Pyrolyzed biomass waste, commonly called biochar, has attracted interest as a soil amendment. A commercial prototype biochar produced by fast pyrolysis of hardwood dust was examined in soils to determine if it could reduce the damaging effect of allelopathy on arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) root colonization and on Fusarium crown and root rot of asparagus. In greenhouse studies, biochar added at 1.5 and 3.0% (wt/wt) to asparagus field soil caused proportional increases in root weights and linear reductions in the percentage of root lesions caused by Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. asparagi and F. proliferatum compared with a control. Concomitant with these effects was a 100% increase in root colonization by AM fungi at the 3.0% rate. Addition of aromatic acids (cinnamic, coumaric, and ferulic) that are known allelopathic agents affecting asparagus reduced AM colonization but the deleterious effects were not observed following the application of biochar at the higher rate. When dried, ground, asparagus root and crown tissues infested with Fusarium spp. were added to soilless potting mix at 0, 1, or 5 g/liter of potting mix and then planted with asparagus, there was a decrease in asparagus root weight and increase in disease at 1 g/liter of potting mix but results were inconsistent at the higher residue rate. However, when biochar was added at 35 g/liter of potting mix (roughly 10%, vol/vol), these adverse effects on root weight and disease were equal to the nontreated controls. A small demonstration was conducted in field microplots. Those plots amended with biochar (3.5% [wt/wt] soil) produced asparagus plants with more AM colonization in the first year of growth but, in the subsequent year, biochar-treated plants were reduced in size, possibly due to greater than average precipitation and the ability of biochar to retain moisture that, in turn, may have created conditions conducive to root rot. These studies provide evidence that biochar may be useful in overcoming the deleterious effects of allelopathic residues in replant soils on asparagus.
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