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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: Production Management Research For Horticultural Crops in the Gulf South

Location: Southern Horticultural Research

Title: Direct seed germination methods for assessing phytotoxicity of alternative substrates

item Witcher, Anthony
item Blythe, Eugene
item Fain, Glen
item Curry, Kenneth
item Spiers, James

Submitted to: Southern Nursery Association Research Conference
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/15/2010
Publication Date: 8/15/2011
Citation: Witcher, A.L., Blythe, E., Fain, G., Curry, K., Spiers, J.M. 2011. Direct seed germination methods for assessing phytotoxicity of alternative substrates. Southern Nursery Association Research Conference. 56:397-402.

Interpretive Summary: Whole pine tree (WPT) substrates can be used for horticulture crop propagation and production, although optimum plant growth may require using increased fertilizer rates and/or storing substrates for a period of time before use. Phytotoxicity associated with chemical compounds in pine trees could also affect plant development. Seed germination and seedling growth experiments were conducted to determine their effectiveness for identifying potential phytotoxicity in WPT. This study demonstrated fresh pine needles negatively affected seed germination and initial root growth of sensitive plant species compared with aged pine needles, while such detrimental effects were less pronounced between aged and fresh WPT. The methods used in this study could be valuable for quickly assessing potential phytotoxicity of alternative substrates.

Technical Abstract: Reduced plant growth in wood-based substrates, compared with traditional substrates, has been overcome with increased fertilizer rates and by storing the material for a period of time. A variety of factors have been attributed to reduced plant growth in whole pine tree substrates including nitrogen immobilization, particle size distribution, and reduced cation exchange capacity. Phytotoxicity, associated with certain organic compounds found in pine trees, could be another contributing factor. In this study, a Phytotoxkit™ was used to evaluate seed germination and initial root growth of cress, mustard, and sorghum in aged and fresh whole pine tree substrates, aged and fresh pine needles, a reference soil, and a saline pine bark. A traditional seedling growth test was used to evaluate seedling root growth of lettuce and tomato in aged and fresh whole pine tree substrates, a peat-lite substrate, and a pine bark substrate. In the Phytotoxkit™ experiment, cress and sorghum germination percentage was lowest in fresh pine needles, while mustard had 100% germination in all substrates except saline pine bark (43%). The greatest root length for cress and sorghum occurred in aged whole pine tree, yet root length was greatest in fresh whole pine tree for mustard. In the seedling growth experiment, total root length was greatest in peat-lite and least in aged whole pine tree for tomato and lettuce. The Phytotoxkit™ provided the most sensitive test for phytotoxicity, although the seedling growth test could be used for a more practical assessment of potential phytotoxicity for alternative substrates under typical production practices. Future research will include a more complete chemical analysis of substrate treatments to identify potential phytotoxic compounds, and methods for overcoming such issues will be evaluated.

Last Modified: 10/19/2017
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