We examined the effectiveness of an elevated capillary mat system to maintain constant and different moisture levels in the growing medium and verify the potential of drought stress conditioning in producing small and compact bedding plants. To differentiate between plant height and compactness, we determined compactness as the leaf area or dry mass per unit stem length. Marigold `Queen Sophia' (Tagetes erecta L.) seedlings were grown in square, 9-cm-wide, 10-cm-high containers filled with a soilless growing medium. A capillary mat was laid on top of a greenhouse bench which was raised by 15 cm on one side compared to the other side to create an elevation effect. Seedlings were subirrigated by immersing the low end of the capillary mat in a reservoir of water. The amount of water moving to the higher end of the mat progressively decreased with elevation. The moisture content in the growing medium averaged from 26 to 294 mL/pot at different elevations. Regression analysis indicated that growth parameters including, shoot dry mass, leaf area, leaf number, and plant height decreased linearly with decreasing soil moisture content in the growing medium. Of all the measured growth parameters, plant height was found to be least sensitive to decreasing moisture content in the growing medium. Plants in high moisture treatments had more dry mass and leaf area per unit length of the stem compared to those in low moisture treatments. Our results indicate that drought stress can produce small, but not truly compact bedding plants.
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