Effects of Biochar on Container Substrate Properties and Growth of Plants—A Review
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© 2019 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. Biochar refers to a processed, carbon-rich material made from biomass. This article provides a brief summary on the effects of biochar on container substrate properties and plant growth. Biochar could be produced through pyrolysis, gasification, and hydrothermal carbonization of various feedstocks. Biochar produced through different production conditions and feedstocks affect its properties and how it performs when incorporated in container substrates. Biochar incorporation affects the physical and chemical properties of container substrates, including bulk density, total porosity, container capacity, nutrient availability, pH, electrical conductivity and cation exchange capacity. Biochar could also affect microbial activities. The effects of biochar incorporation on plant growth in container substrates depend on biochar properties, plant type, percentage of biochar applied and other container substrates components mixed with biochar. A review of the literature on the impact of biochar on container-grown plants without other factors (such as irrigation or fertilization rates) indicated that 77.3% of the studies found that certain percentages of biochar addition in container substrates promoted plant growth, and 50% of the studies revealed that plant growth decreased due to certain percentages of biochar incorporation. Most of the plants tested in these studies were herbaceous plants. More plant species should be tested for a broader assessment of the use of biochar. Toxic substances (heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and dioxin) in biochars used in container substrates has rarely been studied. Caution is needed when selecting feedstocks and setting up biochar production conditions, which might cause toxic contaminants in the biochar products that could have negative effects on plant growth.
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