Nitrogen Fate and Transformations in the Production of Containerized Specialty Crops

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Virginia Tech


Nitrogen (N) fertilizer is a required mineral nutrient in containerized crop production that is necessary for crop growth and development. Due to production aspects, the N added to crops far exceeds the amount that the plant uses and such inefficiency results in adverse environmental impacts related to N gaseous and aqueous emissions from containers on the production site. Growers are responsible for optimizing nutrient usage in crop production. Three studies were conducted to investigate and better understand the fate of applied N fertilizers, the transformations associated with individual N sources, and the influence of substrate texture on losses of aqueous and gaseous N species. The first study conducted a mass balance looking at the four major avenues of N fate in an open-air container production setting (plant uptake, immobilized or bound N in a pine bark substrate, leached aqueous N, and gaseous emissions of N), the mass balance was speciated to measure applied and intermediary forms of N fertilizer species to provide insight into the overall fate of applied N. Show Off® Forsythia ×intermedia' Mindor' were grown using two control-release fertilizer (CRF) treatments [AN (ammonium-nitrate based) or UAN (urea ammonium-nitrate)] products. This study determined that 97% of the released N from the CRF treatments was lost via aqueous or gaseous pathways. The aqueous losses were inferred to be predominately composed of NO3-N, while the gaseous emissions were inferred to be predominately lost as inert nitrogen gas (N2). During a second experiment, individual N sources treatments [urea (CH4N2O), ammonium (NH4+), and nitrate (NO3-)] were applied to established containers of At LastⓇ Rosa x 'HORCOGJIL' grown in a pine bark substrate in either open wall high tunnel or a glass greenhouse to determine subsequent reaction sequence and fate based on applied N source. By applying an individual form of N it was determined that based on the N source applied, a sequential set of reactions occurs based on the N source. This study determined that the reactive N gaseous species occurred from the hydrolysis of CH4N2O-N to NH4+ and the nitrification of NH4+ to NO3- and then the denitrification of NO3- to N2. Hibiscus moscheutos' Vintage wine' was grown in either a coarse or fine texture substrate utilizing either a water-soluble fertilizer or a CRF to compare the influence of pine bark texture on N leachate losses and RN gaseous emissions. There were few differences between the two substrate texture treatments related to aqueous or gaseous N losses. In both experiments, the Hibiscus grown in the fine texture substrate resulted in higher above and below-ground biomass at experimental termination. Working with growers to develop best management practices will help to improve the use of N fertilizers and impact growers economically, while simultaneously reducing losses leading to less environmental impact on the areas surrounding production sites.



Containerized crop, control-release fertilizer, denitrification, nitrogen gasses, soilless substrate