The Horticultural Research Institute (HRI) has announced the portfolio of research projects receiving funding in 2015. As previously announced, $382,000 will be provided to 15 projects to investigate solutions in the areas of horticultural production, pest management, environmental stewardship, and business and marketing. Combined with an additional $125,000 for four pollinator research projects funded through the special Bee & Pollinator Stewardship Initiative and $20,000 in scholarship awards, the Horticultural Research Institute is investing $527,000 in the industry’s future for 2015.

“Diverse, high quality research is imperative for the long-term advancement of the horticultural industry,” said Craig Regelbrugge, AmericanHort’s senior vice president, industry advocacy and research. “The projects that were selected for 2015 funding will produce innovation, guidance on best practices, and ultimately bring increased efficiencies, better stewardship, and new insights.”

Horticultural Research Institute president John Coulter (Fisher Farms, Gaston, OR) agrees. “Our only agenda is the success of the industry. Supporting projects where outcomes can impact the bottom line for horticultural businesses is the top priority for us, and I believe we’ve succeeding in selecting the best. After careful reviews by industry professionals and scientists, the most relevant projects with sound methods, materials, and measurables were selected for funding.”

HRI encourages investigators to seek out matching funds as part of the proposal application process. As a result, an additional $8.5 million in funds from other granting agencies exponentially increases HRI’s 2014 research investment.

The projects, which were classified by the primary investigators into varying categories of research (Fig. 1), benefit numerous segments of the horticulture industry (Fig. 2).

Dr. John Adamczyk, Jr. of the USDA-ARS Thad Cochran Southern Horticultural Laboratory in Poplarville, MS, will research the “Fate of Substrate-applied Neonicotinoids in Container Substrates for Commercial Nursery Crop Production.” Dr. Adamczyk will attempt to quantify neonicotinoid leaching in pine bark and whole pine tree substrates, the absorption of neonicotinoids in crops grown in pine bark and pine tree residual substrates under drip irrigation, and plant absorption of neonicotinoids in crops grown in pine bark and whole pine tree substrates under overhead irrigation. Total funding: $35,100

Dr. Carrie Reinhardt Adams at the University of Florida in Gainesville is studying “Alternatives to Invasive Plant Species for the Horticultural Industry in the Southeastern United States: Breeding Sterile Lantana spp. and Identifying Additional Candidates for Development of Sterile Cultivars.” This project aims to produce sterile, non-invasive Lantana cultivars as a suitable substitute for nursery production and landscape use. In the first year of the project, they will evaluate rooting ability of cuttings for propagation, plant growth, and visual quality during nursery production. Additionally, this project will identify which additional invasive ornamental species represent potential economically viable candidates for development of sterile cultivars. The development of sterile cultivars provides alternatives to invasive species while allowing growers to meet consumer demand for environmentally friendly products. Total funding: $24,000

Dr. James Altland at USDA-ARS in Wooster, OH is investigating “Weed Control with Rice Hulls.”This research will continue to develop rice hulls as a new tool for controlling weeds in propagation, greenhouses,enclosed structures, and herbicide-sensitive crops. Currently, weed control in container crops is primarily achieved with pre-emergence herbicides. However, pre-emergenceherbicides cannot be used on all crops, nor are they labeled for use in enclosed structures. This research will provide clarify on how and when rice hulls can be used for weed control in container crop production. Total funding: $15,000

Dr. Raul Cabrera at the Rutgers University Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Bridgeton, NJ, is studying the “Use of Alternative Irrigation Water Sources for Urban Landscapes and Nursery Crops.” Water availability and quality, and their management, are essential issues to the sustainability of the green industry. New regulations on water usage throughout North America mean that horticultural businesses need to consider the impending use of alternative and poor-quality irrigation sources and the BMPs that can lead to their successful and sustainable use while minimizing undesirable impacts to the surrounding environment. This project will evaluate the long-term effects of “gray water” irrigation on landscape plants and soils, while generating practical information to allow ornamental growers and landscape managers to effectively use and manage alternative irrigation water sources in their operations, sustain productivity and quality, and minimize undesirable effects. Total funding: $25,000

Dr. John Dole at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC, is continuing work on behalf of the American Society of Horticultural Science (ASHS) on “Promoting Horticulture: A National Study and Action Plan.” ASHS, in cooperation with Longwood Gardens, has initiated a national study and action plan that aim to improve public perceptions of horticulture, develop tactics to ensure that horticulture is part of the national education curriculum, and increase the number of well-trained horticulture employees, among other goals. Total funding: $15,000

Dr. Thomas Fernandez at Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI, is investigating “Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) for Nursery and Greenhouse Cost of Production, Logistics, and Decision Support.” The inability to provide real-time location information for container-produced plants has limited the ability to use precision agriculture methods in the production system since containers are frequently moved. RFID can provide real-time or near-real-time information to link production blocks, rows, and container beds to individual plants in container production systems. This project will determine the effectiveness of RFID for use in greenhouse container production and cut flower operations. Total funding: $40,000

Dr. Robert Geneve at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, KY, is working on “Optimizing Plant Growth and Water Use by Modifying Cyclic Irrigation Timing in Container Nursery Production.” This study will provide needed insights into the physiological response of plants to timing of cyclic irrigation and lead to recommendations on modifications to cyclic irrigation timing. Total funding: $15,000

Dr. Mengmeng Gu at Texas A&M in College Station will lead a project that aims to “Manage Crape Myrtle Bark Scale, An Exotic Pest.” This project will address a relatively new Eriococcid pest of crape myrtle, crape myrtle bark scale (CMBS), Eriococcus lagerstroemiae from Asia. Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia spp.) is a very popular landscape plant, with economic impacts for all segments of the green industry, including wholesale and retail nurseries, landscape professionals, and the end consumers. This project will investigate the effectiveness of a monitoring strategy and determine the efficacy of various control strategies (mechanical & chemical) to control CMBS. Total funding: $25,000

Dr. Helen Kraus at North Carolina State University in Raleigh is “Evaluating Controlled Release Fertilizers for Production of Herbaceous Perennials.” The project will result in recommendations for the best N:P:K ratio and N rate for the production of herbaceous perennials, determine if there is one best N:P:K ratio and N rate for all species or is N:P:K ratio and N rate dependent on species, and detail the influence of irrigation on growth and fertilizer efficiency. Total funding: $10,400

Dr. Genhua Niu at Texas A&M in El Paso will study “Ornamental Crop Responses to Irrigation with Reclaimed Water.” The goal of this project is to provide information on salinity tolerance for selected ornamental species and the best irrigation management practices when low quality water is used for irrigation. The research will help generate information that will allow growers to use and manage alternative irrigation water sources, and how to deal with salinity issues. Results from the proposed studies will help nursery & greenhouse growers and landscape managers appraise the potential benefits and risks to crop/plant growth and quality associated with an extensive use of alternative irrigation water sources. Total funding: $20,000

Dr. James Owen at Virginia Tech in Virginia Beach is “Rethinking Phosphorus Fertility in Container Nursery Production: Identifying the Fate and Lowest Rate of Phosphorus.” Increasing regulatory pressure throughout the United States challenges nursery producers to reduce non-point source contributions (namely N and P) to ensure they are in compliance with current and upcoming regulations. This project seeks to determine the optimal concentration of P needed in pore-water to produce saleable ornamental taxa in containerized crop production. Total funding: $18,000

Dr. John D. Vandenberg of the USDA-ARS in Ithaca, NY, is working on the “Control of Ambrosia Beetles and Their Symbiotic Fungi Using Biopesticidal Fungi.” The purpose of this study is to evaluate the use of specific fungal biological control agents against ambrosia beetles and their symbiotic fungi. This study could provide a novel use of a mycoparasitic fungus and possibly lead to new application strategies for targeting symbionts associated with other wood-boring insects. In addition, the fungal active ingredients in these products can replicate and persist after spray applications, offering the possibility of continued pest suppression. Total funding: $40,000

Dr. Jerry Weiland with USDA-ARS in Corvallis, OR, is “Evaluating the Impact of Root Rot Pathogens on Nursery Crop Health.” This research will assess the amount of damage caused by root rot pathogens (three Phytophthora and one Pythium species) to nursery crops and will develop chemical and cultural methods for disease management. Three of the pathogens included in this proposal have not been previously researched with respect to nursery crops. Results will allow growers to evaluate risks associated the presence of these pathogens in their production systems and will provide fungicide and cultural methods for growers to reduce that risk. Total funding: $20,000

Dr. Tom Yeager at University of Florida in Gainesville is studying “Leaching Fraction (LF) Used to Determine Irrigation Duration.” The objective of this research project is to evaluate an LF-monitoring protocol for irrigating plants grown in large containers at a commercial nursery in Florida. Results will guide irrigation scheduling for plants grown in large containers with directed, spray-stake micro-irrigation, and provide an economic assessment of the added cost of LF-monitoring versus any cost savings resulting from reduced water and pumping costs. A video describing the implementation and use of LF-monitoring to schedule irrigation will be produced and made available to help provide a reference for other nurseries to adopt LF-based irrigation scheduling for large containers. Total funding: $30,000

Dr. Heping Zhu at USDA-ARS in Wooster, OH, is continuing his work on the “Advancement of Spray Applications in Nurseries with Intelligent Spray Technology.” The primary goals of this research are to advance pesticide spray applications in nursery production with the new intelligent spraying technology, and to integrate this new technology into the regional and national Integrated Pest Management program. The specific objective of this project is to evaluate and compare the performances of the new intelligent sprayer and conventional constant-rate sprayers in terms of spray deposition quality inside tree canopies with different crop species and planting patterns, spray off-target losses on the ground and beyond target trees, and airborne spray drift and overspray possibility. Outcomes of this research will reduce more than 50% the amount of pesticides and spray volume used in nursery crops, reduce labor costs, save fuel, reduce the risk of worker exposure, and reduce the impact of environmental pollutions from excess pesticide application. Concomitantly, it will economically benefit environmentally conscious producers who use this strategic new technology.