Haywood County Nurseries Save Money by Monitoring Plant Nutrition

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Routinely checking pH, soluble salts, and nutrient levels via “pour-through” procedure should be an essential element for production and quality control in nursery crop production; however, it is routinely neglected by nursery growers either because of perceived time investment or from reliance on calendar-based fertilizer applications.

By monitoring pH and soluble salt levels in containers on a regular basis, optimal applications of fertilizers can be applied at the appropriate time, ensuring maximum uptake of nutrients, minimal leaching from containers, increased quality of plants, and money saved as a result of not over-applying fertilizers.

This was the 2nd year for pour-through monitoring for Haywood County nurseries, using data from 2020 to help build on decision-making steps for growers. Pour-throughs were conducted by the Horticulture Agent at 4 Haywood County nurseries in 2021: Haywood Landscapes, Rainbow, Cold Mountain, and Saturnia Farm; all 4 nurseries vary in their production practices and have varying degrees of expertise in the nursery industry. Extractions were taken regularly every 2 weeks at each nursery for high-value crops and recorded from April-October of 2021.

As a result of continued pour-through testing in 2021, regular updates on pH and nutrient levels were provided to each nursery throughout the growing season. For one nursery, poor growth in one of the highest-value crops resulted in reduced marketability for those plants. Because of earlier monitoring, Extension was able to make a specific and more timely recommendation for both granular and liquid fertilizers for that crop. Growth increased significantly and by the end of the sampling year, pour-through numbers had reached optimal levels for those plants, improving overall marketability.

Pour through extractions help nurseries monitor pH and nutrient levels. Photo credit: Anthony Lebude

For another nursery, concern over plant disease for a high-value crop was actually diagnosed as a nutrient deficiency, which we were able to determine via the pour through method. As a result, proper corrective actions were taken and we eliminated 4 unnecessary applications of fungicides. We were also able to eliminate a late-season application of fertilizer, which may have resulted in excessive plant growth at the wrong time of the year and increased the risk of frost damage (or crop loss) in the fall. Each nursery was also provided a customized analysis with recommendations for the following growing season.

The relationships with nurseries in Haywood County remained strong in 2021 as a result of regular testing at each location. Growers have more interaction with NC State Extension staff and greater access to more up-to-date production methods that can improve their businesses and the economy in Haywood County.

The nursery pour through method can help differentiate between nutrient/pH deficiencies and plant diseases. These gold mop cypresses are experiencing stress from low (acidic) pH and excess nutrients, not a disease. From a nursery in Eastern NC. Photo credit: Sam Marshall