Science Into Practice - Better nutrient management

The production of quality container-grown hardy nursery plants requires accurate management of plant nutrition throughout the whole life of the crop.

Growers want to use fertilisers responsibly to minimise environmental impact. However, there are numerous challenges posed by the variety of production systems, the number of plant species grown and differences in growing media.

Project HNS 189 reviewed current knowledge and previous research to improvement nutrient management in container-grown stock, the aim being to match nutrient provision more closely to the needs of the crop. Nutrient monitoring (leaf and substrate analysis) and best practice were also evaluated.

Results showed few nurseries routinely monitor substrate nutrient levels and they therefore have a limited understanding of how such nutrients are being utilised by the crop. The implementation of a routine nutrient-monitoring scheme could optimise use and application times, and minimise the incidence of nutrient-related issues before they cause crop wastage.

Other suggestions for improving nutrient management included grouping crops according to their nutritional requirements, establishing clear specifications relating to pH and fertiliser rates for each crop group and regularly reviewing and updating growing-media recipes.

A series of research, development and knowledge transfer gaps for growers were also identified by the project, which is due to be addressed via further HDC-funded activity in the future.

Horticultural Development Company

For details on all HDC activity, visit

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