Skip to main content
ARS Home » Midwest Area » Wooster, Ohio » Application Technology Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #308693

Title: Nutrient leaching from container-grown ornamental tree production

item Zhu, Heping
item ZONDAG, RANDALL - The Ohio State University
item MERRICK, J - Willoway Nursery
item DEMALINE, T - Willoway Nursery
item Krause, Charles

Submitted to: Journal of Environmental Horticulture
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/14/2015
Publication Date: 8/14/2015
Publication URL:
Citation: Zhu, H., Zondag, R., Merrick, J., Demaline, T., Krause, C.R. 2015. Nutrient leaching from container-grown ornamental tree production. Journal of Environmental Horticulture. 33(2):76-83.

Interpretive Summary: Because of vast varieties and species in nurseries, scientific guidelines are lacking for growers to improve their nutrition practices based on their specific production circumstance. Fertilizer practices with topdressing, incorporating liquid feeding methods can cause substantial labor cost and excessive nutrient drainage loss. To provide solutions to this problem, this research compared 16 fertilizer practices and nutrient applications by determining the tree growths and the amounts of nutrient leachate (N, P, K, EC, pH) for the Acer rubrum grown in above- or below-ground containers and irrigated with city water or recycled and buffered ponder water. The comparison also included fertilizer practices with ferti-gation and with the container substrate that had nutrients incorporated, top-dressed or both with two slow-release granular fertilizers. Test results demonstrated that shortening tree production time and saving labor costs with minimum nutrient leachate could be achieved by maximizing the one-year growth of container-grown trees through the optimal fertilizer practices.

Technical Abstract: Economically producing marketable container-grown ornamental shade trees with minimum amounts of nutrient leachate requires better management of nutrient applications during a growing season. Fertilizer practices with 16 treatments were used to test the nutrient leachate for growing Acer rubrum ‘Red Sunset’ trees in two commercial nursery fields that were irrigated with either city or recycled pond water. Two slow-release granular fertilizers (18-5-12 and 12-0-42) were applied separately or together, by incorporation, topdressed, or both, to a substrate for trees grown in 26 L (7 gallon) containers and placed above or below ground. Trees irrigated with pond water also received supplemental liquid nutrients throughout the growing season along with nitric acid. Compared to the practice with either topdressed or incorporation, the practice with the incorporation and topdressed together used doubled amounts of nutrients but did not increase tree growth and caused greater amounts of nutrients to leach through container substrates. Adding nitric acid along with supplemental liquid nutrients to container-grown tree productions had little effect on stabilizing pH value of container substrate during the growing season. Trees in the pond water field had greater caliper growth than trees in the city water field, but this practice caused greater amounts of nutrient leachate and required additional inputs with extra nutrients and labor costs throughout the growing season.