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Micronutrient availability from steel slag amendment in pine bark substrates

Altland, James E., Locke, James C., Zellner, Wendy L.
Journal of Environmental Horticulture 2016 v.34 no.3 pp. 67-74
Buddleja davidii, Pinus, Rosa, Sphagnum, bark, container-grown plants, containers, copper, dry matter accumulation, horticulture, industry, liming, nitrogen, nursery crops, nutrient availability, nutrient content, nutrient deficiencies, pH, phosphorus, potassium, shoots, shrubs, slags, slow-release fertilizers, steel, toxicity
Steel slag is a byproduct of the steel industry that can be used as a liming agent, but also has a high mineral nutrient content. While micronutrients are present in steel slag, it is not known if the mineral form of the micronutrients would render them available for plant uptake. The objective of this research was to determine if steel slag could be used as the sole micronutrient source for container-grown nursery crops. Butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii 'Pink Delight') and rose (Rosa 'Radrazz') were grown in #3 (3 gal) containers in a base substrate composed of pine bark and peatmoss (80:20, by vol). The base substrate was amended with the following treatments: with a complete controlled release fertilizer (CRF) including micronutrients (C-control), a substrate amended with a different CRF containing only N, P, and K along with a granular micronutrient package (M-control), and three additional treatments amended with the CRF (N, P, and K only) and either 1.2, 2.4, or 4.8 kg·m(-3) (2, 4, and 8 lb·yd(-3) of steel slag. Plants were harvested at 2 and 4 months after potting (MAP). None of the plants displayed any sign of nutrient deficiency or toxicity throughout the experiment. However, plants grown in the substrate amended with the highest slag rate [4.8 kg·m(-3) (8 lb·yd)-3)] had lower shoot dry weight (SDW) than both control groups. Substrate pH increased with increasing slag rate, which may have affected micronutrient availability in those substrates. Among the micronutrients analyzed, only Copper (Cu) was consistently deficient in both the substrate and foliar tissue of slag-amended treatments. Steel slag either does not provide a sufficient quantity of Cu or the concomitant increase in pH with increasing rates of steel slag renders Cu unavailable for plant uptake. Steel slag should not be used as the sole source of micronutrients for shrubs grown in pine bark-based substrates.