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Matthew Chappell and Carol Robacker

Azaleas (Ericales: Ericaceae: Rhododendron L.) are a staple plant in many landscapes of the United States and are largely resistant to predation by insects, with the exception of azalea lace bug [ALB (Heteroptera: Tingidae: Stephanitis pyrioides)]. Within deciduous azalea (Rhododendron: section Pentanthera G. Don) varying levels of resistance to ALB are observed with a continuous distribution from susceptible to highly resistant. In this study, epicuticular leaf wax from two ALB-resistant [R. canescens Michaux and R. periclymenoides (Michaux) Shinners] and two ALB-susceptible (`Buttercup' and `My Mary') deciduous azalea genotypes was extracted and re-applied to fresh azalea foliage. Leaf wax extracted from ALB-resistant genotypes and applied to ALB-susceptible genotypes conferred a high level of resistance to both ALB feeding and oviposition in the treated ALB-susceptible genotypes. Conversely, leaf wax extracted from ALB-susceptible genotypes and applied to ALB-resistant genotypes conferred susceptibility to the treated ALB-resistant genotypes. However, the effect was much less substantial than the effect of resistant wax extracts on susceptible genotypes and confined to ALB oviposition. When applied to the same genotype from which the extract was collected, leaf wax extract from ALB-susceptible genotypes had no effect on susceptibility, whereas resistant wax extract had a moderate effect on ALB oviposition rate. The results indicate that leaf wax serves as a primary mechanism of resistance of deciduous azalea to ALB.

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Matthew Chappell and Carol Robacker

While the recommended time to prune abelia is before spring growth initiates, the actual pruning time is often variable and dependent upon labor and plant appearance. As abelia suffers from freeze damage north of zone 8A, pruning may have an impact on the level of freeze damage. Six Abelia genotypes were established in replicated field plots in Griffin, Ga., in 1999. On 3–4 July 2003, half the individuals of each genotype were severely pruned (75% of growth removed). Subsequently, 80 uniform-sized stem tips were randomly collected from plants of each genotype–treatment combination once per month from Oct. 2003 through Apr. 2004. Stem sections were exposed to predetermined temperatures ranging from –3 °C to –27 °C in a temperature bath. The number of stem sections killed in each of two replications out of four possible stem sections was recorded (0 = none dead; 4 = all dead). Data were analyzed with SAS using the Genmod procedure to acquire seasonal results as well as with PROC GLM and means separation to acquire monthly results. Using the Genmod procedure, all genotypes with the exception of `Canyon Creek' were significantly more cold tolerant in unpruned compared to pruned treatments. In this study, Dec. 2003 was the first month with temperatures below freezing at the test site. Proc GLM analysis indicated a significant difference between the pruned and unpruned treatments in Dec. 2003–Feb. 2004. Results of the Proc GLM analysis for the months of Oct. and Nov. 2003 as well as Mar. and Apr. 2004 were nonsignificant (P < 0.05) due to an absence of cold acclimation. These results indicate that mid-season pruning of Abelia genotypes can significantly reduce cold hardiness and lead to serious stem dieback in pruned plants.

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Matthew Chappell, Carol Robacker and Tracie M. Jenkins

Despite the ecologic and economic importance of native deciduous azaleas (Rhododendron L. section Pentanthera G. Don), our understanding of interspecific variation of North American deciduous azalea species comes principally from morphologic studies. Furthermore, little is known concerning intraspecific or interpopulation genetic variation. With ever-increasing loss and fragmentation of native azalea habitat in the eastern United States due to anthropogenic activity, it is imperative that an understanding of natural genetic variation among and within species and populations is acquired. The present study addresses questions of genetic diversity through the use of amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) analysis. Twenty-five populations of seven species of native azalea were analyzed using three primer pairs that amplified a total of 417 bands. Based on analysis of molecular variance (AMOVA) and estimates of Nei's coefficients of gene diversity (H S, H T, and G ST), the majority of variation found in deciduous azalea occurs within populations. Variation both among species and among population was low, likely the effect of common ancestry as well as frequent introgression among members (and populations) of section Pentanthera. The latter was evident in four populations of R. prunifolium (Small) Millais and R. canescens (Michaux) Sweet that were highly related to R. austrinum (Small) Rehder and R. viscosum (L.) Torrey, respectively. Despite these outliers, most populations were grouped into species based on Nei's unbiased genetic distances viewed as an unweighted pair group method with arithmetic mean (UPGMA) phenogram. The significance of these results is discussed in relation to breeding in section Pentanthera.

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He Li, Matthew Chappell and Donglin Zhang

Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is an outstanding ornamental shrub due to its attractive foliage and showy inflorescences. Breeding efforts have led to improved selections that have predominantly been developed and evaluated in the northeastern United States. Consequently, most cultivars have largely been dismissed as incompatible for the southeastern U.S. environmental conditions by nursery growers and consumers. This study was conducted over a 4-year period to evaluate 21 popular mountain laurel cultivars, primarily developed in the northeastern United States, for container and field performance in Georgia. All cultivars yielded considerable growth in the first year of container trials, indicating production of mountain laurel as a 1-year container crop is feasible. Cultivars displayed significantly different total growth index throughout the container trial. Fast-growing cultivars such as Bullseye and Ostbo Red yielded more than 100, 150, and 250 cm of growth index in 1, 2, and 4 years, respectively. Conversely, cultivars that grew slower, such as Firecracker and Tinkerbell, had less than 80, 115, and 180 cm in 1, 2, and 4 years, respectively. Cultivars were classified into five groups, using principal component analysis, that included dwarf habit with pink flower, dwarf habit with nonpink flower, nondwarf habit with green stem and white flower, nondwarf habit with pigment-patterned flower, and nondwarf habit with pink flower. In a field study, performance rating of 21 cultivars ranged from 2.0 to 4.8 (out of 5.0) in 2014 and from 2.0 to 5.0 in 2015. Ten cultivars that received the highest ratings over these 2 years were selected for a subsequent field trial in 2016. Cultivars showed overall decreased ratings (1.0–3.3) from the previous 2 years because of late spring planting. ‘Ostbo Red’, ‘Pristine’, and ‘Tinkerbell’ had higher performance ratings, more net growth, and less decrease in maximum quantum yield, which indicated suitable adaptation to southeastern U.S. environmental conditions. Nursery growers and consumers should benefit from regional cultivar trial information derived from this study. ‘Ostbo Red’, ‘Pristine’, and ‘Tinkerbell’ performed well across trials and therefore are recommended for southeastern U.S. landscapes based on superior container and field performance, leaf spot (caused by Mycosphaerella colorata) tolerance, and morphologic distinctions.

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Lucas O’Meara, Matthew R. Chappell and Marc W. van Iersel

As a result of the lack of quantitative data regarding specific water requirements of ornamental species, precision irrigation can be a difficult task for nursery growers. One challenge for growers is that it is not clear how much of the water in soilless substrates is actually available for plant uptake. Substrate moisture release curves (MRC) have been used to predict the amount of plant-available water in soilless substrates, yet there is little information about whether there are differences among species in their ability to extract water from substrates. The objectives of this study were to determine 1) the hydraulic properties of a composted pine bark substrate; and 2) how water uptake in Hydrangea macrophylla and Gardenia jasminoides was affected by decreasing substrate volumetric water content (VWC). As the substrate VWC decreased from 0.38 to 0.17 m3·m−3, substrate matric potential decreased from –4.0 to –69 kPa, whereas hydraulic conductivity decreased from 0.115 to 0.000069 cm·d−1. To measure plant water uptake in a drying substrate, growth chambers were used to provide stable environmental conditions that included continuous lighting to prevent diurnal fluctuations in water use. Water use by H. macrophylla ‘Fasan’ started to decrease at a higher VWC (0.28 m3·m−3) than G. jasminoides ‘Radicans’ (0.20 m3·m−3). Plant water uptake stopped at a VWC of 0.16 m3·m−3 in H. macrophylla and 0.12 m3·m−3 in G. jasminoides. The results show that H. macrophylla is less adept at extracting water from a drying substrate than G. jasminoides. Traditionally, plant-available water in soilless substrates has been studied using substrate MRCs. Our data suggest that substrate hydraulic conductivity may be an important factor controlling water availability to the plants. In addition, there are important differences among species that cannot be detected by only looking at substrate hydraulic properties.

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William D. Wheeler, Paul Thomas, Marc van Iersel and Matthew Chappell

A soil moisture sensor-based automated irrigation system was trialed in a commercial floriculture greenhouse to determine what benefits these types of systems may offer to herbaceous ornamental producers. Water use, crop quality and growth, and grower behavior toward adoption of the new technology were monitored, when all decision making related to system operation was carried out by the grower. Two cultivars of poinsettia (Euphorbia ×pulcherrima) and three cultivars of geranium (Pelargonium ×hortorum) were produced in side-by-side trials over the course of 2 years while comparing grower-controlled, sensor-based automated irrigation with traditional grower-managed (timer-based) irrigation. Plant quality was equivalent between irrigation treatments across all five trials. Differences in plant size were noted in four of the five trials between irrigation treatments, but in all instances these differences were not judged by the commercial grower to impact marketability of the crop. No reductions in irrigation water use were noted with the sensor-based irrigation system, which differed from previous research using this technology in ornamental production. Over the course of 2 years, the number of plants produced using sensor-based irrigation control was scaled up, indicating increasing confidence in, and adoption of, the technology. Managers at the facility found that sensor-based irrigation facilitated reallocation of labor from irrigation management, which was especially valuable during peak production and shipping periods. The payback period calculated from labor savings would be roughly 1.5 years if the sensor-based irrigation system was implemented throughout the facility.

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Matthew Chappell, Carol Robacker, Sherrod Baden and Allen Byous

Azalea lace bug (ALB) is a significant pest on azalea, with feeding injury causing speckling and discoloration on affected leaves. Feeding damage also results in a reduction of stomatal gas exchange and leaf chlorophyll content, postulated to diminish growth and flowering rates.

In azalea, specific lipid components of the plant cuticle have been implicated in ALB resistance of R. canescens. In this study, epicuticular leaf wax was extracted from the leaves of four azalea genotypes, divided into two groups: a resistant group including R. periclymenoides and `Fourth of July' and a susceptible group including R. austrinum and `My Mary'. Leaf wax was extracted and resuspended in solution for application to all entries in a full diallel manner, including controls of solution only and no treatment. Each genotype–solution treatment included 10 replications. The leaf wax solution was applied to each replication (leaf) by painting the solution on one side of the midrib, yet on both abaxial and adaxial surfaces. Two leaves attached to a stem and four female adult ALB were placed in separate 32-mL sealed cups. Experimental conditions were 24 °C and 12-hour daylength for 96 h, at which time the number of live adults, frass spots, and eggs were counted. Data revealed that application of leaf wax solution had an impact on the level of frass and egg deposition by ALB in both resistant and susceptible genotypes. The effect was most pronounced when a solution of resistant genotypes was placed on susceptible genotypes, as the application resulted in lower numbers of frass spots and eggs compared to the nil control. However, an increase in frass and eggs was observed when extract of susceptible genotypes was applied to resistant genotypes.

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Lucas O’Meara, Marc W. van Iersel and Matthew R. Chappell

Irrigation is an essential component of ornamental plant production, yet relatively little is known about how much water nursery crops require to maintain optimal growth rates. Our objectives were to precisely determine the daily water use (DWU) of Hydrangea macrophylla and Gardenia jasminoides grown in 6-L containers, quantify how this is affected by environmental conditions, develop a quantitative model describing DWU, evaluate this model with an independent data set, and determine the feasibility of using crop coefficients (Kc) for irrigation scheduling. In 2010, we quantified the DWU of two Hydrangea macrophylla cultivars, Fasan and Pia. There was little difference in DWU of the two cultivars, which ranged from 50 to 300 mL/plant/day depending on plant age and environmental (hoophouse) conditions. In 2010, daily light integral (DLI) had the greatest influence on DWU with DWU increasing with increasing DLI. The combination of plant age, final leaf area, DLI, and their interactions explained 83.2% and 90.8% of day-to-day variation in DWU of ‘Fasan’ and ‘Pia’, respectively. In July 2011, a follow-up study was conducted using Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Fasan’ and Gardenia jasminoides ‘Radicans’. DWU of ‘Fasan’ ranged from 50 to 200 mL/plant/day and DWU of ‘Radicans’ ranged from 50 to 560 mL/plant/day. The lower DWU of ‘Fasan’ in 2011 compared with 2010 was the result of stunted growth of the hydrangeas, a result of elevated temperatures within the hoophouse during the plants initial growth flush. Vapor pressure deficit (VPD) explained more of the daily fluctuations in DWU in 2011 compared with 2010. Predicting DWU of the 2011 ‘Fasan’ crop using 2011 environmental conditions and the model developed using the 2010 data resulted in DWU estimates that were on average 64% too high. This discrepancy is likely the result of slower overall growth rate and a 15.4% reduction in ‘Fasan’ total growth in 2011 compared with 2010 and points to the challenges of modeling DWU. There were distinct seasonal changes in Kc values for the crops, but the trends differed between 2010 and 2011. Our results suggest that an accurate measure of canopy size may improve performance of predictive water use models.

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Matthew R. Chappell*, Carol Robacker, Sherrod Baden and Allen Byous

Azalea Lace Bug (ALB) is a significant pest on azalea species. ALB feeding injury causes a stippled appearance on the leaves of susceptible genotypes from late spring until leaf drop. To determine whether leaf surface lipids are a factor in determining resistance or susceptibility to ALB, epicuticular leaf wax was extracted from the leaves of eight azalea genotypes, half with resistance and half susceptible to ALB. Leaf wax from each genotype was extracted and re-suspended in an 2 ethanol: 1 water solution for application to all entries in a full diallel manner, including a control of solution only. Each treatment included three replications. The leaf wax solution was applied to each replication (single leaf) by painting the solution on one side of the midrib, on both abaxial and adaxial surfaces. By applying solution to one side of the leaf, the untreated leaf surface served as a control. Each leaf and two female ALB were placed in separate 50-mL sealed tubes at 24 °C and 12-hour daylength for 48 hours, at which time the number of live adults, frass spots, and eggs were counted. Frass and egg data were recorded separately for treated and untreated sides of each leaf. The application of leaf wax solution had an impact on the level of frass and egg deposition by ALB in all genotypes. The effect was most pronounced when solution of resistant genotypes was placed on susceptible genotypes, resulting in lower numbers of frass spots and eggs. The solution alone had little effect on frass or egg numbers. This research acknowledges that a major constituent of an azalea's resistance or susceptibility to ALB is via epicuticular wax components.

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Marc W. van Iersel, Matthew Chappell and John D. Lea-Cox

The use of sensors can provide quantitative information to help guide and automate the decision-making process for irrigation. This article provides an overview of the most common sensors that can be used for this purpose. Such sensors include those that are commonly used for weather stations as well as sensors to monitor the water status of the soil or substrate, and sensors that can be used to monitor and troubleshoot irrigation systems. Although collecting data with sensors is relatively easy, data are only useful if the sensors are used correctly and the limitations of sensors are understood. Optimizing the value of the collected data requires selecting the best sensor(s) for a particular purpose, determining the optimal number of sensors to be deployed, and assuring that collected data are as accurate and precise as possible. We describe general sensing principles and how these principles can be applied to a variety of sensors. Based on our experience, proper use of sensors can result in large increases in irrigation efficiency and improve the profitability of ornamental production in greenhouses and nurseries.