Water and irrigation
It takes a lot of work – and a lot of water — to grow healthy trees and shrubs for Canada’s ornamental plant sector. The industry, which boasts approximately 3,500 nurseries across Canada, uses an estimated 190 million cubic metres of water every year.

But new research suggests this is two to three times more water than healthy trees need. And soon a new tool will be available to help nursery managers determine when to turn on–and turn off–the hose.

Jared Stoochnoff, a University of Guelph graduate student in the School of Environmental Sciences Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility, is pioneering a new irrigation management strategy designed to reduce water consumption and mitigate the environmental impact of ornamental nursery operations.

“Because many nursery irrigation managers lack reliable ways to quantitatively predict a plant’s actual water requirements, they tend to err on the side of caution and overwater,” Stoochnoff says. “This results in unnecessarily high water and fertilizer run-off that negatively impacts local watersheds.”

Stoochnoff’s team used high-tech sensor equipment to measure plant water status and quantify crop water stress tolerance thresholds. When they put those irrigation schedules based on actual requirements to the test, they reduced the nursery’s water use by 60 per cent without affecting the total growth or wholesale value of the crop.

“It’s not economically feasible to implement the equipment we were using at every nursery in Canada, but by characterizing the relationships between crop water stress levels, weather conditions and species-specific water stress tolerance thresholds, we’re now able to predict optimal irrigation frequency using onsite weather station data,” says Stoochnoff.

Stoochnoff wrote a prototype program that used onsite weather station data to predict plant water stress tolerance thresholds. Each time the threshold was reached, the program triggered irrigation and alerted Stoochnoff via text message. He was able to monitor the nursery’s current weather conditions and water use to date, and could even trigger irrigation directly from his cell phone if needed.

As a next step, Stoochnoff’s team will develop the program into an app that can be made available to a larger group of nurseries for testing. He says the program will be flexible depending on the nursery’s irrigation preferences.

“Once adopted by the nursery sector, this has the potential to conserve millions of litres of water each year and reduce the environmental footprint of ornamental nursery operations,” says Stoochnoff.

Financial support was received from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Canadian Nursery Landscape Association, Landscape Ontario, and The Gosling Research Institute for Plant Preservation. In-kind contributions of materials, labour and field site access were provided by Connon Nurseries, C.B. Vanderkruk Holdings, ICT International and Root Rescue Environmental.

This project was funded by Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. For more, visit AgInnovation Ontario
October 2017 – Preparation for painting my home office/study recently required a serious clearing out, and I undertook a somewhat enforced go-through of my filing cabinet. You know the feeling. (If you don’t, do it sometime, it’s pretty liberating. But be warned, it will take you much longer than you think!) Three drawers packed tight with technical crop information from the late ’80s onwards. (Now you see why it was liberating.)
July 26, 2017, Manitowoc, WI – For the last several years, Dramm has offered an online forum to allow customers to post questions and review prior questions and answers for any of our products.
June 12, 2017, St. Catharines, Ont. – Looking for the latest information on ornamental crop lighting, water treatment systems, labour management strategies and marketing to millenials?
July 28, 2016, Tel Aviv, Israel – Netafim, the global leader in smart irrigation solutions for a sustainable future, has released its 2015 Sustainability Report, which demonstrates how its 2020 Sustainability Strategy is aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)recently adopted by the UN.
August 2016 – It’s that time of year again already. Except it’s not! Level 1 water restrictions came into effect in Metro Vancouver on May 15, two weeks earlier than in previous years, the result of requiring Level 3 restrictions last summer for the first time since 2003.
March 23, 2016, Brampton, Ont. – Greenhouse growers may soon be tapping into new wastewater treatment systems.
February 2016 — Determining irrigation run times that minimize water use while sustaining optimal production is a difficult task for container nursery managers. The confined volume imposed by the container provides little buffer against under-watering and over-watering.  
Jan. 12, 2016, Whitby, Ont. — Want to learn more about aquaponics?
January 2016 — Well, well, well.
January 2016 — Growers in Canada know very well that natural winter light conditions are different than those in the fall, spring and summer. Sunlight is reported in many different ways. One can find total sunlight hours, light intensity during the seasons and light spectrum information. For example, I was looking at Edmonton, which is 53 degrees North latitude, and found the average of several years in terms of per cent sun, hours of sunshine and number of days. On an annual basis, the city has 2,345 hours of total sunlight and 325 days of sun.
Nov. 5, 2015, Gainesville, FL — A web-based irrigation system developed by researchers at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences saved 21 per cent in water use without reducing growth of container-grown landscape plants, a new study shows.
November 2015 — How effective is it? Many major municipalities throughout the world are using ozone water sterilization in their water treatment plants because ozone is a powerful disinfectant and leaves no chemical residue in the water.
October 2015 – I have written extensively on pH and electrical conductivity (EC) issues and management in bedding plants in Greenhouse Canada (March 2014 and earlier editions). Basically there are plants such as geraniums and impatiens, among others, that change the pH of the growing media towards the acidic side. However, plants such as petunias and calibrachoa, among many others, change the pH towards the alkaline side.
October 2015 – After the last “Inside View” editorial on fertilizer efficiency, a colleague in the supply industry wrote to me saying that “it is easy to put a smorgasbord [of nutrients] in front of the plants every day and let them choose what they want, instead of selectively giving them a balanced diet that doesn’t allow for overconsumption of certain fertilizers that outcompete others.”
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