Water and nutrient transport dynamics during the irrigation of containerized nursery crops
Hoskins, Tyler Courtney
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Increased water- and fertilizer-use-efficiency in containerized crop production, via reduced water loss, enhances crop-available nutrients while reducing non-point source agrichemical contributions in accordance with regulatory standards. Previous studies detailed nutrient leaching patterns throughout crop production seasons, leaving little known about water and dissolved nutrient (solute) movement through soilless substrates during irrigation. The following experiments evaluated fundamental water and solute transport principles through pine-bark based substrates. 1) Ilex crenata Thunb. 'Bennett's Compactum' were grown in 2.7 L containers. Tensiometers detected wetting front (WF) movement throughout the substrate during irrigation. 2) Tracer solution (containing NO3-, PO43- and K+) and deionized water (DI) were applied to substrate-filled columns to characterize tracer breakthrough under saturated and unsaturated conditions. 3) Controlled-release fertilizer (CRF) was topdressed (surface-applied), incorporated (throughout substrate), dibbled (center of substrate) or not applied to fallow substrate, irrigated with DI and leachate analyzed to determine nutrient concentrations throughout irrigation. Tensiometers revealed that seasonal root growth affected substrate pre-irrigation moisture distribution. Wetting fronts channeled through the substrate before becoming thoroughly wetted. Tracer breakthrough occurred with less effluent volume under unsaturated conditions. Breakthrough of NO3- and PO43- was relatively conservative, though 37% of K+ was retained by the substrate. Leachate concentrations for topdressed and incorporated CRF peaked early (first 50mL effluent) before diminishing with continued leaching. Leachate concentrations for dibbled CRF initially increased (first 150mL leachate), plateaued and then diminished. These results show the relative rapidity which water and solutes move through pine-bark during irrigation and demonstrate methods for future research on within-irrigation solute transport.
- Masters Theses