Coal fly ash, possessing alkalinity and containing some essential mineral elements, could be an alternative to lime amendment and a nutrient source of container substrates for ornamental plant growth. This study examined physiochemical properties of three fly ashes collected from Florida, Michigan, and North Carolina and container substrates formulated by incorporating commercial dolomite and the three fly ashes, respectively into a soilless basal substrate. The basal, dolomite- and fly ash-amended substrates were used to grow peace lily (Spathiphyllum Schott 'Ty's Pride'), a popular ornamental foliage plant, in 15-cm diameter containers in a shaded greenhouse. Electrical conductivities and pH of the substrates were monitored monthly. Plant canopy heights and widths, shoot fresh and dry weights were recorded five months after transplanting, and tissue nutrient contents were measured. Three fly ashes and the commercial dolomite were able to raise pH of the basal substrate from 3.8 to about 6.8. Canopy heights and widths as well as shoot fresh and dry weights of plants produced from fly ash-amended substrates were comparable to those produced from dolomite-amended substrate but significantly different from those produced from the basal substrate. On an average, five necrotic leaves appeared from plants produced in the basal substrate; however, less than one necrotic leaf occurred on plants produced in either dolomite- or fly ash-amended substrates. As a result, the quality grade of plants grown in the basal substrate was low, and plants were not marketable. Additionally, electrical conductivities of fly ash-amended substrates were consistently higher during the course of plant growth, suggesting that, in addition to neutralizing pH, the amended fly ashes provide nutrients for peace lily growth, which was confirmed by high nutrient contents in plant shoots. This study demonstrates that the three fly ashes can be alternatives to commercial dolomites used as amendments to soilless substrates for ornamental plant production. Utilization of fly ashes as container substrate amendments should represent a new market for the beneficial use of coal combustion byproducts. © 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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