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Use of Switchgrass as a Nursery Container Substrate

Altland, James E., Krause, Charles
HortScience 2009 v.44 no.7 pp. 1861
Panicum virgatum, Rosa, Pinus taeda, ornamental woody plants, nursery crops, container-grown plants, growing media, ammonium nitrate, particle size, nitrogen fertilizers, fertilizer rates, pH, bark, physical properties, nitrogen content, buffering capacity, crop quality
Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) bark is the primary component of nursery container substrates in the eastern United States. Shortages in pine bark prompted investigation of alternative substrates. The objective of this research was to determine if ground switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) could be used for short production-cycle woody crops. Two experiments were conducted using ‘Paprika’ rose (Rosa L. ‘ChewMayTime’) potted in 15-cm tall and wide containers. In Expt. 1, substrates were composed of coarse-milled switchgrass (processed in a hammermill with 1.25- and 2.5-cm screens) amended with 0%, 30%, or 50% peatmoss and fertilized with 100, 250, or 400 mg·L–1 nitrogen (N) from ammonium nitrate. In Expt. 2, substrates were composed of coarse-milled (similar to Expt. 1) or fine-milled switchgrass (processed through a single 0.48-cm screen), amended with 0% or 30% peatmoss, and fertilized with the same N rates as in Expt. 1. Summarizing across both experiments, coarse switchgrass alone had high air space and low container capacity. Fine switchgrass had physical properties more consistent with what is considered normal for nursery container substrates. Switchgrass pH was generally high and poorly buffered against change. Fine switchgrass had higher pH than coarse switchgrass. Tissue analysis of rose grown in switchgrass substrate for 7 to 9 weeks revealed low to moderate levels of calcium and iron, but all other nutrients were within acceptable ranges. Despite varying substrate physical properties and pH levels, all roses at the conclusion of the experiment were of high quality. Switchgrass processed to an appropriate particle size and amended with typical nursery materials should provide a suitable substrate for short production-cycle woody crops.