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William R. Argo

Acceptable physical properties are an integral part of root-media quality. However, there is no one growing medium that works best in all situations because root-media physical properties are not constant, but rather can be affected by the grower. Understanding the root environment under production conditions requires an understanding of the dynamic nature of air : water : solid ratio in the medium. The objective of this review is to consider key aspects of root-medium physical properties, which include bulk density and particle size, container capacity, media settling, water absorption, rewettability, moisture release characteristics, and water loss due to evaporation from the root-medium surface.

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William R. Argo

Maintaining medium pH and nutrient concentrations at levels acceptable for growth are important for producing vigorous transplants in the shortest time. Medium chemical properties, such as cation-exchange capacity, aeration, liming materials, preplant fertilizer, irrigation-water sources, water-soluble fertilizers, and plant species, interact to affect medium pH and nutrient management. However, these chemical properties do not affect medium pH or the nutrient supply simultaneously or with equal intensity. The objective of this review is to consider key chemical properties of container media and their affects on pH and nutrient management initially and over time.

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William R. Argo and John A. Biernbaum

Subirrigated Easter lilies were grown in five commercially formulated root media using one water-soluble fertilizer applied independently to each medium based on water-holding capacity and water loss. The number of irrigations ranged from 12 to 20 and the amount of applied water ranged from 5.3 to 6.8 liters for the uncovered media treatments. When the root-medium surface was covered with an evaporation barrier, the average amount of applied water was reduced by 35% compared to the uncovered media. The largest effect on root media pH was between uncovered and covered media due to the reduced amount of water applied. Similar macronutrient concentrations were measured in the five media during the experiment with few exceptions. The greatest differences in nutrient concentrations were found within the pots. The top 2.5 cm (top layer) contained nutrient concentrations up to 10 times higher than those measured in the remaining root medium (root zone) of the same pot. Covering the root-medium surface with an evaporation barrier reduced the stratification of fertilizer salts. Root-zone soluble salt concentrations of plants in the covered pots were similar to those of uncovered plants even though 36% less fertilizer was applied to the covered plants.

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William R. Argo and John A. Biernbaum

Rooted cuttings of `Gutbier V-l 4 Glory poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima Willd. ex Klotzsch) were grown in 15-cm pots using two irrigation methods, two water-soluble fertilization schedules, and two preplant root-media fertilization rates. No difference in shoot growth occurred with either top watering with 33% leaching or subirrigation. The top 2.5 cm (top layer) contained nutrient concentrations up to 10 times higher than those measured in the remaining root medium (root zone) of the same pot with both irrigation methods. Constant applications of28 mol N/m3 water-soluble fertilizer (WSF) limited shoot and root growth as measured at 3 and 8 weeks compared to a weekly increase in the concentration of WSF from 0 to 28 mol N/m3 in 7 mol N/m3 increments over a S-week period. The additional incorporation of 0.27 kg·m-3 mineral N to Metro Mix 510 before planting had no effect on fresh- or dry-weight accumulation. When the root-medium surface was covered by an evaporation barrier, 46% less water and 41% less N fertilizer were applied to plants of similar size, and higher root-zone nutrient levels were maintained over the 8 weeks of the experiment. The evaporation barrier had the greatest effect on increasing root-zone nutrient concentrations and reducing the growth of subirrigated plants.

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William R. Argo and John A. Biernbaum

Hybrid impatiens (Impatiens Wallerana Hook. F.) were planted in a peat-based medium containing two dolomitic liming materials (1.8 kg Ca(OH)2·Mg(OH)2/m3 or 8.4 kg CaCO3·MgCO3/m3) and subirrigated for 17 weeks using four irrigation-water sources (IWSs) with varied bicarbonate alkalinity, Ca2+, Mg2+, and SO4-S content and three water-soluble fertilizers (WSFs) that contained (in mg) 200N-20P-200K/liter but a variable NH4: NO3 ratio, Ca2+, Mg2+, and SO4-S content. The factorial arrangement of the IWS and WSF resulted in a range of Ca2+, Mg2+, and SO4-S concentrations varying by a factor of 10. After 8 weeks, medium pH ranged from 4.5 to 8.5. The maximum critical medium pH for PO4-P uptake was 7.4 to 7.7, which probably was due to a change in most of the water-soluble P to the less-available HPO4 2- form. Lime type did not affect the long-term increase in medium pH, Ca2+, and Mg2+ concentrations with nutrient solutions containing low NH4 +-N and high Ca2+ and Mg2+. The carbonate lime buffered the medium pH and Ca2+ and Mg2+ concentrations with nutrient solutions containing high NH4 +-N and low Ca2+ and Mg2+ compared to that measured with the hydrated lime. With both lime types, there was a linear increase in tissue Ca and Mg as the applied concentrations of the various nutrient solutions increased from 18 to 210 mg Ca2+/liter and 7 to 90 mg Mg2+/liter. The relationship was similar for both lime types up to week 8, after which tissue Ca and Mg decreased more rapidly with the hydrated lime and low solution Ca2+ and Mg2+ compared to that of the same carbonate lime treatments. The minimum critical SO4-S concentration in the applied nutrient solution for plant uptake was 30 to 40 mg S/liter. Below this concentration, tissue S decreased rapidly; above, there was little effect on tissue S.

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William R. Argo and John A. Biernbaum

Using incubation and container culture with subirrigation for up to 28 days, three experiments were conducted with six liming materials of different particle sizes and six blended preplant nutrient charge (PNC) fertilizers. Liming material, particle size, and incorporation rate had an effect on the initial pH (3.5 to 6.1) and the final stable pH (4.8 to 7.8) with one type of Canadian sphagnum peat that did not contain an incorporated PNC. Saturated media extract (SME) Ca and Mg concentrations were <25 and 15 mg·liter-1, respectively, for both pulverized and superfine dolomitic lime at incorporation rates up to 7.2 kg·m-3. For the blended PNC fertilizers in media containing lime, initial electrical conductivity (EC) and SME nutrient concentrations ranged from (EC) 1.0 to 2.9 dS·m-1, (mg·liter-1) 60 to 300 N, 4 to 105 PO4-P, 85 to 250 K, 120 to 400 Ca, and 60 to 220 Mg. However, within two days, the rapid stratification of fertilizer salts within the pot caused macronutrient concentrations to increase in the top 3 cm of root medium (top layer) by an average of 180% and decrease in the remaining root medium in the pot (root zone) by an average of 57% compared to that measured in the medium at planting. Nutrient concentrations in the top layer continued to increase even when those in the root zone fell below acceptable levels recommended for an SME. The importance of fertilizer salt stratification within a pot lies in the reduced availability of nutrients to the plant and illustrates the limited persistence of the PNC fertilizers. Testing nutrients in container media several days after planting rather than in freshly mixed media may be more representative of the starting point for a nutritional management program.

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William R. Argo and John A. Biernbaum

`V-14 Glory' poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima Willd. ex Klotzsch) were grown in five root media using top watering with 20% leaching for 112 days. Root media with a high water-holding capacity required fewer irrigations and fertilizer applications than those with a lower water-holding capacity. However, similar amounts of water were applied and leached with both types of root media over the entire experiment. The reduction in the number of fertilizations was compensated for by an increase in the amount (volume) of fertilizer applied at any one irrigation. The greatest differences in root-media nutrient concentrations were found between the top 2.5 cm (top layer) and the remaining root medium within the same pot (root zone). After 58 days, when fertilization with water-soluble fertilizer (28.6N–0P–8.5K mol·m–3) was stopped, nutrient concentrations in the top layer were 3 to 6 times greater than those in the root zone for all five root media tested. For the final 42 days of the experiment after fertilization was stopped, nutrient concentrations in the root zone remained at acceptable levels in all root media. The nutrients contained in the top layer may have provided a source of nutrients for the root zone once fertilization was stopped.

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William R. Argo and John A. Biernbaum

Impatiens were planted into peat-based media containing two dolomitic liming materials [Ca(OH)2·Mg(OH)2 at 1.8 kg·m–3 or CaCO3·MgCO3 at 8.4 kg·m–3] and subirrigated for 17 weeks using four irrigation water qualities (IWQ) with varied alkalinity, Ca2+, Mg2+, and SO4-S content and three water-soluble fertilizers (WSF) with varied NH4:NO3 ratio, Ca2+, Mg2+, and SO4-S content. After 8 weeks, medium pH ranged from 4.5 to 8.5. Lime type did not affect the long-term increase in medium pH, Ca2+, and Mg2+ concentrations with IWQ/WSF solutions containing low NH4-N and high Ca2+ and Mg2+ concentrations. The carbonate lime did buffer the medium pH, Ca2+, and Mg2+ concentrations with IWQ/WSF solutions containing high NH4-N and low Ca2+ and Mg2+ concentrations. With both lime types, there was a linear increase in tissue Ca and Mg as the applied concentrations increased from 0.5 to 4.0 mol·m–3 Ca2+ and 0.3 to 3.0 mol·m–3 Mg2+ with the various IWQ/WSF. The relationship was similar for both lime types up to week 8, after which tissue Ca and Mg decreased with the hydrated lime and low solution Ca2+ and Mg2+. Relationships were also developed between the applied SO4-S concentration and tissue S and medium pH and tissue P.

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William R. Argo and John A. Biernbaum

Impatiens were grown in media containing either hydrated or carbonate dolomitic lime and subirrigated for 17 weeks with four irrigation water qualities (IWQ) and three water-soluble fertilizers (WSF). The WSF concentration was 14N–0.6P–5K mol·m–3 but contained either 50%, 25 %, or 3 % NH4-N. After 8 weeks, rootmedium pH ranged from 4.5 to 8.0. In general, the higher the percent NH4-N content of the WSF, the lower the root-medium pH, although there were significant interactions between IWQ and lime type with WSF on root-medium pH. With the same WSF, the concentration of NH4-N measured in the root media depended on root-medium pH. For example, with WSF containing 50% NH4-N, root-medium pH with the various IWQ ranged from 4.5 to 6.0, and media NH4-N ranged from 5.0 to 0.1 mol N/m3. Tissue N concentrations were higher with the higher NH4: NO4 ratio WSF at all four sampling dates. The effect of IWQ on tissue N resulted from the root-medium pH effects produced by the various IWQ/WSF combinations. Shoot fresh and dry weights were unaffected by the NH4: NO3 ratios in the WSF.

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John A. Biernbaum and William R. Argo

Impatiens were planted in media containing either hydrated or carbonate dolomitic lime and subirrigated for 17 weeks using four irrigation water qualities (IWQ) and three water-soluble fertilizers (WSF). Micronutrients (Fe, Mn, Zn, Cu, B, and Mo) were incorporated into all root media at planting with fritted trace elements (FTE 555) at 0.07 kg·m–3 and were added to all WSF treatments with a commercially available chelated material (Compound 111) at a constant 50 mg·liter–1. Root-medium pH obtained from the various IWQ/WSF solutions at 4, 8, 12, and 17 weeks after planting were used to determine relationships with shoot tissue micronutrient concentrations. Tissue Fe concentrations decreased linearly as root-media pH increased from 5.0 to 8.5. Below pH 5.0, the tissue Fe concentration increased at a rate indicating greater nutrient availability in the root medium. However, between pH 4.0 and 7.5, tissue Fe was within acceptable levels. A linear relationship also was found with tissue Zn and B, but without the rate increase below a pH of 5.0. Tissue Mn decreased to a minimum as the rootmedium pH increased from 4.0 to 6.0 and increased again as the root medium pH increased from 6.0 to 8.5. Tissue Mo concentrations increased as root medium pH increased. Tissue Cu concentrations were unaffected by medium pH.