French marigold (Tagetes patula L. `Boy Orange') was grown in a peat-based growing medium containing different rates (0, 15, 20, 30, 42, or 50 g·L–1) of polyethylene glycol 8000 (PEG-8000) to determine if PEG-8000 would reduce seedling height. Only 28% to 55% of seedlings treated with 62, 72, or 83 g·L–1 of PEG-8000 survived, and these treatments would be commercially unacceptable. Marigolds treated with the remaining concentrations of PEG-8000 had shorter hypocotyls, and were up to 38% shorter than nontreated controls at harvest. Marigold cotyledon water (ψw), osmotic (ψs), and turgor (ψp) potentials were significantly reduced by PEG-8000, and ψp was close to zero for all PEG-treated seedlings 18 days after seeding. Whole-plant net photosynthesis, whole-plant dark respiration, and net photosynthesis/leaf area ratios were reduced by PEG-8000, while specific respiration of seedlings treated with PEG-8000 increased. Marigolds treated with concentrations greater than 30 g·L–1 of PEG-8000 had net photosynthesis rates that were close to zero. Fourteen days after transplanting, PEG-treated marigolds were still shorter than nontreated seedlings and they flowered up to 5 days later. Concentrations of PEG from 15 to 30 g·L–1 reduced elongation of marigold seedlings without negatively affecting germination, survival, or plant quality. It appears that marigold seedlings were shorter because of reduced leaf ψp and reductions in net photosynthesis.
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