I come from a rural area of the Yakima valley in Washington State. I had the unique privilege of growing up as a part of a family hop farm and was surrounded by agriculture from birth. It may come as no surprise that this led me to pursue a career in agriculture, specifically horticultural plants. Throughout my younger years I spent a lot of my spare time working on my family’s farm and in other agricultural companies around the valley. Once I graduated from high school, I knew that I wanted to further my education, which led me to Washington State University in Pullman, Washington.
At WSU I majored in agricultural biotechnology and minored in horticulture. While in Pullman, I also was a part of the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity which, being a professional as well as social fraternity, connected me with many people from similar backgrounds and with similar interest in agriculture. During my undergrad I was exposed to many subjects, specifically pertaining to plant genetics, molecular biology, and sustainability. I went into my undergrad years with the original intent of going into plant breeding but, throughout my time, my interests did shift. While I still am, and always will be, interested in plant breeding and genetics, I found myself gravitating more to classes involving sustainable production and plant physiology.
During my undergrad, I also held jobs that gave me great experience and helped to shape the direction of my life. While at school, I worked with a professor who was working on technology to improve the sustainability of irrigating wine grapes. This gave me more perspective on how we can, as agriculturists, improve water use and moved my focus closer to sustainable production. I also, starting in 2020, would spend my summers as a lab tech in the tissue culture and genetics lab at Yakima Chief Ranches, a hop breeding and brand management company. This was a young program, and I was presented with many opportunities to assist in the development of protocols and to design experiments of my own. When I graduated from WSU with a B.S. in integrated plant sciences, my experience working with YCR led them to ask if I would oversee the commercial micropropagation of virus and viroid free plants. A request which I gladly accepted.
I knew when I took the lab management position at YCR, that I wanted to pursue a graduate degree. Because of this, we designed the position as a temporary appointment in which I would essentially create the foundational policies, procedures, and management practices which I could then hand off to those that came after me. This leads me to my search for a graduate program and my decision to go to Oregon State University. I decided to pursue a master’s degree in horticulture with Dr. Lloyd Nackley as my advisor. Having just started, I am still getting my feet under me, but I am very excited to be learning more about the world of nursery production and the physiological responses of plants to stress. Someday I hope to go back to the hop industry and bring new perspectives and ideas with me.
Roots, Shoots, and Sky-High Science and Extension: Our dedicated team has actively engaged in research and extension events this year that offer valuable insights into plant ecology and climate change adaptation.
Field Research: Graduate student Scout Dahms-May led extensive research into how ornamental shrubs respond to drought conditions. Her dedication shone through as she ventured into the field for pre-dawn plant water potential assessments, sharing the experience with hot air balloonists and the local coyotes. Our excellent undergraduate students, along with the new graduate student, Josh Perrault, played a pivotal role in the research by meticulously measuring the leaf area of over 100 plants. Their hard work serves as a testament to the commitment of students pursuing cutting-edge agricultural research.
Extension: Standout events this season included an impressive demonstration of sprayer drones. Visitors had the opportunity to witness these cutting-edge technologies in action, gaining insights into how they can be used in modern agriculture and horticulture.
Another highlight was a grand field day that showcased the spirit of collaboration at NWREC, involving students, staff like Brent Warneke, Dalyn McCauley, and Clint Taylor from the Nackley Lab, as well as guest appearances by experts, including Dr. Rebelo, a visiting scholar from South Africa, and Dr. Wiman, Orchards Program Leader, and Dr. Yang, a Blueberry Extension Specialist. This summer, NWREC demonstrated its position as a hub of research, learning, and community engagement, driven by our shared commitment to advancing the field of plant science.
Kym Pokorny published this fantastic write up on the goings-on for the Climate Ready ornamental plant study we’ve been working on for the last few years – check it out here or click below the image to read more!
Unlocking Nature’s Water Secrets for Greener Futures, Part 1
TL;DR Plant hydraulics unravels the journey of water within plants, aiding tree health, nursery production, urban forest management, and climate resilience. 🌿🌿
Last month, we delved into the fascinating world of soil hydraulics, exploring how water moves beneath our feet. In this post, we’re staying within the realm of water movement but shifting our focus to a different dimension of nature – plants. Prepare to journey through the intricate pathways of plant hydraulic physiology, where we uncover the secrets of how trees and other woody plants manage water, adapt to challenging conditions, and ultimately contribute to a greener, more sustainable world.
Plant hydraulic physiology is all about how water moves through plants. Scientists study this to understand how trees and other woody plants react when they have enough water or not enough. This knowledge helps us figure out how different ways of growing plants in nurseries affects their growth. People have known for a while that this field is important for plants in forests. But now, thanks to recent discoveries by this lab and others, this amazing field of science is being applied to nurseries and other horticultural production systems. In this summary, I will explain the basic ideas about how water moves through plants , how it connects to their structure and how they work. With this knowledge, scientists, nursery workers, and people who care for forests can ensure they grow strong, healthy trees that can handle harsh conditions when planted outside.
UNDERSTANDING WATER MOVEMENT IN PLANTS Let’s start by talking about how water moves in plants. Imagine it’s like water moving through a hose in your garden. We can measure this flow of water using something called “flow rate,” which is just how much water moves in a certain amount of time.
We use units like gallons per minute or liters per minute to measure it. For example, think about a water hose in your garden. If you want to know how much water it sprays out in a minute, that’s its flow rate. Now, here’s something interesting: the size of the pipe or hose matters. A big hose can let a lot more water flow through than a tiny one. In fact if you double the diameter of a hose it can allow 4 times the flow of the smaller diameter hose. Plants have tiny water pipes called “xylem.”
XYLEM CONDUCTANCE Okay, now let’s talk about “conductance.” Think of it as how easy or hard it is for water to move through something. For plants, this refers to how easily water can travel through their pipes. We usually keep the pressure the same, like when you use a hose with a constant water pressure. This helps make sure the plants get water evenly. Lastly, there’s something called “conductivity.” It’s like a fancy version of conductance but scaled to the size of different parts of the plant. It helps us compare how different parts of the plant move water. For example, we might want to know how water moves through the stem compared to the roots.
Now, here’s where it gets cool: in plants, water doesn’t get pushed like in your garden hose. It gets pulled up by something called “tension.” This happens because plants lose water from their leaves when it evaporates. Imagine a plant sipping water through a straw from the soil. When the water evaporates from the leaves, it creates tension, like a vacuum pulling water up the plant. This is how water can move up the tallest trees. So, we measure something called “water potential” to understand this tension. It tells us how much “pull” the plant has on the water. When there’s a difference in water potential between different parts of the plant, it’s like a driving force that makes water move from where there’s less pull to where there’s more. This helps water move up from the roots to the leaves, even against gravity. We call this whole process the “Soil-Plant-Atmosphere Continuum,” but you can just think of it as how plants drink water.
And that’s the basics of how water moves in plants!
Regardless of temps in the high 80’s this week – !! – the season is wrapping up in the Nursery Program. We’ve had some notable events in these last few weeks, and we’re deep into planning our Fall/Winter workshops to keep up with the area growers and ever-evolving changes in the industry.
Climate-Ready Landscape Plants Field Day 2023 hosted almost 30 volunteer participants in the north plots on the farm to assess the overall hardiness and beauty of ornamental varieties in various levels of drought.
Even under the threat of record high temperatures, Master Gardeners from all over NW Oregon arrived, as well as industry supporters, to enjoy the beautiful flowers and the misted tents. The OSU Nursery Program is part of a larger study on Climate-Ready Plant Trials throughout the Western US.
OTF STEM Teacher Training was led on the NWREC farm by the OTF STEM (On the Farm Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Facilitators as a part of a larger tour including several farms and programs, including the Horticulture Program at OSU. Dalyn and Lloyd spent time with High School teachers from Oregon and Washington, demonstrating soil moisture sensors – both volumetric and tensiometer informed. In teaching the teachers, our program is better able to explain somewhat difficult material in a manner that makes it accessible at different levels of education and application. For example, Dalyn explained the differences between soil water holding capacity and plant-available field capacity and finding the permanent wilt point- the point at which plants in the soil will wilt, and can’t recover when water is re-supplied.
Lloyd discussed vapor pressure deficits, or the effect of air temperature in drying plants, in relationship to atmospheric demand and plant responses to drought.
Says Dalyn, “It’s really good for us and these teachers to meet like this to exchange ideas. Audience work isn’t usually part of a grant in Agriculture, but getting this information into classrooms helps to promote environmental sciences.”
Drone Applications for Farm and Field kicked off our Smart Spraying seminar series, and was well attended here at the NWREC farm with over 50 participants on a cloudless fall day. NWREC’s Kristie Buckland opened the workshop with current research for uses of drone technology in application for smaller farms, followed by Andrea Sonnen of the ODA presenting on the regulations and requirements for aerial applicator licensing.
We were happy to host Timothy King from Ag Drones West as he provided information about the DJI T40 Sprayer System and gave a spectacular show demonstrating both liquid and granular applications in one of our unused fields.
This series continues in December with our second workshop titled “The ‘I’ in ‘IPM’: Integrating Approaches to Pest Management”.
Please visit ourEVENTSpage for information on upcoming workshops!
When: Oct 4, 2023 12:00 PM Pacific Time (US and Canada)
Topic: Crop Pollination in Hydroonic Systems
Hydroponic production systems can be used to produce high value specialty crops year round. However, many of these crops would typically require bee pollination in open-field situations. This webinar will cover the basics of greenhouse crop pollination, including how best to manage environmental conditions and purchase/place bee hives for optimal success.
This webinar is one of a four-part series of hydroponics webinars, hosted each Wednesday, from noon-1pm: October 4, 11, 18, and 25.
This webinar is free, but requires advance registration. The webinar will be recorded, and made available after the event, to all who have registered.
Gail Langellotto is Professor of Horticulture at Oregon State University (OSU), where she coordinates the Urban Agriculture Certificate Program. An entomologist by training, she studies pollinators in urban systems. She is a collaborator on the OSU hydroponics team and a joint University of Oregon, Washington State University, and OSU building integrated agriculture project.
Nursery science researchers have embarked on a journey to harness the principles of soil hydraulics to reshape container production practices. In the past couple of years, Dr. Chris Criscione and Dr. Jeb Fields and others released a series of articles that showed that stratifying pine bark can serve as a substitute for peat-based media in floriculture and bark-based woody plant production. Through layering premium floriculture media over cost-effective pine bark within containers, they reduced reliance on peat. In their study focused on Petunia hybrid ‘Supertunia Honey’, the stratified substrates yielded crops of comparable size and quality, along with enhanced root productivity. Their work also showed superior performance of bark:coir substrates in a stratified setup, even when subjected to reduced irrigation when producing Loropetalum chinense ‘Ruby’ liners. Positive microbial communities in stratified systems further aided in mitigating water stress. Furthermore, Red Drift® rose plants grown in stratified substrates exhibited equal or superior crop growth despite receiving less controlled-release fertilizer. This suggests potential for reducing fertilizer and irrigation rates while upholding crop quality, offering a sustainable avenue for containerized crops. This blog post aims to shed light on stratified substrates and also provide insights into ongoing projects at the Nackley Lab that are delving into this innovative frontier of nursery science.
Soil hydraulics delves into the intricate world of water movement within soils—how water traverses the soil matrix, its distribution, and its intricate interactions with soil particles and structure. It’s a field dedicated to understanding the physics governing water’s journey through soils, and this knowledge carries significance for agriculture, environmental science, hydrology, and civil engineering. Soil hydraulics guides irrigation strategies, shapes drainage designs, and fuels sustainable land management practices.
Central to soil hydraulics is the concept of matric potential, a critical factor in irrigation management and plant-available water. Matric potential captures the degree to which soil particles retain water due to molecular attractions—it’s essentially the “stickiness” of water to soil particles. When soil isn’t completely saturated, minuscule air-filled spaces exist between particles. Water molecules adhere to these particles, creating capillary forces that coax water upwards. The strength of the bond between water and soil particles determines the matric potential, effectively influencing water availability to plants.
Two other essential players in the realm of soil hydraulics are soil texture and structure. Envision soil as an intricate mosaic, with particles coming together to form aggregates, shaping distinct pathways and chambers. This arrangement, referred to as soil structure, creates macropores— akin to express highways—through which water can flow rapidly. At the same time, micropores, reminiscent of narrow alleyways, gently retain water against gravity’s pull, acting as reservoirs for plant roots during dry spells. Additionally, soil structure influences permeability, determining how efficiently water infiltrates and the risk of surface runoff.
Soil texture, on the other hand, hinges on the proportions of sand, silt, and clay particles in the soil. Each particle type comes with distinct traits that shape water dynamics. Coarser-textured soils with more sand have ample space between particles, allowing water to move quickly with less retention. Finer-textured soils, rich in silt and clay, boast smaller gaps between particles, leading to slower water movement and higher water-holding capacity.
However, when soil is confined to pots or containers, it undergoes transformations in its natural structure due to various container-related factors. The restricted space of a pot, contrasting with the expanse of natural soil, can lead to the erosion of soil structure. Aggregates—clusters of particles forming pores and pathways—can deteriorate over time due to limited expansion room. This confined space often results in compaction, where soil particles compress closely, reducing essential air-filled pores needed for root growth and water movement. The watering practices specific to potted plants can contribute further by compacting soil particles as water occupies gaps. The absence of natural soil organisms and plant roots within containers hampers the maintenance of soil structure. Repeated disturbances, like transplanting or repotting, can exacerbate these structural changes. To counter these effects, selecting appropriate potting mixes that retain structure, incorporating organic matter for improved aeration and water retention, and being mindful of compaction during planting and watering are recommended.
Traditionally, the nursery field has focused on creating homogeneous potting mixes that maintain structure while offering suitable hydraulic properties. Classic blends often comprise bark, coir, peat, perlite, vermiculite, and pumice. However, a recent shift in focus has led scientists to explore how layering media can simulate natural soil hydraulics—an approach known as stratified substrates.
Stratified substrates involve arranging potting media of varying textures in layers within a single container. This structured layering entails placing coarser-textured substrates at the bottom and finer-textured ones on top, mimicking natural soil layers. This technique aims to influence water movement, nutrient distribution, and hydraulic behavior within the confined environment of a container. By borrowing from the stratification seen in the ground, stratified substrates strive to optimize resource efficiency, plant growth, and root development in controlled settings like potted plants.
Some may draw parallels between stratified substrates and the practice of placing rocks or gravel at the bottom of larger plant pots. While both concepts involve layering materials, there are distinctions. The practice of adding gravel or rocks to enhance drainage in larger pots shares a kinship with stratified substrates. However, it doesn’t replicate the comprehensive layering dynamics seen in stratified substrates. Adding gravel mainly addresses drainage concerns without fully incorporating the layered hydraulic principles inherent to stratified substrates.
Dr. Chris Criscione, in collaboration with the Dr. Jeb Fields group at Louisiana State University, has been at the forefront of investigating stratified substrates in containerized plant growth. Their research delves into how layering different potting media textures can enhance water retention, nutrient availability, and overall plant performance. The studies highlight promising outcomes, such as heightened root productivity, improved growth, and enhanced quality under stratified conditions compared to conventional substrates. This technique holds potential for bolstering sustainable crop cultivation within controlled environments.
Nevertheless, it’s crucial to acknowledge that findings from studies conducted in one geographic region—such as the Southeastern USA—may not seamlessly extrapolate to other areas with distinct climates and environmental conditions, like the Pacific Northwest. Climate, temperature, humidity, and other factors can significantly influence plant growth and water dynamics. Given this variation, research in regions like the Pacific Northwest, such as Oregon, is crucial. The unique environmental factors there, including cooler temperatures and higher rainfall, can impact water movement, nutrient availability, and plant response to stratified substrates. Bark-based substrates, common in some areas, may behave differently in terms of water retention and drainage in regions with distinct soil compositions. To address this, the Nackley Lab initiated a collaboration with Dr. Fields and others in 2022, planning to explore the impacts and benefits of stratifying substrates in Nursery production. The first stratified substrate experiment was launched in 2023 at Oregon State University North Willamette Research and Extension Center (NWREC), aiming to reduce resource demand and provide insights into the effectiveness of stratified substrates in that context, contributing to more informed decision-making for nursery production and horticulture practices in the region.
The Gravel Pad update you’ve been waiting for, and more!
There’s so much going on in the season of plenty around NWREC! Enjoy this virtual tour of a few projects around the nursery.
Dalyn has been continuing her work with mini-lysimeters that control irrigation in shade trees – these tiny scales weigh the potted plants and use the change in weight as they dry to determine when to turn on the water. The lysimeters are gathering data on plant weight along with an on-site weather station to better understand the relationship between heat and irrigation in gravel pad production. Read more about this project here.
The Willamette Valley has had a few HOT summers in a row, even though lately this one has been pretty mild. Nevertheless, we haven’t given up on finding solutions for heat mitigation – including growing ornamentals under drought conditions to see which are the most “climate-ready” to meet changing needs. We’ll be asking the public to evaluate those plants in the upcoming Climate-Ready Field Day, come along and see how the plants are progressing (click the link above for more info).
In addition, we’re evaluating different means of mitigating the heat and the resultant high rates of evapotranspiration (basically ways to reduce plant sweat), from misting the young plants to covering tissues with kaolin, introducing fungicides that may be beneficial in managing water loss, using white pots instead of the traditional black, and even growth inhibitors – it’s been a pretty amazing feat to monitor the effects as you can see- check out this monitoring station!
A small project growing marigolds for festivals and holidays – like Dia de los Muertos – is also underway. Growing the marigolds has certainly brightened up the Nursery Zone at NWREC, and we’ve progressed into evaluating passive means to dry the flowers, saving energy and resources while preserving the gorgeous summer color.
There’s even more in the works – stay tuned for information about fall workshops and PACE courses created specifically for nursery and greenhouse production for topics covering drone sprays, integrated pest management, and more.
The ever-changing climate iputs pressure on the industry to develop more sustainable plants. As part of a six-university study, OSU seeks to improve urban water-use efficiency by evaluating landscape plant performance on three irrigation treatments corresponding to the Water Use Classification of Landscape Species (WUCOLS): High, Moderate, and Low categories of water need. The plants are irrigated regularly during their first summer after planting. Treatments are imposed during the second growing season where researchers collect growth and quality ratings.
The Field Day allows landscape, nursery, and horticultural industry professionals and educators the opportunity to see new plants in their 2nd year and share your opinions and preferences by rating a representative sample of the plants in the field undergoing irrigation treatments. One plant from each of the 3 water levels, for 15 different species (some released to the public and some not yet) will be surveyed. Along with this field of 360 plants, you will be able to get a sneak peek at the next year’s field, currently in an establishment phase.
Important Details: The fields are packed dirt/uneven mulch, sturdy comfortable shoes, sunscreen and/or a hat are suggested. At the trial site, you will be provided a ratings sheet, clipboard, pen, and given general instructions when you arrive. It is a self-guided tour among our 720 landscape plants. Lots to look at but only a small sub set to evaluate. Hot Coffee and cold water will be provided. We value your feedback and hope to see you there!