An integrated approach to developing nutrient management schemes for container-grown nursery crops

2007 Annual Report for LNE07-265

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2007: $106,562.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: Northeast
State: New Jersey
Project Leader:
Dr. John Dighton
Rutgers Universuty
Gladis Zinati
Rutgers, The State University

An integrated approach to developing nutrient management schemes for container-grown nursery crops


Nursery, greenhouse, and sod production ranked number one among agricultural commodities in the last seven years in New Jersey. Nursery growers are under scrutiny due to excess use of fertilizers and excess nutrient losses to the environment. To develop methods that improve plant production while reducing nutrient loading into runoffs, we have developed a research study in May 2007 to assess the use of naturally-occurring mycorrhizal fungi in increasing nutrient uptake, improving plant biomass, and reducing nutrient losses under three types of controlled-release fertilizers (Polyon, Osmocote, and Nutricote) when applied to oak, azalea, and thuja seedlings. These fertilizers were used at the lowest recommended rate. Preliminary results showed that mycorrhizal inoculated oak plants were higher in plant dry biomass irrespective of fertilizer type. Nutrients such as nitrate and phosphate in leachates were higher in osmocote than other two fertilizers especially during the first quarter of the growing season. More data are collected and more analyses are underway. The uses of mycorrhizae and their advantages in growing nursery crops were presented during the two annual meetings, field day, plant evaluation session, and one-on-one visitations. Project objectives and sponsorship of the project were shared with around 1,000 people including nursery stakeholders, landscapers, contractors, and Rutgers students through newsletters, newspapers, radio programs, annual nursery growers meetings, bulletins, flyers, and announcements that were posted on Rutgers New Jersey Experimental Station calendar and New Jersey county websites. Further activities in 2008 will include hands-on workshop for 50 growers to demonstrate the use of naturally-occurring mycorrhizae, inoculation, pros and cons of using fertilizers with mycorrhizae, collecting and sampling leachates, demonstrating effective tools to measure these leachates. In spring of 2008, seven nursery operators will conduct on-site studies that demonstrate the use of the integrated approach of using mycorrhizae and fertilizers for selected plants species. Further results will be compiled and a survey will be prepared in 2009 to follow up on the use and application of this approach.

Objectives/Performance Targets

The primary outcome of this project will be to develop nutrient management schemes that reduce nutrient loading and improve nursery crop quality. Information gained through this project will be presented during field days, a one-day short course, newsletters, reports, and conferences.

Milestone 1: At least 100 nursery growers will be exposed to the benefits of the integrated nutrient management approach during field days and annual nursery growers meeting.

Milestone 2: Out of 100, 50 nursery growers will attend the one-day short course to further their understanding on the uses of fertilizers and mycorrhizae and have hands on experience on techniques used for inoculation and monitoring of leachates.

Milestone 3: Out of 50 nursery growers, 6 will be selected to test and verify the best treatments found in year’s one study. The growers will inoculate selected plant species and amend it with commonly used fertilizer. They will monitor plant growth and leachates.

Performance target: Twelve nursery growers will implement and integrate nutrient management schemes in container nursery production practices after the third year of the project and continue to use these methods to increase sustainability of nursery production, profitability and protection of the environment. These 6 nursery growers will be the nucleus to demonstrate the practical application of mycorrhizae and exemplary stewards for their community.


Milestone 1: At least 135 nursery growers were exposed to the benefits of the integrated nutrient management approach during the nursery field day, two state-wide annual nursery growers meetings, demonstrations, handouts, and newsletters.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Nursery growers and landscapers are increasingly aware of the challenges of nutrient management and the approaches to reduce nutrient leaching through the integration of mycorrhizal fungi association and reduction of fertilizer uses to improve nutrient uptake and plant quality.
Nursery growers were involved in the planning, execution, and collaboration on this project.

The first annual meeting and the field demonstration took place at the Fruit and Ornamental Research Center, Cream Ridge, NJ during the summer of 2007; the other annual meeting took place at the RCE Cumberland County office, Cumberland, NJ during the fall of 2007. The two meetings and the field demonstration were very well received, with approximately 135 attendees. These educational sessions provided the background and the concepts of using mycorrhizae to reduce fertilizer use and the plant species that can be used with these mycorrhizae. The integrated approach seemed very appealing to the nursery growers and became more interested in learning about its application to reduce nutrient runoffs. Preliminary results were shared with the nursery growers and landscapers at these meetings. Handouts were distributed at these meetings as well. Before harvesting the nursery crops under study, nursery growers were invited to evaluate nursery crops for plant height, width, canopy, greenness of leaves, shape of plants, and caliper.

NJNLA sent two broadcast faxes and reached 1200 people including NJNLA members, active, allied, and complimentary. The aims and the sponsorship of this granted project were announced at the two state-wide annual nursery meetings, south Jersey landscape conference, NJNLA annual dinner reaching 300 attendees. Announcements about the granted project, objectives, and meetings were listed in PPA-ornamentals newsletter, Gloucester Grower News, NJNLA newsletter, county meetings, Country Folks Growers, the Mid Atlantic Growers, Cultivating Cumberland -county newsletter, personal visits, mailing that reached over 500 people, articles transmitted to 10 newspapers, 2 radio stations, Rutgers NJAES website (internal and public calendars), and emails to 6-8 county offices with agents who have some nursery responsibilities.

In 2008 we will arrange for a workshop for nursery growers and continue to present results of the project and the benefits of this proposed system at the upcoming NJNLA 2008 Trade Show - the educational sessions, south Jersey Nursery meeting, invited talks at Cornell Cooperative Extension, and at the Christmas Tree Association Annual meeting.

On-site studies at selected seven nursery operations will be initiated in spring of 2008 to test the system under nursery setups.