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Scientia Horticulturae 178 (2014) 192–202

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Compost and vermicompost of horticultural waste as substrates for

cutting rooting and growth of rosemary
Daicy Mendoza-Hernández, Fernando Fornes, Rosa M. Belda ∗
Instituto Agroforestal Mediterráneo, Universitat Politècnica de València, 46022 Valencia, Spain

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: Peat replacement is an issue that receives much attention in the horticulturist agenda. Several organic
Received 19 April 2014 materials have been suggested either as substrates or as substrate constituents. This study aims to deter-
Received in revised form 5 August 2014 mine how three such materials, one compost and two vermicomposts, affect the rooting of cuttings and
Accepted 31 August 2014
plant growth of rosemary plants grown in pots. The compost (C) and vermicomposts (V1 and V2) were
obtained from the same batch of tomato crop waste. Each material was mixed with peat at several pro-
portions. Two experiments were carried out in nursery conditions. In the first, rosemary cuttings were
Horticultural wastes
grown in each mix and rooting was quantified. In the second experiment, rooted seedlings were grown
Organic waste reclaim
Rosmarinus officinalis
in each mix to marketable size (six months after the seedling transplant). The physical, physico-chemical
Substrate degradation and chemical characteristics of the initial mixes and of the mixes at the end of the six-month experiment
Soilless culture were determined. The physical properties of the substrates were within adequate ranges. pH was fairly
alkaline, especially in C and salinity was particularly high in the C-based mixes. Soluble mineral contents
in C were much higher than in V1, V2 or peat. Mixing with peat produced substrates with intermediate
characteristics. Both vermicomposts outperformed compost and peat for rooting cuttings. The presence
of hormone-like substances in the vermicomposts might be behind this effect. The vermicompost-based
substrates gave acceptable results for growing plants, though none performed as well as the control.
Nitrogen and potassium contents in cuttings and ready-for-sale plants were low and phosphorus content
was very low compared to sufficiency ranges, which led to a recommendation to increase fertilization.
At the end of the six-month experiment, the mix properties had changed, representing an improvement
in the substrate quality that might be taken into consideration when transplanting the rosemary to the
© 2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction impact on peatlands, which are considered natural heritage and are
included in conservation policies. Coir dust is a by-product of the
In 2012 Spain exported ornamental plants worth D 252 million coconut industry but it must be imported to Europe from Indonesia,
and the export of trees and shrubs represented D 24 million (FEPEX, The Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Mexico or Brazil. In view of the
2011). Shrubs are produced as ornamental plants for gardening above, peat and coir dust are being replaced in part by composts
and landscaping both in commercial and governmental nurseries. and vermicomposts (Abad et al., 2001; Farrell and Jones, 2010).
The standard procedure involves propagation by cuttings in roo- Besides, their use in horticulture is a good way to reclaim organic
ting trays which are later transplanted to larger pots, the plants wastes.
being considered marketable when roots cover the substrate sur- Composting and vermicomposting are procedures to detoxify
face inside the pot. Most shrubs will eventually be transplanted to and stabilize organic wastes. The rendered products, composts
the soil (Handreck and Black, 2005). and vermicomposts, can be used as substrate or substrate con-
The main substrates which nurseries use for shrub production stituents for soilless culture or to amend soils with organic matter.
are peat and, to a lesser extent, coconut coir dust. Peat replacement Vegetable crop residues have been successfully recycled through
has been promoted in recent years in order to reduce the negative composting (Carrión et al., 2008) and vermicomposting (Srivastava
et al., 2011) for horticultural purposes. Composting is an aero-
bic process which relies on high temperatures and thermophilic
∗ Corresponding author. Tel.: +34 963877000. and mesophilic bacteria to sanitize, decompose and stabilize the
E-mail address: (R.M. Belda). organic material. Vermicomposting involves the use of worms.
0304-4238/© 2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
D. Mendoza-Hernández et al. / Scientia Horticulturae 178 (2014) 192–202 193

It does not reach high temperatures and the organic material is Cuttings of rosemary (R. officinalis L.), about 5 cm in length,
decomposed by the soil and worm gut bacteria as well as the gut obtained from lateral or terminal buds of mother plants, were used
erosion of the material. in the rooting experiment, and seedlings of rosemary of similar age
Consumers tend to prefer vermicompost to compost but the fact and size with root ball were used in the pot experiment.
that the former does not allow for high temperatures is a drawback
in terms of hygienization of the material (Tognetti et al., 2005). 2.2. Experimental design
In this sense mixed procedures have been devised, in which the
thermophilic phase of composting is followed by standard vermi- Treatments consisted of mixing C, V1 or V2 with commercial
composting (Fornes et al., 2012; Yadav et al., 2012). peat (Kekkilä Ornamental Plant Mix 410, Kekkilä Oy). The three
The original raw material is one of the most significant factors assayed mixes were C:peat, V1:peat and V2:peat in the proportions:
affecting the quality of composts and vermicomposts (Domínguez, 100:0, 75:25, 50:50, 25:75 and 0:100 (control), which totaled 13
2004; Masaguer and Benito, 2007; Nogales et al., 2007). Neverthe- treatments.
less, most studies that compare composts and vermicomposts do For the rooting experiment three 72-cell plastic rooting trays
not process the same raw material (Lazcano et al., 2008; Tognetti (cell volume = 62 mL) were filled with each of the peat mixes and
et al., 2005). distributed in a random block design.
At the end of composting and vermicomposting, the organic For the pot experiment, seedlings were transplanted in 550 mL
matter is stabilized, however, its characteristics may still change square plastic pots which were filled with each of the peat mixes.
during cultivation, which should be taken into account especially Three replicates of five pots each containing a single plant were
if the plants are to be transplanted to soil (Domeño et al., 2011). distributed in a random block design.
One of the main drawbacks to the use of composts as substrate
constituent relate to the high salinity of composts obtained from
2.3. Plant growing conditions
cattle manure or agricultural wastes and to the high heavy metal
content of composts obtained from sewage sludge. Composts of
The rooting experiment was conducted in a glasshouse at a
agricultural origin (horticultural wastes or olive-mill wastes) tend
commercial nursery (TENISPLANT, S.L.) located in Picassent, Spain.
to have large EC due to high K+ content, rather than high Na+ or Cl−
Before placing the cutting in the substrate, its basal zone – 1-
contents. High salinity can be successfully eliminated by leaching.
cm from cut – was immersed in a commercial indolbutyric acid
However, the leachates need the appropriate management to avoid
solution (Flower Hormonas Enraizantes, Codyesa). One cutting per
pollution (Fornes et al., 2010).
cell was placed in the substrate. Cuttings were irrigated using a
This study aimed first to compare the nursery performance of
microsprinkler system (performance of 36 L h−1 m−2 ) at a regime
rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis L.) in one compost and two vermi-
of 5 min once a day, resulting in 0.6 L tray−1 day−1 . Rooting and
composts (one obtained after the thermophilic phase of composting
growth results were recorded three months after planting.
and the other by straight vermicomposting), the materials being
The pot experiment was conducted outdoors at the same
produced simultaneously and from the same batch of horticultural
commercial nursery. Plants were irrigated with sprinklers (perfor-
waste. The study also aimed to determine the changes in the sub-
mance of 25 L h−1 m−2 ) at a regime of 15 min once a day. Fertilizers
strate when plants are ready to be transplanted to soil.
were applied by fertigation twice a week with an 8–1–10–1 ratio
(N–P2 O5 –K2 O–MgO) at a rate of 1.5 L m−3 of water. This experiment
ended when the control plants reached commercial size (roots filled
2. Materials and methods
the pots).
The management of both experiments followed nursery stan-
2.1. Compost, vermicomposts and plant material
dards. The water for irrigation in both experiments was chemically
characterized as follows: pH 7.95, EC 180.6 mS/m, N-NH4 + non-
One compost (C) and two vermicomposts (V1 and V2) were
detectable, N-NO3 − 23 mg/L, P non-detectable, K 8 mg/L, Ca
assayed as substrate constituents for plant growth. Composting
178 mg/L, Mg 39.4 mg/L, bicarbonates 220 mg/L, sulfates 345 mg/L
and the two vermicomposting treatments were carried out simul-
and Na 64 mg/L.
taneously at the same site, and the raw material for the three was
prepared from the same original mix of chopped, air-dried tomato
crop waste and ground almond shell in a proportion of 75:25 (v:v). 2.4. Physical characterization of the substrates
Composting was carried out using a combined system of Rut-
gers static pile with forced aeration and controlled temperature Bulk density (DB ) and water capacity (Vwater ) were determined
plus pile turning (twice during the first month). Two cubic meter using loosely packed cores and methods from EN 13041 (2011). For
piles of raw material were watered at the start of the process and this study, steel cylinders measuring 40 mm in height and 82.3 mm
during pile turning. The thermophile stage of composting, during internal diameter (210 mL) were used. Shrinkage was calculated
which temperatures rose to 70 ◦ C, ended on day 63. The piles were as the percentage of bulk volume lost after drying the material
allowed to rest for another 117 days, at which time the compost contained in the cylinder at 105 ◦ C.
was considered mature and stabilized to be used either as growing Particle density (DP ) was indirectly estimated from the organic
media, as growing media constituent for soilless horticulture or as matter content (OM) and the mineral matter content (MM) by
soil amendment. applying the equation:
For V1 production, two pre-composted raw mix piles (63 days 100
of thermophilic phase) were transferred to two beds to which Eise- DP (kg m−3 ) =
%OM/1550 + %MM/2650
nia andrei and Eisenia fetida worms were added. The final worm
population in the mix was approximately 25,000 individuals/m3 . where 1550 kg m−3 is the organic matter mean density and
The material was maintained at 25–30 ◦ C and 70–80% humidity 2650 kg m−3 is the mineral matter mean density. Total pore space
throughout the vermicomposting process, which lasted 198 days. (PT ) is the percentage of volume of the material that can be filled
In order to produce vermicompost V2, E. andrei and E. fetida with water. Air capacity (Vair ) is the difference – in percentage by
worms were added directly to 2 m3 beds of raw material and sub- volume – between the total pore space and the moisture content
jected to the same conditions described for V1 during 261 days. at a suction of −1 kPa (EN 13041, 2011).
194 D. Mendoza-Hernández et al. / Scientia Horticulturae 178 (2014) 192–202

All determinations were performed three times. Regression analysis was used to study the relationship between
substrate characteristics and plant growth parameters. Only regres-
2.5. Physico-chemical and chemical characterization of the sions with determination coefficients above 0.75 are presented
substrates here.

pH (EN 13037, 2011), electrical conductivity (EC) (EN 13038, 3. Results

2011) and concentration of water soluble (available) mineral ele-
3.1. Substrate characterization: physical and physico-chemical
ments (EN 13652, 2001) of the mixes were determined in a 1:5
(v:v) material:water suspension. The pH was measured before fil-
tration using a Crison mod. 2000 pH-meter fitted with a special Table 1 shows the effect of the materials and the dilution on the
pH electrode (Crison mod. 5000-20). The filtrate from the 1:5 (v:v) physical and physico-chemical characteristics of the substrates at
compost:water suspension was used for EC and mineral content the beginning (I) and at the end (F) of the growing cycle of rosemary.
determinations. EC was determined with a conductimeter (Cri- At the beginning of the experiment, DB and DP were greater in
son mod. 522) using a PVC/graphite conductivity cell (Crison mod. C, V1 and V2 than in the control (83 and 1492 kg m−3 , respectively
52-89), and corrected to 25 ◦ C. Water-soluble mineral nitrogen in the control) while shrinkage was lower in C, V1 and V2 than in
(Nmin = NO3 − plus NH4 + ) was determined in a semiautomatic nitro- the control (94%). Mixing with peat reduced DB by two thirds on
gen analyzer using an MgO and Devarda alloy (Puchades et al., average in C, V1 and V2, reduced DP by 6% in C and V1, increased PT
1985). H2 PO4 − , K+ , Ca2+ , Mg2+ SO4 2− and Na+ were determined by 14% on average in the three materials and increased shrinkage by
by atomic emission spectrophotometry with inductively coupled 103% in C, 23% in V2 and 15% in V1. Vair in C was similar to that in the
plasma (ICP-AES; Spectro flame, Spectro Analytical Instruments, control (43%) but Vair in V1 and V2 was half the value found for C and
Inc). Water soluble mineral contents were expressed as mg/L sub- the control. Vwater was greatest in V1 and V2 (14% greater than in
strate. the control) and lowest in C (24% lower than in the control). Mixing
All determinations were performed three times. with peat also increased Vair (121% on average) and decreased Vwater
(28% on average) in V1 and V2. Mixing with peat hardly changed
2.6. Growth of plants and determination of shoot nutrient content Vair in C but it did increase Vwater by 37%.pH was alkaline in C, V1 and
V2 (8.7 on average) and acidic in the control (5.5). EC was greatest
The number of rooted cuttings was counted at the end of the in C (8.4 times more than in the control – 29 mS/m – and 3.3 times
rooting experiment and the results are presented as percentage of more than in V1 and V2). OM in pure materials was between a third
planted cuttings. At this time 15 plants of each replicate (45 plants (V1 and V2) and a fourth (C) less than control (94%). Mixing with
per treatment) were collected, and shoot dry weight and length peat decreased pH to 13% on average in the three materials. In the
along with root dry weight and length were recorded. Additionally, 25:75 mix all three materials were still slightly alkaline. EC also
the root ball of the remaining plants was visually rated (root ball- decreased when mixing with peat (by 61% in C, 52% in V2 and 22%
VR). Root ball-VR was scored on a 1–5 scale: value 1 representing in V1). OM increased in the mixes of the three materials as peat
roots which did not reach the surface of the substrate and value 5 increased (reaching 87% and 83% and 85% of the control OM in the
representing a root system forming a compact mesh that colonized 25:75 C:peat, V1:peat and V2:peat mix, respectively).
the whole substrate (Fornes et al., 2007).
At the end of the pot experiment, the following growth param- 3.2. Cutting rooting and plant growth
eters were determined: shoot and root dry weight, shoot length,
shoot diameter, number of branches and root length. Results are Table 2 shows the results of rooting, growth and nutrient
presented as per plant. Chlorosis was evaluated visually using an contents for rosemary cuttings grown in the various substrates.
arbitrary scale ranging from 1 to 5, with value 1 representing no Rooting in the vermicompost based substrates was double that
chlorosis in leaves; 2, less than 25% of leaves showing chlorosis; 3, in the compost. Dilution increased rooting 9.5 times in C but did
25–50% of leaves showing chlorosis; 4, from 50% to 75% of leaves not change it in V1 and V2 based substrates. Compared to the peat
showing chlorosis and 5, more than 75% of leaves showing chloro- (100%), there were no differences in the rooting of the most diluted
sis. This estimation was performed by five independent individuals, C substrates or in the V1 or V2 based substrates.
and the mean value was calculated. Shoot dry weight of rooted cuttings was lowest in pure C (47% of
Oven-dried aerial tissue from plants was finely ground and the control), followed by V1 (61% of the control) and V2 (70% of the
analyzed after acid digestion for nitrogen and mineral elements. control). Shoot dry weight increased with dilution and was highest
Nitrogen was determined following the Kjeldahl method whilst in the most diluted substrates of C and V1 and the two most diluted
the H2 PO4 2− , K+ , Ca2+ , Mg2+ and Na+ contents were determined substrates of V2. Shoot dry weight was significantly larger in C-4
by atomic emission spectrophotometry with inductively coupled (14%), V2-3 (9%) and V2-4 (9%) than in the control. Shoot length
plasma (ICP-AES; Spectro flame, Spectro Analytical Instruments, was 74% of the control in C and did not differ from the control in V1
Inc). Results are expressed as percentage on a dry weight basis. and V2. Shoot length was increased by dilution in C and V2 based
substrates but was not affected in V1.
2.7. Data analysis Root dry weight was largest in V1 and V2, these two differing
little from the control (115 mg/cutting). Root dry weight increased
A two factorial ANOVA was conducted to determine significant with dilution in the C and V2 based substrates yet did not change in
differences of physical, physico-chemical and chemical characteris- V1. Roots were shortest in C and V1 and lengthened with dilution,
tics of substrates and of plant growth parameters and plant nutrient reaching the control values (15 cm) for the most diluted substrates.
contents between treatments. When significant differences were The highest root ball VR-score was found in the control (4) followed
found, the Student–Newman–Keuls test at P ≤ 0.05 was carried out by the most diluted C mixes and all V1 and V2 based mixes, C-1,
to establish significant differences between means. C-2 and C-3 having the lowest root ball scores.
One-way analysis of variance was carried out to compare ini- Table 3 shows the main effects of the substrates on dry weight,
tial characteristics of the substrate with those after the six-month shoot and root length, shoot diameter, branch number and the
experiment. Significant differences at P ≤ 0.01 or P ≤ 0.001 are chlorosis level of rosemary plants after the six-month growth
directly commented in Section 3.4. period.
Table 1
Physical and physico-chemical characteristics of the substrates made from compost C, vermicomposts V1 and V2, and peat (control) at the beginning (I) and at the end (F) of the growing cycle of rosemary.

Mat Dil DB (kg/m3 ) DP (kg/m3 ) PT (% v/v) Shrinkage (% v/v) Vair (% v/v) Vwater (% v/v) pH EC (mS/m) OM (%)


C 1a 327bA 330A 1655de 1745 80.2 81.0 12.1eB 20.6eA 41.2cdA 35.3deB 39.0deB 45.7cdA 8.90aA 8.13B 272aA 46B 72.6cdA 62.7dB
2 235eB 258A 1598ef 1637 85.6 83.0 20.4cdB 21.3dA 38.8dB 46.8aA 46.8cA 36.2eB 8.23eA 7.98B 243 45B 79.5bcA 74.8bA

D. Mendoza-Hernández et al. / Scientia Horticulturae 178 (2014) 192–202

3 203gB 214A 1593ef 1630 87.5 85.9 18.2dB 21.4dA 35.2eB 44.5abA 52.3bA 41.4deB 8.38dA 7.94B 188cA 51B 80.2bA 75.6bA
4 132iB 152A 1581f 1600 91.7 91.0 24.6aA 24.0aA 38.4dB 41.8abcA 53.3bA 49.2bB 7.76gA 7.75A 106dA 48B 81.5bA 79.2bA

V1 1 309cA 317A 1798a 1830 81.8 82.5 20.3cdB 22.9bA 21.7fB 38.5cdeA 60.1aA 44.0dB 8.51cA 8.05B 63eA 54B 66.7deA 54.0fB
2 247eB 277A 1729bc 1774 86.2 84.1 22.1cB 24.2aA 43.7cA 36.1deB 42.5dB 48.0cA 8.27eA 7.99B 59eA 49B 69.2dA 62.3dB
3 221fA 222A 1708cd 1749 87.4 87.2 23.6bA 23.9abA 51.0aA 39.2bcdB 36.4eB 48.0cA 8.11fA 7.91B 52fA 50A 72.3cdA 59.6deB
4 161hA 167A 1654de 1686 90.2 90.0 23.3bcB 24.5aA 48.8abA 31.2eB 41.4dB 58.8aA 7.69gB 7.79A 49fA 45A 77.8cA 69.1cB

V2 1 351aA 355A 1784ab 1806 79.8 80.3 18.5dB 21.8cA 22.0fB 36.8deA 57.8abA 43.5deB 8.76bA 7.70B 63eA 41B 62.8efA 56.5efA
2 265dA 275A 1750abc 1766 85.0 84.2 20.4cdB 22.4cA 45.1bA 39.2bcdB 39.9deB 45.0cdA 7.76gA 7.71A 51fA 40B 69.7dA 62.7dB
3 209fgB 229A 1745abc 1745 88.0 88.0 22.3cA 22.2cA 46.8abA 39.9bcdB 41.2dB 48.1bcA 7.61hB 7.70A 34gB 44A 70.1dA 60.5deB
4 148hB 171A 1738abc 1691 91.5 89.5 22.8cB 23.5bA 47.7abA 34.5deB 43.8dB 55.0aA 7.46iB 7.63A 30gB 46A 79.6bA 68.4cB

Main effects
Mat 223 239c 1606 1653b 86.3 85.2 18.8 21.8 38.4 42.1 47.9 43.1 8.32 7.95a 202 47.5b 78.5 73.1
237 246b 1729 1760a 86.4 86.0 22.3 23.9 41.7 36.3 45.1 49.7 8.15 7.94a 56 49.5a 71.5 61.3
243 258a 1756 1752a 86.1 85.5 21.0 22.5 40.9 37.6 45.7 47.9 7.90 7.69b 45 42.8c 70.6 62.0

Dil 329 334a 1747 1794a 80.6c 81.3d 17.0 21.8 28.3 36.9 52.3 44.4 8.80 7.96a 134 47.0a 67.0 57.7
248 270b 1694 1726b 86.0b 83.8c 21.3 22.6 42.0 40.7 43.3 43.1 8.09 7.89ab 120 44.7c 73.2 66.6
209 222c 1585 1708c 87.6b 87.0b 21.4 22.5 44.7 41.2 43.7 45.8 8.07 7.85b 90 48.3a 74.1 65.2
147 163d 1657 1659d 91.1a 90.2a 23.6 24.0 45.0 35.8 46.2 54.3 7.60 7.72c 62 46.3b 79.8 72.2

St Sig
Mat *** ** *** ** ns ns *** * *** ** *** *** ** * *** * *** ***
Dil *** *** ** ** ** ** *** *** *** * *** *** ** * *** * *** ***
M×D *** ns *** ns ns ns *** ** *** * *** *** * ns *** ns *** ***

DB: bulk density; DP: particle density; PT: total porous space; Vair: air capacity; Vwater: water capacity; EC: electrical conductivity; OM: organic matter; Mat: material; Dil: dilution; C: composted material; V1: vermicompost
produced on pre-composted material; V2: straight vermicomposted material; M × D: interaction material × dilution.
Dilution of compost or vermicompost:peat (% v:v). 1 = 100:0; 2 = 75:25; 3 = 50:50; 4 = 25:75.
St Sig: statistical significance. ns, *, **, *** indicate not significant, statistically significant differences at P ≤ 0.05, P ≤ 0.01, P ≤ 0.001, respectively. Values in the same column with different lower case letter differ at P ≤ 0.05
(Student–Newman–Keuls test). Values of the same variable in the same file with different upper case letter differ at P ≤ 0.05 (Student–Newman–Keuls test).

196 D. Mendoza-Hernández et al. / Scientia Horticulturae 178 (2014) 192–202

Table 2
Effect of the substrates made from compost C, vermicomposts V1 and V2, and peat (control) on rooting, growth and nutrient contents of cuttings of rosemary.

Mat Dil Rooted Shoot Root N (% dw) P (% dw) K (% dw) Ca (% dw) Mg (% dw) Na (% dw)

Dry weight Length Dry weight Length Root

(mg/ (cm) (mg/ (cm) ball-VR
cutting) cutting) score

C 1a 9c 204g 7.9d 68f 10.6f 2c 0.14 0.04 3.01a 2.65a 0.71a 0.82a
2 23c 252f 8.3d 84f 6.9g 2c 0.14 0.04 2.95ab 2.53a 0.66a 0.78a
3 42bc 313d 8.8d 69f 10.1f 2c 0.14 0.03 1.95d 2.33ab 0.54b 0.60bc
4 95a 496a 13.5a 121ab 14.1bc 3b 0.15 0.03 1.74de 1.89cd 0.51bc 0.56bcd

V1 1 79ab 264def 11.4bc 100de 9.9f 3b 0.15 0.03 2.76b 2.17bc 0.52b 0.68ab
2 83ab 261ef 11.5bc 98de 11.2ef 3b 0.16 0.02 2.16c 2.13bcd 0.48bc 0.59bc
3 79ab 306de 10.6c 92ef 11.9def 3b 0.16 0.03 1.62e 2.06bcd 0.44cd 0.54bcd
4 80ab 430b 11.3bc 91ef 15.6ab 3b 0.16 0.03 1.57e 2.00bcd 0.47bc 0.50cde

V2 1 79ab 303de 11.0c 105cde 11.5def 3b 0.15 0.03 1.57e 1.75cd 0.40de 0.39de
2 89ab 372c 12.3b 102cde 13.2cde 3b 0.16 0.03 1.55e 1.92cd 0.37de 0.39de
3 93a 474ab 13.7a 108cd 13.5cd 3b 0.17 0.03 1.55e 1.74de 0.39de 0.35e
4 99a 473ab 13.4a 130a 16.4a 3b 0.18 0.04 1.73de 2.03bcd 0.34e 0.35e

Main effects
Mat 42 316 9.6 86 10.4 2 0.14 0.04 2.41 2.35 0.61 0.69
80 315 11.2 95 12.2 3 0.16 0.03 2.03 2.09 0.48 0.58
90 406 12.6 111 13.7 3 0.17 0.03 1.60 1.86 0.37 0.37

Dil 56 257 10.1 91 10.7 3 0.15 0.03 2.45 2.19 0.54 0.63
65 295 10.7 95 10.4 3 0.15 0.03 2.22 2.19 0.50 0.59
71 364 11.0 90 11.8 3 0.16 0.03 1.71 2.04 0.46 0.50
91 466 12.7 114 15.4 3 0.16 0.03 1.68 1.97 0.44 0.47

St Sig
Mat * *** *** *** *** * ns ns *** *** *** ***
Dil *** *** *** *** *** * ns ns *** *** *** ***
M×D * *** *** *** *** * ns ns *** *** *** *

VR = visual rate, scale 1–5 (1 lowest growth, 5 largest growth); Mat: material; Dil: dilution; C: composted material; V1: vermicompost produced on pre-composted material;
V2: straight vermicomposted material; M × D: interaction material × dilution.
Dilution of compost or vermicompost:peat (% v:v). 1 = 100:0; 2 = 75:25; 3 = 50:50; 4 = 25:75.
St Sig: statistical significance. ns, *, *** indicate not significant, statistically significant differences at P ≤ 0.05, P ≤ 0.001, respectively. Values in the same column with different
letter differ at P ≤ 0.05 (Student–Newman–Keuls test).

In the long-term experiment, shoot dry weight was lowest in results are given in Table 2. No fertilization was applied during the
C (30% of the control), followed by V2 (43% of the control) and rooting experiment and plants took up the nutrients available in
V1 (70% of the control). Dilution increased shoot dry weight in C the substrate. N and P contents were very low and there were no
and V2 based mixes and slightly decreased it in V1. Shoot length significant differences among materials or dilutions. K content was
it was again lowest in C followed by V1 and V2. Compared to highest in plants grown in C and lowest in those grown in V2. Sub-
the seedling production experiment, in the long-term experiment strate dilution with peat decreased K contents in plants of the C
shoots were longer in the control substrate (19 cm). Dilution also based mixes and in those of the V1 based mixes but did not affect
increased shoot length in the long-term experiment, particularly in K contents in those of the V2 based mixes (the K content was the
the C based substrates. Shoot diameter was greatest in the control same in plants grown in pure V2 and in the control). Ca content
(3.6 mm) followed by V1, V2 and C in that order, dilution hardly was highest in rosemary grown in C followed by V1, V2 and control
affecting this. The number of branches per plant was not affected (1.46%) in that order. Ca content in plants diminished with sub-
by the treatments. strate dilution. Mg and Na were largest in C followed by V1 and V2.
Chlorosis measures commercial quality in terms of greenness: Dilution generally decreased both Mg and Na contents.
the more chlorotic in the leaves, the more yellow and less mar- Table 4 shows the nutrient contents of marketable plants after
ketable the plants are. Regardless of dilution the largest chlorosis growing six months in pots. Plants were fertigated twice a week
level was found in C and C based substrates (2.85 on average), fol- with an 8–1–10–1 ratio (N–P2 O5 –K2 O–MgO). N content was low-
lowed by V2 and V2 based mixes (1.90 on average) and by V1 and V1 est in cuttings grown in the C-based substrates and it increased with
based mixes (1.12 on average), the peat control having the lowest dilution. N content of cuttings grown in V1, V2 and their mixes was
chlorosis levels (0.73). similar to that of cuttings grown in the control (1.04%). P content
Root dry weight was highest in the control substrate was very low in all the cuttings. It was larger in the plants grown
(2.4 g/plant), dry weight of C, V1 and V2 representing 60% of the in C- and V2-based mixes than in the V1-based ones, without any
root dry weight of the control. This parameter increased with dilu- interaction with dilution. The highest K content was found in cut-
tion in the C based mixes and decreased in the V1 mixes. Roots tings grown in the C-based mixes and it decreased with dilution.
were longest in V2, followed by C and V1. Dilution did not affect Cuttings grown in V1- and V2-based mixes had lower K content
root length. than the control (1.50%). Ca, Mg and Na contents of cuttings were
highest in C-based substrates. Cuttings grown in V1, V2 and their
3.3. Nutrient contents in plants and substrates mixes had Ca contents similar to the control (1.42%). For cuttings
grown in V1 and V1-based substrates, Mg content was larger than
The nutrient contents of the aerial parts of the cuttings were for those grown in V2 and V2-based substrates or in the control in
determined after rooting, when they were ready to transplant. The that order, the opposite being true for Na content.
D. Mendoza-Hernández et al. / Scientia Horticulturae 178 (2014) 192–202 197

Table 3
Effect of the substrates made from compost C and vermicomposts V1 and V2 on the growth and quality of rosemary plants of commercial size.

Mat Dil Dry weight (g/pl) Shoot length (cm) Shoot diameter (mm) Branch number/pl Root length (cm) Chlorosis level (score)

Shoot Root Total

C 1a 1.53f 0.86g 2.39g 13.9e 2.17 3.4 24.4 3.46a

2 1.69f 1.00f 2.70fg 13.7e 2.29 3.7 25.4 3.21ab
3 1.71f 1.14f 2.85f 13.0e 2.41 3.2 24.3 2.20cd
4 2.82d 1.42e 4.24c 15.4d 2.87 3.9 24.6 2.53bc

V1 1 3.50bc 1.93b 5.42b 17.6abc 3.36 3.6 20.9 0.66e

2 3.59b 1.76c 5.34b 17.3abcd 3.26 3.8 22.8 0.80e
3 3.03d 1.15f 4.17cd 15.9cd 3.19 3.4 18.2 1.20de
4 3.12cd 1.32e 4.43c 18.2ab 3.59 2.6 22.3 1.80cd

V2 1 2.17e 1.65c 3.82de 16.3bcd 2.94 2.7 28.9 1.93cd

2 2.32e 1.42e 3.73e 16.1bcd 3.05 3.4 26.7 2.00cd
3 2.89d 1.47de 4.36c 17.3abcd 2.89 3.0 28.3 1.93cd
4 3.42bc 1.60cd 5.02b 17.5abcd 3.05 3.2 28.7 1.73cd

Main effects
Mat 1.94 1.11 3.05 14.0 2.44c 3.6 24.7b 2.85
3.20 1.54 4.84 17.3 3.35a 3.4 21.1c 1.12
2.70 1.54 4.23 16.8 2.98b 3.1 28.2a 1.90

Dil 2.40 1.48 3.88 15.9 2.82b 3.2 24.7 2.02

2.53 1.39 3.92 15.7 2.87b 3.6 25.0 2.00
2.54 1.25 3.79 15.4 2.83b 3.2 23.6 1.78
3.12 1.45 4.56 17.0 3.17a 3.2 25.2 2.02

St Sig
Mat *** *** *** *** *** ns *** ***
Dil *** *** *** *** ** ns ns ns
M×D *** *** *** * ns ns ns ***

Mat: material; Dil: dilution; C: composted material; V1: vermicompost produced on pre-composted material; V2: straight vermicomposted material; M × D: interaction
material × dilution.
Dilution of compost or vermicompost:peat (% v:v). 1 = 100:0; 2 = 75:25; 3 = 50:50; 4 = 25:75.
St Sig: statistical significance. ns, *, **, *** indicate not significant, statistically significant differences at P ≤ 0.05, P ≤ 0.01, P ≤ 0.001, respectively. Values in the same column
with different letter differ at P ≤ 0.05 (Student–Newman–Keuls test).

Table 4
Effect of the substrates made from compost C and vermicomposts V1 and V2 on nutrient contents of shoots of rosemary plants of commercial size.

Mat Dil N (% dw) P (% dw) K (% dw) Ca (% dw) Mg (% dw) Na (% dw)

C 1a 0.76c 0.026 2.06a 2.33a 0.53a 0.27a

2 0.78c 0.017 1.56b 2.28a 0.46b 0.25a
3 0.79bc 0.014 1.47c 2.27a 0.43c 0.26a
4 0.88abc 0.012 1.28def 2.21a 0.35d 0.21ab

V1 1 1.13a 0.008 1.23f 1.50bc 0.32de 0.12cde

2 1.07a 0.010 1.14g 1.31c 0.31ef 0.06e
3 1.06a 0.013 1.00h 1.44bc 0.33de 0.08de
4 0.99abc 0.009 1.06h 1.56b 0.30ef 0.16bc

V2 1 1.03ab 0.026 1.24ef 1.38bc 0.28g 0.09cde

2 1.06a 0.022 1.31de 1.48bc 0.29fg 0.14bcd
3 1.03ab 0.017 1.35d 1.38bc 0.24h 0.12cde
4 0.90abc 0.016 1.22f 1.46bc 0.25h 0.09cde

Main effects
Mat 0.80 0.017a 1.59 2.27 0.44 0.25
1.06 0.010b 1.11 1.45 0.32 0.11
1.01 0.020a 1.28 1.43 0.27 0.11

Dil 0.97 0.020 1.51 1.74 0.38 0.16

0.97 0.016 1.34 1.69 0.35 0.15
0.96 0.015 1.27 1.70 0.33 0.15
0.92 0.012 1.19 1.74 0.30 0.15

St Sig
Mat *** *** *** *** *** ***
Dil ns ns *** ns *** ns
M×D * ns *** ** *** ***

Mat: material; Dil: dilution; C: composted material; V1: vermicompost produced on pre-composted material; V2: straight vermicomposted material; M × D: interaction
material × dilution.
Dilution of compost or vermicompost:peat (% v:v). 1 = 100:0; 2 = 75:25; 3 = 50:50; 4 = 25:75.
St Sig: statistical significance. ns, *, **, *** indicate not significant, statistically significant differences at P ≤ 0.05, P ≤ 0.01, P ≤ 0.001, respectively. Values in the same column
with different letter differ at P ≤ 0.05 (Student–Newman–Keuls test).
Table 5
Mineral contents of the substrates made from compost C, vermicomposts V1 and V2, and peat (control) at the beginning (I) and at the end (F) of the growing cycle of rosemary.

Mat Dil Nmin (mg/L substrate) H2 PO4 (mg/L substrate) K+ (mg/L substrate) Ca2+ (mg/L substrate) Mg2+ (mg/L substrate) SO4 2− (mg/L substrate) Na+ (mg/L substrate)

C 1 77.3aA 0.87gB 59.6efA 43.3B 5745aA 118.4aB 245.2aB 173.2eB 164.2aA 78.6B 3124aA 506.4deB 485.9aA 143.9bB

D. Mendoza-Hernández et al. / Scientia Horticulturae 178 (2014) 192–202

2 71.4abA 3.09fgB 60.9efA 29.8B 3721bA 83.58deB 136.1bA 185.6 90.6cA 78.8B 1372bA 712.6dB 339.2bA 108.2dB
3 59.5bcA 3.50efgB 71.8dA 36.5 2552cA 79.10eB 110.8eA 201.1cdB 63.5eB 81.1A 768.9cB 1088cA 244.5cA 118.4cdB
4 53.2bcdA 9.80cdA 87.9bA 29.8B 1331dA 69.19fB 87.65gA 201.3cdB 43.9jB 71.4A 398.6dB 1592bA 133.7gA 116.6cdB

V1 1 49.7bcdA 26.1aB 51.7fA 30.7B 550.3eA 101.6bB 87.58gA 214.6bcB 48.8hB 92.9A 359.9deB 1116cA 151.9eA 116.1cdB
2 68.6abA 18.0bB 67.6deA 34.3B 413.0gA 86.81cdB 86.52gA 190.4deB 97.2bA 75.1B 285.7efB 1636bA 126.9hA 119.8cdB
3 56.7bcA 19.2bB 68.8deA 37.8B 352.0hA 83.72deB 84.25gA 222.9bB 77.7dA 79.9A 278.8fB 1783bA 126.0hA 129.4cA
4 48.4bcdA 8.05cdefB 69.0deA 33.2B 350.6hA 70.13fB 82.37gA 213.5bcB 60.6efB 74.5A 193.5gB 2488aA 125.3hA 124.3cA

V2 1 8.0fA 5.13defA 55.7fA 58.2A 472.2fA 66.81fB 125.6dA 229.0bB 62.0eB 88.3A 329.4deB 397.3eA 175.1dA 124.1cB
2 17.5efA 8.34cdefB 67.6deA 58.5B 379.9gA 84.94dB 127.5cdA 258.8aB 59.8fB 98.2A 279.5fB 458.7deA 138.9fA 142.1bA
3 17.8efA 8.98cdeB 78.9cA 62.4B 249.9hA 92.08cB 129.5cA 262.9aB 57.6fgB 95.3A 127.8ghB 530.7deA 140.4fA 151.1bB
4 28.5defA 11.31cB 86.4bA 63.5B 138.2iA 97.42bB 102.6fA 248.1aB 45.4hiB 87.7A 94.83hB 573.6deA 92.5iB 170.2aA

Main effects
Mat 65.4 4.3 70.0 34.9b 3337 87.6 144.9 190.3 90.6 77.5c 1416 974.8 300.8 121.8
55.9 17.8 64.3 34.0b 416.5 85.6 85.2 210.4 71.1 80.6b 279.5 1756 132.5 122.4
18.0 8.4 72.2 60.7a 310.1 85.3 121.3 249.7 56.2 92.4a 207.9 490.1 136.7 146.9

Dil 45.0 10.7 55.7 44.1 2259 96.6 152.8 205.6 91.7 86.6a 1271 673.2 271.0 128.0
52.5 9.8 65.4 40.9 1505 85.1 116.7 211.6 82.5 84.0a 645.7 935.8 201.7 123.4
44.7 10.6 73.2 45.6 1051 85.0 108.2 229.0 66.3 85.4a 391.8 1134 170.3 133.0
43.7 9.7 81.1 42.2 606.6 78.9 90.9 221.0 50.0 77.9b 228.8 1551 117.2 137.0

St Sig
Mat ** * ** ** *** ns *** *** *** *** *** *** *** **
Dil * ns * ns *** ** *** ** *** * *** *** *** **
M×D ** * ** ns *** * *** *** ** ns *** *** *** *

Mat: material; Dil: dilution; C: composted material; V1: vermicompost produced on pre-composted material; V2: straight vermicomposted material; M × D: interaction material × dilution.
Dilution of compost or vermicompost:peat (% v:v). 1 = 100:0; 2 = 75:25; 3 = 50:50; 4 = 25:75.
St Sig: statistical significance. ns, *, **, *** indicate not significant, statistically significant differences at P ≤ 0.05, P ≤ 0.01, P ≤ 0.001, respectively. Values in the same column with different lower case letter differ at P ≤ 0.05
(Student–Newman–Keuls test). Values of the same variable in the same file with different upper case letter differ at P ≤ 0.05 (Student–Newman–Keuls test).
D. Mendoza-Hernández et al. / Scientia Horticulturae 178 (2014) 192–202 199

Table 5 shows the water soluble (available) mineral contents of Capital letters in Table 5 indicate the statistical comparison
the substrates prepared with C, V1 and V2 at the beginning (I) and between the initial and final (after the six months of shrub growth)
at the end (F) of the growing cycle of rosemary. values of the substrate mineral contents.
At the beginning of the growing cycle, mineral nitrogen content The nutrient contents after six months had changed in most sub-
(Nmin ) was largest in C-1 (66% larger than in the control) and lowest strates. Nmin decreased in all substrates, most particularly in the C
in V2-1 (a sixth of the amount in the control). Dilution with peat based mixes and in the control (93% and 84%, respectively), despite
decreased Nmin in the C mixes (87%) and increased it in the V2 mixes the fact that it was added by fertigation. H2 PO4 also decreased with
(3.6 times), remaining practically unchanged in V1. Phosphate con- rosemary growth. The largest decrease was also found in the con-
tent (H2 PO4 ) was similar in the three pure materials (55.7 mg/L on trol and in the C based mixes (84% and 50%, respectively). K+ had
average), representing a third of the H2 PO4 content of the control. fallen by 97%, 79%, 72% and 41% at the end of the pot experiment
Dilution increased the H2 PO4 content to 47%, 33% and 55% in C, V1 in the C, V1 and V2 based mixes and in the control, respectively.
and V2, respectively. With respect to the other nutrients, the largest The irrigation water was near the very hard limits (based on the
differences among the pure materials were found for K+ and SO4 2− USGS Water Quality Information: water hardness and alkalinity).
followed by Na+ . K+ content was 11 times and SO4 2− content 9 times This is reflected in an increased Ca2+ content after irrigating for
larger in C than in V1 and V2. For K+ and for SO4 2− the contents in six months. The increase was particularly acute in the V1 and V2
the control were approximately a third and a sixth of that in V1 based mixes (150% and 106%, respectively). With respect to Mg2+
and V2, respectively. Na+ content in C was 3 times larger than in V1 there was an increase in all substrates initially containing less than
and V2 on average and 15 times larger than in the control. Mixing 90 mg/L. For the V2 based mixes the increase averaged 119%. A large
with peat reduced the cation contents particularly in the case of increase in SO4 2− was observed in all mixes except for C-1 and C-2,
K+ (77%, 36% and 71% for C, V1 and V2, respectively, in the 25:75 in which a decrease was observed due likely to the high SO4 2− initial
dilution) and SO4 2− (87%, 46% and 71% for C, V1 and V2, respec- content of these two. Na+ increased in the substrates which con-
tively, in the 25:75 dilution). Na+ contents dropped 72%, 18% and tained less than 130 mg/L and decreased in those containing more
47% in the 25:75 dilutions of C, V1 and V2, respectively. Ca2+ and than 130 mg/L. Ca2+ , SO4 2− and Na+ contents might be explained by
Mg2+ contents also differed for the different pure materials. Ca2+ the characteristics of the irrigation water, which would have added
content in C doubled that in the control and V2 and tripled that in minerals to the mixes with low values and wash them in the mixes
V1. Dilution reduced Ca2+ content by 64% in C and by 18% in V2 but with high values.
did not change Ca2+ content in V1. Mg2+ content was reduced by
73% in C and by 27% in V2 in the most diluted mixes.
4. Discussion

The importance of physical properties of organic materials when

3.4. Substrate characteristics after the six-month plant growth they are to be used as growth media has been extensively reported
period (Gizas et al., 2012; Raviv et al., 2004) and is based on the root’s need
for aeration and the container’s restriction on drainage (Mathers
Rosemary shrubs were grown in the different substrates for six et al., 2007). The physical characterization of substrates before
months. At the end of the experiment the physical and physico- beginning cultivation is of paramount importance since these prop-
chemical characteristics of the substrates were determined once erties cannot be modified once the substrate is in the containers.
more. Capital letters in Table 1 indicate the statistical comparison The adequate ranges (AR) for physical properties have been pro-
between the initial and final values of the substrate physical and posed for both rooting (Maronek et al., 1985) and plant growth
physico-chemical characteristics. Substrates showed an increase in (Bunt, 1988; Carmona and Abad, 2008) in containers. For rooting
DB , which was significant for both materials and mixes, though not media DB should be between 300 and 800 kg m−3 , higher than for
for their interaction. DP had not significantly changed by the end plant growth (AR < 400 kg m−3 ). In this study only pure C, V1 and V2
of the six-month period. Changes in PT after plant growth were were appropriate for rooting, whilst all mixes were within the ade-
not significant, however the dilution effect still remained. Shrink- quate range for plant growth. Ideally Vair should range between 20
age had increased by the end of the growing cycle, particularly in and 30% both for rooting and for plant growth whilst Vwater should
C. Vair and Vwater changed significantly in the three materials and range between 20 and 60% for rooting and between 52 and 68% for
their mixes. After the six-month period Vair had decreased in C and plant growth. Only pure V1 and V2 had a Vair within the adequate
increased in the pure vermicomposts but had increased in the C- range whilst all materials were within AR with respect to Vwater .
based mixes and decreased in the V1- and V2-based mixes. The AR for physico-chemical and chemical characteristics have also
opposite trend was observed for Vwater . All these changes are typ- been recommended for both rooting (Maronek et al., 1985) and
ical symptoms of material degradation but, in the case of Vair , the plant growth (Bunt, 1988; Carmona and Abad, 2008). pH should
final values were closer to the AR values. pH had decreased by the be between 5.0 and 6.5, a condition only fulfilled by peat in our
end of the experiment in most of the mixes, remaining slightly alka- experiment. EC ought to be between 5 and 20 mS m−1 for rooting
line. The largest pH decrease occurred in the pure materials (9% in and between 75 and 349 mS m−1 for plant growth. Our mixes were
C, 5% in V1 and 12% in V2). In the control pH had increased to 7.36 far from adequate for rooting, yet they were within the ranges
by the end of the experiment. EC had decreased by the end of the indicated for plant growth. Composts and vermicomposts from
experiment in all the mixes with C and V1, and in V2-1 and V2-2 agricultural wastes tend to be alkaline (Belda et al., 2013) and some
but increased in V2-3, V2-4 and the control (from 29 to 46 mS/m), authors recommend acidifying amendments before using them as
the largest EC loss being found in the C mixes (73% on average). growth media. However, acidifying amendments may result in an
The average EC of all the mixes at the end of the experiment was increase in EC (Carrión et al., 2008). Excessive EC can be counter-
equal to the EC of the control. These changes reveal the equilibrium acted by leaching treatments (Fornes et al., 2010). In fact, irrigation
reached with the fertigation solution and thus an improvement in requirements are greater for vermicomposting than for composting
these parameters. OM decreased significantly in all the dilutions and the resulting vermicomposts (in this case V1 and V2) become
with V1 and V2 except for V2-1 and only in C-1 in the C dilutions. less saline than composts (Fornes et al., 2012). OM should be above
In all instances OM decreased: 11% on average for the C, V1 and V2 80%. This amount of OM was only found in peat and the C:peat
based substrates and 9% for the peat. mixes.
200 D. Mendoza-Hernández et al. / Scientia Horticulturae 178 (2014) 192–202

Although physical and physico-chemical properties are con- and Na+ ) contributing to salinity might indicate phytotoxicity. The
sidered to be inadequate for rooting, V1 and V2 and their mixes clouds of data with the highest rooting in the four graphs belong
proved successful for rooting rosemary plants. Gutiérrez-Miceli to substrates containing vermicompost and peat. The addition of
et al. (2008) found that the cress germination index with a ver- compost to the substrate might have been responsible for the dele-
micompost leachate met standards, the vermicompost leachate terious effect on rooting. However, the two vermicomposts were
stimulating plant development when used as fertilizer for sorghum not identical. V2 was not subject to pre-composting and it pro-
growth. Arancon et al. (2012) reported that germination and duced longer roots which weighed more than those of the other
seedling growth of lettuce and tomato increased with higher pro- two materials (Table 2). Hence, the factors eliciting rooting are to
portions of vermicompost extracts. Humic substances of some be sought in V2 and they might be of hormonal rather than nutri-
composts have been linked to growth-promoting factors and, in tional nature, since V2 is generally the poorest vermicompost of
particular, to increased root dry matter (Azcona et al., 2011). the two (Table 5). Hormone-like factors such as IAA, cytokinin,
Auxin-like compounds which were not present at the start of gibberellins and humic acids have been shown to be present in
composting were released during fern composting (Arthur et al., vermicomposts teas (Arancon et al., 2012). These hormone-like fac-
2007). V1 and V2 based substrates might supply plants with tors might be present in the initial piles and be thermolabile, hence
such growth-promoting factors that induce root growth in cut- disappearing during the composting processes (C and V1). Addi-
tings. tionally, their concentration might rise with the loss of biomass
None of the substrates outperformed peat in terms of plant during vermicomposting (V2). The slowdown of growth and nutri-
growth or greenness in the long-term experiment. Some of the ent accumulation in leaves is characteristic when toxic levels of
beneficial effects of vermicomposts might be lost in the long run. nutrients are present in growth media (Marschner, 1995). In the
Azcona et al. (2011) observed that compost’s early stimulation of six-month experiment only the relationship between shoot dry
plant growth was attenuated as plants reached maturity. Chloro- weight and substrate Na+ content had a determination coefficient
sis in leaves is an indicator of poor quality. Doan et al. (2013) above 0.75. A similar effect to that of rooting and the main cations
obtained higher SPAD values (chlorophyll content) in plants grown was found between shoot dry weight and substrate Na content
with vermicompost amendment than in those grown with a com- in six-month old plants (y = 3E−05x2 − 0.0219x + 5.43, R2 = 0.86).
post treatment. This agrees with the results obtained in the present The plateau of the polynomial relationship was reached with the
study: C based mixes produced plants with the poorest quality and shoot dry weight of the plants grown in the C based substrates,
V1 performed similar to peat, producing the greenest leaves. which might indicate that the high Na content of C is harmful for
Mixing is suggested as a way to improve some of the neg- rosemary. Reports of rosemary’s response to salinity are contradic-
ative characteristics of composts (Carmona and Abad, 2008) or tory. Rosemary is generally thought to be moderately salt-resistant
vermicomposts. In our case, mixing improved qualities such as (Tounekti et al., 2008). However, Tounekti et al. (2011) proved
PT , Vair , pH, salinity, in particular, or OM. This was reflected in reduced shoot extension after a two-month treatment with high
the rooting and the shoot growth of cuttings. However, long- NaCl concentrations added to the soil. The results of our study
term (six months in the experiment) irrigation renders some of support the latter contention. The relatively uniform low N tis-
those characteristics more homogenous among mixes, particularly sue content found in rosemary as a response to variable N content
pH and EC, and the dilution effect disappears in the marketable in the soil has been reported for this species and compared to
plants. the more variable responses of annuals reported by Ochoa-Hueso
With respect to nutrient contents and considering Mills and et al. (2013). Conservative N economy, absorbing only a small frac-
Jones (1996) sufficiency range (SR) for nursery grown rosemary, tion of its N needs, has been found to be a feature of rosemary
we observed the following: N content was below SR (2.09–2.52%) in comparison to grass species (Sala et al., 2012). The very low
in plants grown in all the mixes, particularly in those grown in the C P content cannot be attributed to high pH (Jin et al., 2014) in
based ones, which represented 78% of the N content of those grown the case of this substrate, given that the lowest P content in cut-
in the other mixes; P content was also below SR (0.26–0.35%), tings and in six-month old plants was obtained in peat. Hence,
being 94% less on average considering all the treatments together; to improve quality an increase in N and P fertilization is recom-
K content was below SR (2.36–2.55%) in all mixes, plants growing mended.
in C having the largest K content; Ca content was well above SR In medium- to long-term soilless cultivation, growth media tend
(0.48–0.69%) and, once more, plants growing in C had the largest to degrade and lose desirable qualities. Recently, this effect was
Ca content; Mg content was within SR (0.17–0.40%) for all mixes shown for peat-based substrates and was alleviated by mixing peat
except for the C based ones, in which plants contained Mg above SR; with biochar (Tian et al., 2012).
Na content in plants was within the adequate range (0.02–0.19%) – Rosemary is a species native to the Mediterranean ecosystem.
Na is not an essential nutrient – in all V1 and V2 based mixes and It is a species to be considered in the maintenance or recovery
in the control and it was above the SR in plants grown in all the C (i.e. after fire) of such ecosystems due to its positive influence on
based substrates. soil aggregate stability (Pérez-Bejarano et al., 2010). In nurseries
Plant N and P contents were particularly low in cuttings and rosemary is grown in containers; however, its final destination is
six-month old plants, which might have influenced plant develop- usually transplanting to soil. Transplanting involves transferring
ment and were possibly responsible for the chlorosis levels found the substrate in which the plant is growing to the natural soil in
in all treatments. Hence, we studied the correlations between order to prevent root damage. Environmentalists are reluctant to
each plant nutrient content, both for cuttings and six-month old use such practices in preserved environments. During the months
plants, with each growth parameter. Additionally, we examined the in which plants are grown in soils amended with organic matter,
correlations between substrate nutrient content and plant nutri- the soil characteristics change (Doan et al., 2013). The same might
ent content (cuttings and six-month old plants) and of substrate be true for substrates and, indeed, this was the case of our mixes for
nutrient content and growth parameters. Fig. 1 shows the regres- several of their characteristics. The reported increase in DB might
sions of the rooting experiment with a determination coefficient not have much impact on the soil. However, the air–water relation-
above 0.75. It illustrates the relationship between rooting and the ship in the substrate may critically influence plant survival after
electrical conductivity (A) and the potassium (B), sulfate (C) and transplanting to soil. Roots of growing plants need more oxygen in
sodium (D) contents in substrates. The high and inverse corre- containers than in soil and large Vair is essential. When transplanted
lation between rooting and EC, and the main cations (K+ , SO4 2− , to the soil, plants need a root environment that can successfully
D. Mendoza-Hernández et al. / Scientia Horticulturae 178 (2014) 192–202 201

120 y= -0,0006x2 - 0,1451x + 97,539 120 y = 3E-06x2 - 0,034x + 101,97
R² = 0,8932 R² = 0,8721
100 100

80 80

60 60

40 40

20 20

0 0
0 100 200 300 0 2000 4000 6000
EC (mS/m) Potassium (mg/L)

120 y = 1E-05x2 - 0,0694x + 106,26 120 y = 0,0001x2 - 0,3291x + 131,78
R² = 0,8674 R² = 0,754
100 100

80 80

60 60

40 40

20 20

0 0
0 1000 2000 3000 4000 0 200 400 600
Sulfate (mg/L) Sodium (mg/L)

Fig. 1. Relationship between cutting rooting percentage of rosemary and electrical conductivity (EC) (A), potassium (B), sulfate (C) and sodium (D) contents in the rooting

compete for water with the surrounding soil and then a large Vwater , 5. Conclusion
to the detriment of Vair , is the priority (Mathers et al., 2007). After
growing rosemary in the organic substrates for six months, Vair had In conclusion, vermicomposts and composts from agricultural
decreased and Vwater had increased in the V1 and V2 mixes and in wastes can be used as ingredients in growth media. However, ver-
peat, rendering them more suitable for the early stages of plant life micompost, either produced by straight vermicomposting or by
in the soil. vermicomposting after composting (thermophilic phase only), out-
Two of the most negative characteristics of composts/ performs compost obtained simultaneously from the same batch
vermicomposts are their pH, which is generally too alkaline, and of horticultural waste: vermicompost can be used in high propor-
their salinity, which verges in the toxicity range. As seen above, tions (more than 50%) in the growth media for rooting cuttings
compost pH and EC can be reduced by acidifying amendments and of rosemary whilst compost can only be used in low proportions
by leaching, respectively (Fornes et al., 2010). The pure materials (not above 25%). Besides, vermicompost produced by straight ver-
used in this study showed moderate alkalinity, which decreased micomposting improved rooting, root length and root weight of
during plant growth. After the six-month experiment, pH decreased cuttings despite its low levels of nutrients. However, although ver-
in the mixes with a large amount of compost or vermicompost micomposts give acceptable results, they do not perform as well
whilst it increased in both the control and the most diluted mixes. as peat for growing rosemary. Finally, the degradation observed
In all the substrates, pH was above neutrality, which might be in all the growth media assayed after six months represented an
related to the characteristics of the irrigation water (pH = 7.95). improvement in the substrate quality and might facilitate the trans-
Soils in the area of our study are alkaline, ranging between 7.5 planting of rosemary to the soil.
and 8.3 (Forteza Bonnin et al., 1995). The buffering capacity of soils
enables them to neutralize extreme pH (Diacono and Montemurro,
2011), yet the final pH of the compost and vermicompost mixes
is close to the soil pH expected in nature. With respect to EC, the
The authors wish to thank Dr. Debra Westall for revising the
mixes showed a reduction in salinity when salinity was initially
English. This study was funded by the Instituto Nacional de Inves-
high (i.e. pure materials, compost and less diluted vermicompost
tigación y Tecnología Agraria (INIA) of the Spanish Ministerio de
mixes). Indeed, irrigation eliminated the excess of salts and in
Ciencia e Innovación (Project Reference RTA2006-00008-C02-02).
all the substrates EC would be acceptable EC for transplanting
to the soil. OM either decreased slightly or remained unchanged.
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