Variability in Plant Growth in Retail Potting Media

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  • 1 Plants, Soils and Biometeorology Department, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322-4820.
  • 2 Crop and Soil Sciences Department, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164-6420
  • 3 Horticulture and Landscape Architecture Department, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164-6414.

There is extensive variability in physical and chemical properties among brands of retail potting media. The purpose of this study was to assess variability in seed germination and plant growth responses among and within brands. Twenty-four different brands of media, and multiple bags of five brands, were purchased at nine retail stores. Tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum) seeds were germinated in 11 different brands of media and in media from different bags of four of the same brands. Marigold (Tagetes erecta) and petunia (Petunia×hybrida) were grown to flowering in 10 brands of media. Germination varied significantly among media brands and among bags of one of the brands. Plant performance also varied significantly, with several of the brands producing plants with few flowers, long times to flowering, and low shoot and root dry weights even though all treatments received uniform applications of a complete fertilizer solution three times per week. Few relationships could be discerned between individual physical and chemical properties of the media and plant performance. Results indicate improvements in quality among brands and quality control within brands are needed in the retail potting media industry. Quality assessment tools emphasizing plant performance could improve overall media quality.

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