The green industry has identified the use of biodegradable containers as an alternative to plastic containers as a way to improve the sustainability of current production systems. Field trials were conducted to evaluate the performance of four types of 1-gal nursery biocontainers [keratin (KR), wood pulp (WP), fabric (FB), and coir fiber (Coir)] in comparison with standard black plastic (Plastic) containers on substrate temperature, water use, and biomass production in aboveground nurseries. Locations in Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, and Texas were selected to conduct experiments during May to Oct. 2012 using ‘Green Velvet’ boxwood (Buxus sempervirens × B. microphylla) and ‘Dark Knight’ bluebeard (Caryopteris ×clandonensis) in 2013. In this article, we were focusing on the impact of alternative container materials on hourly substrate temperature variations and plant growth. Substrate temperature was on an average higher (about 6 °C) in Plastic containers (about 36 °C) compared with that in WP, FB, and Coir containers. However, substrate temperature in KR containers was similar to Plastic. Substrate temperature was also influenced by local weather conditions with the highest substrate temperatures recorded in Texas followed by Kentucky, Mississippi, and Michigan. Laboratory and controlled environment trials using test containers were conducted in Kentucky to evaluate sidewall porosity and evaporation loss to confirm field observations. Substrate temperature was similar under laboratory simulation compared with field studies with the highest substrate temperature observed in Plastic and KR, intermediate in WP and lowest in FB and Coir. Side wall temperature was higher in Plastic, KR, and FB compared with WP and Coir, while side wall water loss was greatest in FB, intermediate in WP and Coir, and lowest in plastic and KR. These observations suggest that the contribution of sidewall water loss to overall container evapotranspiration has a major influence on reducing substrate temperature. The porous nature of some of the alternative containers increased water use, but reduced heat stress and enhanced plant survival under hot summer conditions. The greater drying rate of alterative containers especially in hot and dry locations could demand increased irrigation volume, more frequent irrigation, or both, which could adversely affect the economic and environmental sustainability of alternative containers.
Susmitha Nambuthiri, Robert L. Geneve, Youping Sun, Xueni Wang, R. Thomas Fernandez, Genhua Niu, Guihong Bi and Amy Fulcher
Xueni Wang, R. Thomas Fernandez, Bert M. Cregg, Rafael Auras, Amy Fulcher, Diana R. Cochran, Genhua Niu, Youping Sun, Guihong Bi, Susmitha Nambuthiri and Robert L. Geneve
Containers made from natural fiber and recycled plastic are marketed as sustainable substitutes for traditional plastic containers in the nursery industry. However, growers’ acceptance of alternative containers is limited by the lack of information on how alternative containers impact plant growth and water use (WU). We conducted experiments in Michigan, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Texas to test plant growth and WU in five different alternative containers under nursery condition. In 2011, ‘Roemertwo’ wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei) were planted in three types of #1 (≈1 gal) containers 1) black plastic (plastic), 2) wood pulp (WP), and 3) recycled paper (KF). In 2012, ‘Green Velvet’ boxwood (Buxus sempervirens × B. microphylla siebold var. koreana) was evaluated in 1) plastic, 2) WP, 3) fabric (FB), and 4) keratin (KT). In 2013, ‘Dark Knight’ bluebeard (Caryopteris ×clandonensis) was evaluated in 1) plastic, 2) WP, and 3) coir fiber (Coir). Plants grown in alternative containers generally had similar plant growth as plastic containers. ‘Roemertwo’ wintercreeper had high mortality while overwintering in alternative containers with no irrigation. Results from different states generally show plants grown in fiber containers such as WP, FB, and Coir used more water than those in plastic containers. Water use efficiency of plants grown in alternative containers vs. plastic containers depended on plant variety, container type, and climate.
Tongyin Li, Guihong Bi, Genhua Niu, Susmitha S. Nambuthiri, Robert L. Geneve, Xueni Wang, R. Thomas Fernandez, Youping Sun and Xiaojie Zhao
The performance of biocontainers as sustainable alternatives to the traditional petroleum-based plastic containers has been researched in recent years due to increasing environmental concern generated by widespread plastic disposal from green industry. However, research has been mainly focused on using biocontainers in short-term greenhouse production of bedding plants, with limited research investigating the use of biocontainers in long-term nursery production of woody crops. This project investigated the feasibility of using biocontainers in a pot-in-pot (PIP) nursery production system. Two paper (also referred as wood pulp) biocontainers were evaluated in comparison with a plastic container in a PIP system for 2 years at four locations (Holt, MI; Lexington, KY; Crystal Springs, MS; El Paso, TX). One-year-old river birch (Betula nigra) liners were used in this study. Results showed that biocontainers stayed intact at the end of the first growing season, but were penetrated to different degrees after the second growing season depending on the vigor of root growth at a given location and pot type. Plants showed different growth rates at different locations. However, at a given location, there were no differences in plant growth index (PGI) or plant biomass among plants grown in different container types. Daily water use (DWU) was not influenced by container type. Results suggest that both biocontainers tested have the potential to be alternatives to plastic containers for short-term (1 year) birch production in the PIP system. However, they may not be suitable for long-term (more than 1 year) PIP production due to root penetration at the end of the second growing season.
Robin G. Brumfield, Alyssa J. DeVincentis, Xueni Wang, R. Thomas Fernandez, Susmitha Nambuthiri, Robert L. Geneve, Andrew K. Koeser, Guihong Bi, Tongyin Li, Youping Sun, Genhua Niu, Diana Cochran, Amy Fulcher and J. Ryan Stewart
As high-input systems, plant production facilities for liner and container plants use large quantities of water, fertilizers, chemical pesticides, plastics, and labor. The use of renewable and biodegradable inputs for growing aesthetically pleasing and healthy plants could potentially improve the economic, environmental, and social sustainability of current production systems. However, costs for production components to integrate sustainable practices into established systems have not been fully explored to date. Our objectives were to determine the economic costs of commercial production systems using alternative containers in aboveground nursery systems. We determined the cost of production (COP) budgets for two woody plant species grown in several locations across the United States. Plants were grown in plastic pots and various alternative pots made from wood pulp (WP), fabric (FB), keratin (KT), and coconut fiber (coir). Cost of production inputs for aboveground nursery systems included the plant itself (liner), liner shipping costs, pot, pot shipping costs, substrate, substrate shipping costs, municipal water, and labor. Our results show that the main difference in the COP is the price of the pot. Although alternative containers could potentially increase water demands, water is currently an insignificant cost in relation to the entire production process. Use of alternative containers could reduce the carbon, water, and chemical footprints of nurseries and greenhouses; however, the cost of alternative containers must become more competitive with plastic to make them an acceptable routine choice for commercial growers.