered in Metro Mix 500 than in Vergro. A follow-up study will compare surface vs. subsurface application methods on the movement of PBZ into pots.
The influence of production practices on runoff from container nurseries was investigated in Spring 2003 (March to July) and Fall 2003 (August to January). Viburnum odoratissimum (Ker-Gawl.) liners were planted in 3.8-L containers with a 2 pine bark: 1 sand: 1 Canadian peat substrate and placed on 1.5 m2-platforms at one of two plant spacing densities: 16 or 32 plants/m2 [spaced to 16 plants/m2 after 13 weeks (spring) or 14 weeks (fall)]. Overhead sprinkler irrigation was applied daily (1 cm) and runoff collected weekly. Osmocote 18 N-2.6 P-10 K was surface-applied to each container (15 g) in the spring and surface-applied or incorporated in the fall. Cumulative runoff averaged 1240 L·m-1; in spring (19 weeks) and 1050 L·m-1; in fall (20 weeks), which represented 72% and 66% of applied irrigation plus rainfall, respectively. The lower density spacing resulted in a 19% increase in cumulative runoff in spring (1340 vs. 1130 L·m-1) but had no effect in fall (970 vs. 890 L·m-1). Weighted average ECwa of runoff decreased 10% (0.436 vs. 0.485 dS·m-1) and 12% (0.420 vs. 0.476 dS·m-1) with the lower density spacing in spring and fall, respectively. ECwa in fall was not affected by fertilizer method. Plant size index [(height + width)/2] was reduced 22% in both spring (38.7 vs. 49.7 cm) and fall (26.9 vs. 34.4 cm) when plants were grown at the lower density spacing throughout production. This reduction in plant size was attributed to container heat stress. Plant size was unaffected by fertilizer application method (fall) but fertilizer incorporation resulted in greener plants than surface-applied fertilizer (60 vs. 53 SPAD readings).
Dendranthema×grandiflorum (Ramat.) were grown in either a peat-based or pine bark—based medium and drenched with growth retardants at a range of concentrations to generate dose : response curves. The effect of ancymidol, paclobutrazol, and uniconazole on stem elongation was less in the pine bark—based than in the peat-based medium. Generally, the concentrations required to achieve the same response were 3- to 4-fold as high in the pine bark—based medium as in the peat-based medium. However, chlormequat was slightly more active in the pine bark—based medium than in the peat-based medium. Chemical names used: α-cyclopropyl-α—(4-methoxyphenyl)-5-pyrimidinemethanol (ancymidol); (±)-(R*,R*)-β-[(4-chlorophenyl)methyl]-α-(1,1-di methyl)-1H-1,2,4-triazole-1-ethanol (paclobutrazol); (E)-(RS)-1-(4-chlorophenyl)-4,4-dimethyl-2-(1H-1,2,4-triazol-1-yl)pent -l-en-3-ol (uniconazole); 2-chloroethyltrimethylammonium chloride (chlormequat).