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Plant nutrient availability and pH of biochars and their fractions

Biochar has the potential to be used as a growing media component, and therefore plays a role in reducing peat usage. It has unique properties apart from the ability to sequester carbon. Researchers investigated the nutrient contents of four commercial biochars and their fractions. The biochars’ feedstock was wood waste, except for one with paper fibres and husk.

The fine or finer fractions in wood waste biochars contained higher levels of nutrients that were available to plants. The coarse fraction of the biochar derived from husk and paper fibre feedstock had a higher level of total N, P and K in contrast to the other three biochars.

The pH of the finer fraction (pH of 9.08) was also higher compared with coarse fraction (pH of 8.71). It is important that when biochar a is used as a component of a peat based growing media, particle size information should be provided, as fractions from the same biochar can have different levels of total extractable nutrients and pH levels.

If biochar is used to replace or reduce lime application rates of a peat-biochar mixtures, one must take into account the levels of total and extractable Ca and Mg levels, as these can vary. The variation of these elements was not only between biochars’ feedstocks, even at similar pH-values, but within different fractions in the same biochar.

The researchers concluded that biochars should be characterized from the feedstock as well as from the particle size aspect, as it could have a profound effect on nutrient availability of Ca and Mg. This could lead to nutrient imbalances in cultivating plants on substrate mixtures. In addition to nutrient ratios, the suitable pH-level for a given grown species should be adjusted.

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