Growth Response, Mineral Nutrition, and Water Utilization of Containergrown-Woody Ornamentals Grown in Biochar-amended Pine Bark
Basiri Jahromi, N., F. R. Walker, A. Fulcher, J. Atland, and W. C. Wright.  2018.  HortScience, 53(3):347–353. 2018.

Container-grown nursery crops generally require daily irrigation applications and potentially more frequent applications during the hottest part of the growing season. Developing management practices that make more efficient use of irrigation water is important for improving the sustainability of nursery crop production. Biochar, a byproduct of pyrolysis, can potentially increase the water-holding capacity and reduce water and nutrient leaching. In addition, the development of sensor-based irrigation technologies has made monitoring substrate moisture a practical tool for irrigation management in the nursery industry. The objective of this research was to determine the effect of switchgrass biochar on water and nutrient-holding capacity and release in container substrates of Buxus sempervirens L. 3 Buxus microphylla (‘Green Velvet’ boxwood) and Hydrangea paniculata (Pinky Winky hardy hydrangea). Containers were filled with pine bark and amended with 0%, 10%, or 25% volume of biochar. Plants were irrigated when the volumetric water content (VWC) reached the water-buffering capacity set point of 0.25 cm3·cmL3. The sensor-based irrigation in combination with the low cost biochar substrate amendment increased substrate water-holding capacity and reduced irrigation requirements for the production of hydrangea, a high water use plant. Biochar application rate influenced irrigation frequency, which likely affected plant biomass for hydrangea, but boxwood dry weight was unaffected by biochar rate. Total irrigation applied was decreased by 32% in 10% biochar treatment without reducing hydrangea dry weight. However, in the 25% biochar treatment, total irrigation applied was reduced by 72%, whereas dry weight decreased by 50%. Biochar application reduced leaching volume and leaching fraction in both plants. Leachate analysis over the course of the 8-week experiment showed that the average mass of phosphate (PO4), potassium (K), and total carbon was greater in the leachate from containers that received 25% biochar compared with those receiving 0% or 10% biochar for both plant species. For hydrangea, mass of total nitrogen (TN) and nitrate (NO3) in leachate was not significantly affected by increasing the biochar rate. However, for boxwood, the mass of NO3 and TN was greater in the 25% biochar treatment eachate, whereas the mass of ammonium (NH4) was unaffected. In hydrangea, total nutrients lost from the containers was lower in biochar-amended containers (both 10% and 25% biochar) because of receiving a lower total volume of water. Amendment with biochar also affected concentration of phosphorus (P) and K, with the highest concentration in both leaf tissue and substrate from the 25% biochar application rate.