Irrigation water acidification to neutralize alkalinity

Liming agents (LAs) in irrigation water, typically associated with carbonates and bicarbonates of calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg), contribute to water alkalinity. Repeated application of LA to container crops can cause media-solution pH to rise overtime, that uncorrected, can lead to a nutrient availability imbalance that may be suboptimal for plant-growth due to nutrient disorder(s).

To correct high levels of LA in irrigation water, growers can inject acid into their irrigation system to neutralize alkalinity. Therefore, a 52-week study was conducted using irrigation water, substrate, and plants from a commercial nursery in Florida that has a history of poor water quality and plant production problems related to high alkalinity irrigation water. The objectives of the study were to assess substrate pH, electrical conductivity (EC), and nutrients, and plant nutrition and growth for thyrallis (Galphimia gracilis Bartl.) to irrigation water acidification.

Treatments consisted of irrigation water acidified with sulfuric acid (H2SO4) to neutralize 0% (control), 40%, or 80% of calcium carbonates (CaCO3) yielding a CaCO3 (meq·L−1)/pH levels of 5 [High Alkalinity (H-A)]/7.37, 3 [Medium Alkalinity (M-A)]//6.37, and 1 [Low Alkalinity (L-A)]//4.79, respectively. Substrate analysis by the 1:2 dilution method at the end of the study was significant (P < 0.05) for pH 6.2, 5.2, and 4.7 for the H-A, M-A, and L-A treatments, respectively, and for nutrients Ca, Mn, and Zn. Foliar nutrient levels were statistically significant (P < 0.05) for alkalinity treatment for Fe, K, Mn, P, and Zn. Alkalinity treatment was significant (P < 0.05) for growth, leaf greenness (by SPAD), and quality (by survey) with the M-A treatment producing more biomass, having greener leaves, and the highest aesthetic quality value than the H-A or L-A treatments. A qualitative survey of root systems at harvest showed that the M-A and L-A treatment root systems were greater than the H-A treatment based on visual side-wall root development.

These data demonstrate that irrigation water acidification does alter substrate pH and nutrients and plant tissue nutrient levels and growth over a long-term production cycle typical for nursery crops.

Access the full study at HortScience.

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