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Jim Owen

Associate Professor of Plant and Environmental Science
Jim Owen
1444 Diamond Springs Road
Virginia Beach, VA
  • Fax: (757) 363-3950

2006, Ph.D. Horticultural Science (Soil Science minor), North Carolina State University            

2002, M.Sc. Environmental Science, University of Rhode Island                  

1999, B.Sc. Plant and Soil Science, University of Kentucky       


2010, Oregon Association of Nurseries Distinguished Education Award for Excellence in Educational Programs

2005, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Program for Excellence in Science

My research and Extension programs focus on enhanced management of resources in commercial nursery crop production to increase profitability while mitigating environmental impact. The primary objectives are to increase water and nutrient-use efficiency, manage agrichemical on-site effluent and offsite non-point source runoff and investigate improved production systems that can reduce costs or open new markets. Further, the program is to be extramurally funded, will include inter- and intra-departmental interdisciplinary cooperators, will effectively disseminate findings and will have socioeconomic impacts in Virginia and the United States. My program exemplifies three missions within two key initiatives, Agricultural Profitability and Environmental Sustainability and the Green Industry, of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences:

-Enhance agricultural productivity and environmental sustainability.

-Develop high value horticulture and specialty crop products and system.

-To assure that stakeholders are engaged in future-focused programs.

Specific Research Areas

The Problem: The ornamental nursery and floriculture industry has been identified as a contributor to agrichemical pollutants into the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Current nutrient and water efficiencies in nursery production range from 20 to 60%, with 40 to 80% of applied resource not being utilized by the crop. Nurseries are facing a “pollution diet” that will require ornamental growers to manage water and the agrichemicals that it transports. The ornamental industry, as well as other agricultural producers, is expected to have strategies in place by 2017 that will result in a 60% reduction in nitrogen and phosphorus by 2025. Concurrently, the region continues to face issues with water quality and quantity while competing with an ever-increasing population that demands water for sustenance. Research described below is to assist in helping Virginia and mid-Atlantic growers meet regulatory criteria and diminishing access to conventional resources (nutrients and water) while remaining competitive in the national nursery industry. 

Improved Nutrient Application and Delivery: Cooperative research with industry will begin in 2012 to investigate the use of remote, real-time monitoring to manage nutrient salts in woody ornamental nurseries within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Basic and applied research will be conducted by an extramurally funded MS student to investigate a novel approach to monitoring container nutrition and correlate it to on-site water quality currently being examined by Dr. Hong as part of an ongoing USDA-SCRI. Concurrently, a doctorate student will begin research on investigating use of a byproduct of wastewater treatment, struvite (NH4MgPO4), as an alternative commercial slow-release phosphorus fertilizer for use in the mid-Atlantic United States. If successful, the fertilizer could result in removal of phosphorus during wastewater treatment and become a local source of phosphorus as global availability decreases.   

Agrichemical Management and Remediation: Cooperative research is underway with North Carolina State University to investigate the use of bio-retention basins to capture and remediate runoff from ornamental crop production and recharge ground water. EPA reports that phosphorus in storm water can be reduced 65 to 87% and nitrate (NO3) by 15 to 16%.  In an effort to retain multifaceted solutions, Drs. Fox, Sample and Owen have proposed an intra-departmental project to quantify the impact of floating wetlands on bioremediation of runoff nitrogen and phosphorus. Research will validate the use of floating wetlands as a Best Management Practice in Virginia to manage landscape and nursery runoff. 

Engineering Soilless Substrates for Improved Water and Nutrient Efficiency: Soilless substrates are the foundation of ornamental containerized-crop production impacting all aspects of production; however, conventional substrates remain relatively inert and unable to retain nutrients and water resulting in low use efficiency. I am part of a multi-institutional team investigating alternative and conventional components to retain greater amounts of water and provide essential nutrients based on plant demand.  This approach allows the grower to apply the water and nutrients in the desired amount and at the optimal time to minimize runoff. To date the team has identified suitable alternative components, understands the fundamentals of substrate hydrology, and are investigating what components can be combined to maximize overall resource efficiency.

Published 5 extension publications, 17 popular press articles and currently contribute to 5 websites.



LeBude, A.V., T.E. Bilderback, H.T. Krauss, S.A. White, M. Chappell and J.S. Owen, Jr. 2012. Preparing Nursery Plants for Winter in the Southeastern United States. North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. AG-454. In Press.

Horneck, D., D. Sullivan, J.S. Owen, Jr., and J. Hart. 2011. Soil test interpretation guide. OSU Ag Communication/Extension Service. EC-1478. 12 pp.

Owen, Jr., J.S.  D. Sullivan, D. Horneck and J. Hart. 2010. Bare root shade, flowering and fruit trees fertilizer guide for the northern Willamette valley. OSU Ag Communication/Extension Service. EM 9013-E. 7 pp.

Rideout, W., A. Hensey, J.S. Owen, Jr., B. Denig, and H. Yorgey. 2011. Climate Friendly Nurseries (CFNP) Best Management Practices. 64 pp. Publication available via

Owen, Jr., J.S. and S.A White. 2008. Production practices for an environmentally friendly nursery industry. USDA/ANLA Technology Transfer Publication. Publication available via



Robbins, J., J. Owen, D. Saraswat, R. Ehsani, C. Landgren, J. Maja and H. Stoven. Commercial horticulture nursery automation :

Boyer, C. J.S. Owen and J.E. Altland. Sustainable substrates. Website:

Hensey, A., W. Rideout, H. Yorgey, J.S. Owen, Jr., and B. Denig. Climate Friendly Nurseries Project (CFNP):

Singh S., T. Baugher, M. Bergerman, G. Hoheisel, L. Hull, V. Jones, G. Kantor, H. Koselka, K. Lewis, W. Messner, H. Ngugi, J. Owen, J. Park, C. Seavert. Comprehensive Automation for Specialty Crops (CASC) :

White S.A., Owen, Jr., J.S., Albano, J.P., W. Bauerle, T.E. Whitwell, T. H. Yeager, T.E., P.C. Wilson,  Bilderback, J. Million, S.J. Klaine, R.F. Polomski,  S.L. Warren. Sustainable Nursery Production.:

Published 11 refereed research publications, 27 peer-reviewed manuscripts and 18 scientific abstracts.

Selected Scholarly Publications

Altland, J.E., J.S. Owen, Jr., and M.Z. Gabriel. 2011. Influence of pumice and plant roots on substrate physical properties over time. HortTechnology 21:554-557

Altland, J.E., J.S. Owen, Jr., and W.C. Fonteno. 2010. Developing moisture characteristic curves and their descriptive functions at low tensions for soilless substrates. J. Amer.Soc. Hort. Sci. 135:563-567.

Singh, S., M. Bergerman, J. Cannons, B. Grocholsky, B. Hamner, G. Holguin, L. Hull, V. Jones, G. Kantor, H. Koselka, G. Li, J. Owen, J. Park, W. Shi, J. Teza. 2010. Comprehensive Automation for Specialty Crops: Year 1 results and lessons learned. Intelligent Service Robotics 3:245-262.

Prehn, A., J.S. Owen, Jr., S.L. Warren, T.E. Bilderback. 2010. Water management of container-grown nursery crops with leaching fraction or weight-based ‘On Demand’ irrigation control. J. Environ. Hort. 28:117-123.

Zazirska, M., J.E. Altland, and J.S. Owen, Jr. 2009. Effect of peat moss and pumice on Douglas fir bark-based soilless substrate physical and hydraulic properties. HortScience. 44: 874-878.

Owen, Jr., J.S., S.L. Warren, T.E. Bilderback, and J.P. Albano. 2008. Phosphorus rate, leaching fraction, and substrate influence on influent quantity, effluent nutrient content and response of containerized woody ornamental crops. HortScience 43:306-912.    

Owen, Jr., J.S., and J.E. Altland. 2008. Container height and Douglas fir bark texture affect substrate physical properties. HortScience 43:505-508.

Owen, Jr., J.S., S.L. Warren, T.E. Bilderback, and J.P. Albano. 2007. Industrial mineral aggregate amendment affects physical and chemical properties of pine bark substrates. HortScience 42:1287-1294.