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  • Author or Editor: Paul C. Bartley III x
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The physical, hydrological, and physico-chemical properties of horticultural substrates are influenced by particle shape and size. Sieve analysis has been the predominate method used to characterize the particle size distribution of horticultural substrates. However, the literature shows a diversity of techniques and procedures. The effects of agitation time and sample size on particle size distributions of soilless substrates were evaluated for several measures of sieve analysis, including sieve rate (a calculation of the percentage of material passed for each unit time of agitation), distribution median, sd, mass relative span, skewness, and kurtosis. To obtain the standard sieve rate (0.1%/min), pine bark, peat, perlite, and coir required agitation times of 4 minutes and 47 seconds, 7 minutes and 18 seconds, 10 minutes, and 11 minutes, respectively. However, there was concern that unwanted particle breakdown may occur during the particle size analysis of some materials. Therefore, a sieve rate (0.15%/min) for more friable materials was also determined. As a result, the endpoint of sieving was reached sooner for pine bark, peat, perlite, and coir, at 3 minutes and 10 seconds, 4 minutes and 42 seconds, 5 minutes and 14 seconds, and 6 minutes and 24 seconds, respectively. Increasing agitation time resulted in decreased distribution median, sd, and skewness for all materials. Sample sizes half and twice the volume of the recommended initial volume sieved did not change particle size distributions. For more precise characterization of particle size distributions when characterizing substrate components, agitation times and sample sizes should be specified for each material or collectively for all materials to ensure consistency and allow comparisons between results.

Open Access

The heterogeneity of horticultural substrates makes basic physical characteristics, such as total porosity and particle density, difficult to estimate. Due to the material source, inclusion of occluded pores, and hydrophobicity, particle density values reported from using liquid pyknometry, vary widely. Gas pycnometry was used to determine the particle density of coir, peat, perlite, pine bark, and wood substrates. Further precision was examined by gas species and separation by particle size. The calculated particle densities for each material determined by He, N2, and air were relatively constant and varied little despite the species of gas used. Particle size affected the measured particle density of perlite and pine bark but was minimal with coir, peat, and wood. Reducing the particle size removed more occluded pores and the measured particle density increased. Given the small variability, the use of particle density values obtained by gas pycnometry provides repeatable, precise measurements of substrate material total porosity.

Open Access

The ability of a substrate component (organic or inorganic) to capture and retain water (hydration and wettability) is important to investigate and promote water-use–efficient practices. Many factors may play a role in the wettability of the material, including the processing of the material and its initial handling. The goal of this experiment was to determine the effect of moisture content (MC) on the sorptive behavior of substrates after an initial and secondary hydration cycle. Coir, peat, and aged pine bark were evaluated at a 33%, 50%, and 66% MC by weight. At all moisture levels, coir and bark were minimally affected by MC or the initial hydration cycle. Peat was the most vulnerable to changes in sorptive behavior as a result of wetting and drying cycles. After a wetting and drying cycle, the maximum volumetric water content of peat from surface irrigation was reduced 21.5% (volumetrically), more than three times any other treatment. The hydration efficiency of peat was improved when blended with as little as 15% coir. These experiments provide evidence that MC and initial handling of the substrate can lead to differences in initial water use efficiency.

Open Access

Two commonly used management practices for weed control in container plant production are hand pulling and herbicide applications. There are problems associated with these methods including crop phytotoxicity and environmental concerns associated with off-target movement of herbicides. Other nonchemical weed control methods could reduce herbicide-based environmental concerns, mitigate herbicide-resistance development, and improve the overall level of weed control in container nursery production. Readily available tree-mulch species, eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), ground whole loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense), and sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) were harvested, chipped, and evaluated at multiple depths with and without the herbicide dimethenamid-p. Pine bark mini-nuggets were also evaluated. Mulches were applied at depths of 1, 2, and 4 inches and evaluated over three 30-day periods for their effectiveness in suppressing spotted spurge (Chamaesyce maculata), long-stalked phyllanthus (Phyllanthus tenellus), and eclipta (Eclipta prostrata). After 30 days, herbicide/mulch combinations, as well as mulch treatments alone, had reduced weed fresh weight 82% to 100% with 1 inch of mulch. By 168 days after treatment, dimethenamid-p had lost all efficacy, and mulch depth was the only factor that still had significant effects, reducing spotted spurge fresh weight by 90%, 99.5%, and 100% with depths of 1, 2, and 4 inches, respectively. The economics of mulch weed control will depend on variables such as available time, nursery layout, location, and availability of resources, equipment, among others. Regardless of variable economic parameters, data from this study reveals that any of these potential mulch species applied at a depth of at least 2 inches will provide long-term weed control in nursery container production.

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