For container nurseries, the costs of large infrastructure, nutrient usage, and water demands are significant. Careful management of these components is necessary for profitability. A computer-based decision tool for irrigation, fertilization, and container spacing has been developed to help answer management questions. This is a web-based tool that estimates the outcomes of various "what if" scenarios that nursery growers may wish to simulate.
Despite the ability of container substrates to provide suitable environments for root growth, container volume is very limited. As a result, frequent irrigation is a necessity. All irrigation systems must be calibrated regularly to ensure even and accurate water distribution. The predictive tool can help growers estimate the proper irrigation rate to maximize plant growth.
Nutrient holding capacity of container media is typically limited. In this context, frequent irrigation encourages nutrient leaching. There are several important factors relating to fertilizing containers:
The plant's water use must be considered to ensure efficient irrigation and quality plant production. This allows for maximum water savings by preventing water application when plants do not need additional water. Additionally, it enhances plant quality by applying water when they need it instead of when the next scheduled irrigation cycle arrives.
Spacing of containers is an important component that greatly impacts irrigation efficiency. Plant size and growth stage determine container spacing. Canopy interception of water can prevent irrigation from being deposited into the media. Thus, a high percentage of water is wasted. This percent waste increases as canopy size and density increase.
The predictive tool is able to map the amount of canopy interception that occurs as plant age and size increase.
This decision tool for container plant production can help managers make decisions that will enhance the nursery's bottom line. The benefits of this decision tool with regard to total profitability allow operations to:
After development of this decision tool is complete, we will provide further information on its use and web location.