Helping Flowers Fight
Plant pathologists Sally
Schneider and Jim Gerik display
a sample nylon mesh bag used
to hold weed seeds, fungal
spores, and nematodes. Several
bags are buried in each
20-gallon black plastic microplot
before test fumigants are applied.
|To form bright, beautiful blooms,
plants such as gladioli and roses need to be protected against diseases, weeds,
nematodes, and other natural enemies.
To provide that protection, growers often fumigate their fields before
planting. The fumigant of choice? Methyl bromide, one of American agriculture's
most widely used and most reliable farm chemicals.
In fields where blooms will be produced for the cut-flower market, growers
typically apply methyl bromide plus chloropicrin, a combination that zaps
soilborne pathogens and weed seeds.
Plant pathologists Sally Schneider and Jim Gerik display
a sample nylon mesh bag used to hold weed seeds, fungal spores, and
nematodes. Several bags are buried in each 20-gallon black plastic microplot
before test fumigants are applied. Inset: close-up of bag containing
|Methyl bromide is being phased out,
however, because of indications that it depletes Earth's ozone layer. The layer
shields usand other living thingsfrom harmful doses of ultraviolet
To help growers of cut flowers cope with the impending loss of this widely used
fumigant, ARS scientists in California
and their university colleagues are working with flower growers to test an
array of promising alternatives. The California Cut Flower Commission, based in
Watsonville, is helping coordinate the research.
Propargyl bromide is among the chemicals that might be used in place of methyl
"Even though propargyl bromide is not new," says ARS agricultural
engineer Thomas J. Trout, "little is known about it. And, it isn't
registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for use as a
Tim Brown (left) of Pajaro Valley
Greenhouses, Inc., Watsonville,
California, and ARS agricultural
engineer Tom Trout discuss methyl
bromide alternatives in a Monterey
| To find out more about this
fumigantfastthe U.S. Department of Agriculture recently allocated
more than $1 million to finance ARS and university research on the compound.
Trout, who leads the ARS Water Management Research Unit at Fresno, California,
is coordinator of a cluster of USDA-funded propargyl bromide studies, including
university investigations into its use as a preplant fumigant for floral crops.
Weed scientist Clyde L. Elmore and plant pathologist James D. MacDonald of the
University of California at Davis lead the floral crops experiments. Results
from tests they conducted in 2000 suggest that propargyl bromide or another
contender, iodomethane, does as good a jobor nearly soas methyl
bromide plus chloropicrin in quelling some of a flower's worst soil-dwelling
Steven Popp (left), grower
for Jim Rider Flowers,
Watsonville, California, and
Tom Trout examine healthy
| The Davis scientists
used 20-gallon, black-plastic nursery pots as single, self-contained microplots.
Sunk into the ground at test sites and filled with local soils ranging
from light sandy loams to heavy clays, the microplots nearly replicate
conditions in commercial growers' fields.
Elmore and MacDonald used more than four dozen of these microplots, in all, for
their experiment. The study is among the first to scrutinize, in microplots, an
assortment of fumigants as possible alternatives to methyl bromide plus
chloropicrin for cut-flower production.
Elmore and MacDonald installed the handy microplots at a test site near Davis,
in northern California. They also set up other plots about 180 miles southwest
of Davis, at coastal and inland sites near Watsonville. They used a syringe to
inject candidate fumigants into the soil, mimickingat a much smaller
scale, of coursegrowers' preplant fumigation of fields.
The researchers also buried, at various depths, small nylon bags containing
spores of a notorious, soil-dwelling microbe called Fusarium oxysporum;
seeds of weed pests such as field bindweed, little mallow, or common purslane;
or species of destructive, microscopic worms called nematodes.
Other sachets contained bits of reproductive material, called propagules, of
calla lilies or gladioli. Perhaps surprisingly to home gardeners, the
reproductive pieces are, according to Elmore, as much of a nuisance as weed
seeds. "If you leave some propagules behind in the field after you harvest
your crop, and don't kill them with a fumigant," he says, "they can
sprout later and will contaminate your new crop. They may also carry over
nematodes and pathogens to the next crop." Many home gardeners, in
contrast, welcome the proliferation and spreadcalled
naturalizationof their lilies and gladioli because it saves them the work
of planting new bulbs or tubers.
The researchers color-coded the little nylon bags for easy identification of
the contents later on. They equipped each sachet with a long, nylon cord for
easy removal of the bags at specially timed intervals during the experiment.
The team applied methyl bromide plus chloropicrin in the standard 67:33 mix
that growers of cut flowers use. In other microplots, they applied propargyl
bromide at various depths and at rates ranging from 25 to 150 pounds per acre,
iodomethane at 150 or 235 pounds per acre, or metam sodium at 320 pounds per
"Although results varied somewhat from site to site," reports Elmore,
"we found that either propargyl bromide or iodomethane, applied at
moderate rates, gave control that was nearly as good as methyl bromide. None of
the chemicals knocked out field bindweed or little mallow, but that's been the
case with methyl bromide plus chloropicrin, too."
Elmore and MacDonald are repeating the tests this year. Their findings, though
carried out in Californiathe nation's leader in cut-flower
productionshould also be useful in other states where cut flowers are
grown. In 2000, America's cut-flower crop had a wholesale value of more than
Related work may help growers of garden roses, the kind home gardeners buy at
the nursery as potted plants or as "bare-root" plants. Plant
pathologists Sally M. Schneider and James S. Gerik, also of the ARS Water
Management Research Unit, will start a new study this year at Jackson &
Perkins' commercial garden-rose farm in Kern County, and at an ARS research
site in Parlier, near Fresno. California growers in and around Kern County
produce more than 50 percent of the nation's garden roses.
Unlike the black-plastic microplots favored by the Davis team, Schneider will
use 18-inch-diameter, 4-foot-long concrete pipes, turned on end and set into
the ground, for her microplots. Her experiment targets harmful
nematodesin particular, root-knot nematodes. They feed on roots, robbing
roses of vital carbohydrates. And the nematodes cause galls to form on roots.
Galls interfere with the roots' ability to take up water and nutrients from the
Schneider plans to experiment with iodomethane plus chloropicrin and propargyl
bromide applied through drip irrigation or injected directly into the soil and
with drip-applied sodium azide, chloropicrin, InLine (Telone plus
chloropicrin), and furfural compounds.
"Our research," Schneider says, "will help nurseries supply
pest-free plants for home gardens."By
Wood, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.
This research is part of Methyl Bromide Alternatives, an ARS National
Program (#308) described on the World Wide Web at http://www.nps.ars.usda.gov.
Thomas J. Trout, Sally
M. Schneider, and James S. Gerik
are in the USDA-ARS Water
Management Research Unit, 2021 S. Peach Ave., Fresno, CA 93727;
phone (559) 453-3101, fax (559) 453-3088.
"Helping Flowers Fight Soil-Dwelling Foes" was published in
2001 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.