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Switchgrass proves viable as nursery container substrate
Date:4/15/2010

would be difficult to adopt in the northeastern and midwestern United States where there are fewer forestry operations and softwood forest plantations. A potential answer to the pine bark shortage is switchgrass, a native grass grown throughout the U.S. for its biofuel potential. Grown in the upper Midwest where farmland is abundant, switchgrass offers high yields and shows potential as a replacement for pine bark for use in the nursery industry.

The researchers' objective was to document the suitability of locally grown switchgrass as the primary component in container nursery substrates with a short production-cycle woody crop. In the first experiment, substrates were composed of coarse-milled switchgrass amended with 0%, 30%, or 50% peatmoss and fertilized with 100, 250, or 400 mg/liter nitrogen from ammonium nitrate. In the second experiment, substrates were composed of coarse-milled or fine-milled switchgrass amended with 0% or 30% peatmoss and fertilized with the same nitrogen rates as in the first experiment. According to the research team, coarse switchgrass alone had high air space and low container capacity, while fine switchgrass had "physical properties more consistent with what is considered normal for nursery container substrates."

Tissue analysis of crops used in the experiments revealed that roses grown in switchgrass substrate for 7 to 9 weeks had 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. The researchers observed that roses have been reported to grow over a wide range of pH and are considered better suited to well-drained substrates. "Thus," they noted, "it is not surprising that roses in this study grew well."

Future experiments are planned to evaluate amendments to lower and stabilize pH, moderate physical properties, supplement addition
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Contact: Michael W. Neff
mwneff@ashs.org
703-836-4606
American Society for Horticultural Science
Source:Eurekalert  

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