Water retention properties of wood fiber based growing media and their impact on irrigation strategy

R. Anlauf, H.H.A. Muhammed, T. Reineke, D. Daum
Distribution of water and air in growing media during ebb-and-flow irrigation depends on water storage properties (water retention curve) and water transport properties (hydraulic conductivity) of the materials. Growing media with their high number of coarse pores are known to exhibit strong hysteresis, i.e., differences in the water retention properties during drying and wetting cycles. To account for potential ecological disadvantages of peat, wood fibers are commonly used as substitutes for peat in growing media. However, the wood fibers generally have higher air capacities and hydraulic conductivities and lower water capacities compared to peat which may results in necessary adaptions of the irrigation strategy. Tools to optimize irrigation systems are physically based water transport models, such as HYDRUS-1D, which is commonly used to describe water transport in soils, but not often for growing media. In this study, white peat and pure wood fibers were used to describe differences in their water retention behavior. Water retention curves (drying cycles) and hydraulic conductivities were measured with standard analytical procedures. Hysteresis of the water retention curves was analytically determined based on their capillary rise properties. The results were used with a modified HYDRUS-1D model to test model quality against measured water contents during ebb-and-flow irrigation cycles and to optimize the irrigation strategy for the different materials. The results showed that the model quality was sufficiently good only if the strong hysteresis of the water retention curves was considered during the simulation process. Different strategies were tested to modify ebb-and-flow irrigation (irrigation frequency, irrigation duration and irrigation height) in that way that the water suction in the root zone was similar to that of the peat material. Simulation results showed that significant improvements could only be reached by increasing the flooding depth in ebb-and-flow systems to ensure an optimum water supply of plants in the wood fiber based growing media.
Anlauf, R., Muhammed, H.H.A., Reineke, T. and Daum, D. (2024). Water retention properties of wood fiber based growing media and their impact on irrigation strategy. Acta Hortic. 1389, 227-236
DOI: 10.17660/ActaHortic.2024.1389.25
water retention, growing media, peat, wood fiber, hysteresis, HYDRUS-1D, ebb-and-flow irrigation

Acta Horticulturae