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Sueyde F. de Oliveira, Paul R. Fisher, Jinsheng Huang and Simone da C. Mello

The objective of this study was to compare strategies using water-soluble fertilizers (WSF) and controlled-release fertilizers (CRF) to provide adequate nutrition during both production and consumer phases of petunia (Petunia ×hybrida). Strategies included a CRF with a second prill coating (DCT) that delayed initial nutrient release, compared with a conventional single-coated CRF (OSM) and WSF. Rooted cuttings of petunia were grown for 42 days in trade 1-gal (2.84-L) containers (the “production phase”) with WSF only, a low rate of combined WSF and substrate-incorporated OSM, or low and high label rates of WSF and top-dressed (TD) OSM (WSF + OSM TD), WSF and substrate-incorporated DCT (WSF + DCT), OSM, or a commercial blend of substrate-incorporated OSM and DCT (OSM + DCT). By the end of production phase after 42 days, all fertilizer strategies tested produced horticulturally acceptable plants in terms of chlorophyll index and number of flowers. In a subsequent “consumer phase,” plants were maintained in containers or were transplanted into a landscape and irrigated with clear water for 98 days. Plant performance [number of flowers, SPAD chlorophyll index, dry weight, and tissue nitrogen (N) level] was greater during the consumer phase in treatments with high rates of CRF compared with WSF only or lower rates of CRF. On the basis of nutrient release in a sand substrate without plants at 10, 21, or 32 °C, the DCT had delayed nutrient release compared with single-coated CRF. The release rates of all CRF products and the duration of the delay in release from DCT were temperature dependent. A partial budget found that the lowest cost treatment was WSF only at $0.02/container. Comparing at high application rates, using WSF + DCT ($0.085/container) was more expensive than incorporated OSM ($0.05/container) and had a similar cost to WSF + OSM TD ($0.084/container). The greatly improved consumer performance for plants with residual fertilizer compared with WSF provides an opportunity to add value and profitability if a slightly higher sales price could be obtained. Several fertilizer strategies are available depending on material and labor cost and availability and preferred crop management style.