Nitrate leaching beneath a containerized nursery crop receiving trickle or overhead irrigation

J Environ Qual. 2001 Sep-Oct;30(5):1564-74. doi: 10.2134/jeq2001.3051564x.


Container production of nursery crops is intensive and a potential source of nitrogen release to the environment. This study was conducted to determine if trickle irrigation could be used by container nursery producers as an alternative to standard overhead irrigation to reduce nitrogen release into the environment. The effect of overhead irrigation and trickle irrigation on leachate nitrate N concentration, flow-weighted nitrate N concentration, leachate volume, and plant growth was investigated using containerized rhododendron (Rhododendron catawbiense Michx. 'Album') supplied with a controlled-release fertilizer and grown outdoors on top of soil-monolith lysimeters. Leachate was collected over two growing seasons and overwinter periods, and natural precipitation was allowed as a component of the system. Precipitation accounted for 69% of the water entering the overhead-irrigated system and 80% of the water entering the trickle-irrigated system. Leachate from fertilized plants exceeded the USEPA limit of 10 mg L(-1) at several times and reached a maximum of 26 mg L(-1) with trickle irrigation. Average annual loss of nitrate N in leachate for fertilized treatments was 51.8 and 60.5 kg ha(-1) for the overhead and trickle treatments, respectively. Average annual flow-weighted concentration of nitrate N in leachate of fertilized plants was 7.2 mg L(-1) for overhead irrigation and 12.7 mg L(-1) for trickle irrigation. Trickle irrigation did not reduce the amount of nitrate N leached from nursery containers when compared with overhead irrigation because precipitation nullified the potential benefits of reduced leaching fractions and irrigation inputs provided under trickle irrigation.

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Environmental Pollution / prevention & control
  • Fertilizers
  • Nitrogen / analysis*
  • Soil Pollutants / analysis
  • Water Movements*
  • Water Supply*


  • Fertilizers
  • Soil Pollutants
  • Nitrogen