Nurseries rely on soilless substrates to provide suitable growing media for container grown crops. These soilless substrates have been developed to readily drain water to prevent issues with waterlogging and associated soil-borne disease. A negative consequence of high porosity and subsequent drainage throughout the container profile is the required high or frequent irrigation rates with poor retention of applied nutrients. Substrates with relatively high levels of moisture and nutrient retention placed on top of a coarse and freely draining substrate could further optimize water and nutrient retention, while allowing for needed gas exchange for plant establishment and growth. Containerized Red Drift®
‘Meigalpio’ PP17877) plants were grown under 16 mm or 12 mm daily irrigation, utilizing a traditional pine bark substrate or stratified substrates with either a conventional bark, bark fines, or a bark–peat mixture on top of a coarse bark within a container. The stratified substrates received 20% less controlled-release fertilizer; however, the fertilizer in the stratified treatments was concentrated in the upper strata only. During the first growing phase or season, plants grown in stratified substrates outperformed those grown in conventional, non-stratified bark substrates under normal irrigation. The stratified substrates did not reduce growth under reduced irrigation regimes. Overall, crop growth was equal or superior for stratified substrates when compared to the non-stratified controls, even with a 20% reduction of fertilizer. This research suggests that stratified substrate systems can be used to reduce fertilizer and irrigation rates while producing crops of similar or superior quality to conventionally grown containerized crops.
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