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EFFECTS OF BIOCHAR ON GROWTH AND PHYTOCHEMICAL CONTENTS OF LEMONGRASS (Cymbopogon citratus)

Azimah, H.1 , Ahmad, S.H.1, Rosenani, A.B.2, Tajidin, N.E.1 1 Crop Science Department and 2Land Management Department, Faculty of Agriculture, Universiti Putra Malaysia, 43400 Serdang, Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia. Introduction

Lemongrass have resulted in high demand for good quality of fresh lemongrass and also increased in the local market as well as foreign market since tonnes of lemongrass have to be exported to their countries. The main consideration about lemongrass is the size of which consumers and the farmers have different perception of it. The consumers usually prefer lemongrass with bigger stalk rather than thinner stalk while these criteria are of no importance to the farmers. In Malaysia, inland mineral soil, e.g. highly weathered acidic soil, were used for cultivated lemongrass all over peninsular Malaysia (Rosenani, et al., 2009). However, there are also several farmers in Selangor cultivating lemongrass on marine alluvium. Thus, some farmers in Kuala Selangor had been cultivating lemongrass with high rates of N fertilizers, up to 400 kg/habut with only 50 kg/ha of P and K fertilizers to get high quality characteristics of lemongrass. However, the fertilizer applied was always leaching off in the infertile soil. To increase fertility of the soil in long period of time, biochar was applied together with the soil. The biochar can produce a soil enhancer that holds carbon and make soil more fertile (Lehmann and Joseph, 2009). In other hand, leaching off can also lead to pollution and by using biochar, global warming and agriculture waste can be reduce. Biochar also can produce clean, renewable energy from pyrolisis, gasification and hydrothermal carbonization process. Since bigger stalk is of importance, it is necessary to know the growth, development and required nutrient of lemongrass if it is to be commercialized with desired quality including the optimum time to harvest and post harvest handling practices. In fact, the knowledge about growth performance of lemongrass and its characteristics plays a role to ensure high yield production and good quality. The analysis of nutrient content will provide information on the amount of nutrient taken by the plant and prevent from excessive application of fertilizer and indirectly benefits the farmer in terms of cost-saving. The objective of this study is to determine the effect of biochar on the growth performance and quality characteristic of lemongrass. From this study, it was aimed to gain a better quality and production of lemongrass by using biochar whereas biochar is easy to gain as it is a waste product.

Materials and Methods Plant materials This study was conducted at Taman Pertanian Universiti, Universiti Putra Malaysia from 29 January to 17 July 2010. A plot with a total land area of 20 m x 44 m was used for this study. The planting materials used in this experiment were lemongrass stalks of 25-26 cm in length. The lemongrass stalks were planted at a spacing of 1m between rows and 1m between plants. The experimental plot was divided into 15 subplots and each subplot was

planted with 16 clusters of lemongrass in 4 x 4 planting points. For each planting point, 4 stalks were planted directly into the soil by placing the basal part of the stalk within a depth of 2 cm. Measurement The lemongrass stalks were planted at a spacing of 1 m between horizontal rows and 1m between vertical rows in 44 m x 20 m experimental plot. Rice husk biochar at the rates of 0, 10 and 20 ton/ha were applied into each subplot. Rice husk biochar that was used contain 18.8% C. Thus, the equivalent for 10 ton/ha rice husk biochar was 1.88 ton C/ha and 20 ton/ha rice husk biochar was 3.76 ton C/ha. The plots were maintained by carrying out normal cultural practices. Data of plant growth of the lemongrass were taken at 1, 3 and 5 months after planting. Data that were taken during plant growth are plant height and plant canopy diameter. The lemongrass were harvested at 5.5 months after planting. After harvest, the plants were analyzed for physical and chemical quality characteristics such as ascorbic acids, total phenol content and DPPH assay. Experimental design The design of the experiment was a randomized complete block design, with five replications. Three treatments of biochar (0, 10 and 20 ton/ha) were used. Data were analyzed by using analysis of variance (ANOVA) and the differences between treatment means were determined using least significant difference (LSD) test with significant level of 5%. Results and discussion Effect on plant height and plant canopy diameter There were significant differences on plant height at 1 and 5 months after planting. Plant height of lemongrass treated with 0 ton/ha biochar at 1 months after planting was significantly lower by 21.8% compared to plants treated with 10 ton/ha biochar., while plants treated with 20 ton/ha biochar were significantly higher by 12.9% compared to plants treated with 10 ton/ha biochar (Fig. 1). Generally, height of plants treated with 20 ton/ha biochar was the highest compared to plants treated with 0 and 10 ton/ha biochar during 1 and 5 months after planting. The biochar application could have increased N fertilizer-use efficiency and this could be attributed to the improved soil physical conditions, thus resulting in the increased in plant height of the treated lemongrass plants compared to the control plants. Lehmann et al (2003b) demonstrated the ability of biochar to retain applied fertilizer against leaching with resulting increase in fertilizer-use efficiency. In addition to the significant responses in plant productivity that have been reported, soil quality improvements and environmental benefits (e.g. reduced pollution due to reduced fertilizer losses via leaching) are likely to result (Lehmann, 2007). By increasing quantity of biochar, it may increase plant height as the results in this study showed. For plant canopy diameter, lemongrass that were treated with biochar showed significant differences compared to control plants at 1 and 5 months after planting compared to control plants. Plant canopy diameter of lemongass plants that were treated with 0 and 10 ton/ha biochar at 1 months after planting showed a significant difference of 13.7 % while difference in canopy diameter between plants treated with 10 and 20 ton/ha

biochar was not significant (Fig. 2). Nitrogen is important in plant growth response to soil amendment with biochar (Sohi et al 2009). The significant interaction between application of biodigester effluent and biochar in the sub-soil, but not in the fertile soil, confirms the importance of the relationship between nutrient supply and response to biochar. Similar synergistic effects on plant growth by combining charcoal with chicken manure were observed by Steiner et al. (2007). Effect on ascorbic acid, DPPH assay and total phenolic content There were no significant differences (P0.05) in ascorbic acid content, total phenolic content and DPPH assay of lemongrass when treated with 0, 10 and 20 ton/ha biochar. In this study, lemongrass that was treated with rice husk biochar did not effect ascorbic acid, total phenolic content and antioxidant activity in DPPH assay. The amount of carbon in the rice husk biochar (18.8%) and the broadcast application method of rice husk biochar throughout the subplot could have been the causal factors for the lack of differences in the contents of the antioxidants in the treated and control plants. Conclusion In this study, growth characteristics of lemongrass at 1, 3 and 5 months after planting in response to different rates of biochar, showed significant differences in terms of plant height and plant canopy diameter at 1, 3 and 5 months after planting. This study also provided information on effect of biochar on antioxidant activities of lemongrass. There were no significant differences in ascorbic acid, DPPH assay of antioxidant activity and total phenolic content. The results indicate that biochar did not affected physical and chemical characteristics of lemongrass after harvest. This may be because of the amount biochar used was insufficient as the content of C in the rice husk biochar was 18.8%. Biochar was broadcasted throughout the subplot. Application of biochar should have been distributed around the plant canopy so that the soil can hold more nutrients. From the results obtained, lemongrass could be planted using 20 ton/ha biochar in order to get the optimum plant height and plant canopy diameter. Biochar treatment was more effectiveness on growth performances than quality characteristics after harvest of lemongrass. Further study is highly recommended in this matter.

Reference

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Fig. 1. Plant height of lemongrass at 1, 3 and 5 months after planting with treatment 0 ( ), 10 ( )and 20 ( ) ton/ha. Each point corresponds to the average from 4 clumps. at 1, 3 and 5 months after planting.

Fig. 2. Plant canopy diameter of lemongrass at 1, 3 and 5 months after planting with treatment 0 ( ), 10 ( ) and 20 ton/ha ( ). Each point corresponds to the average from 4 clumps.