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Matthew B. Bertucci, Katherine M. Jennings, David W. Monks, Jonathan R. Schultheis, Penelope Perkins-Veazie, Frank J. Louws, and David L. Jordan

Grafting watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) is a common practice in many parts of the world and has recently received increased interest in the United States. The present study was designed to evaluate early season growth, yield, and fruit quality of watermelon in response to grafting and in the absence of known disease pressure in a fumigated system. Field experiments were conducted using standard and mini watermelons (cv. Exclamation and Extazy, respectively) grafted onto 20 commercially available cucurbit rootstocks representing four species: giant pumpkin (Cucurbita maxima), summer squash (Cucurbita pepo), bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria), and interspecific hybrid squash [ISH (C. maxima × Cucurbita moschata)]. Nongrafted ‘Exclamation’ and ‘Extazy’ were included as controls. To determine early season growth, leaf area was measured at 1, 2, and 3 weeks after transplant (WAT). At 1 WAT, nongrafted ‘Exclamation’ produced the smallest leaf area; however, at 3 WAT, nongrafted ‘Exclamation’ produced the largest leaf area in 2015, and no differences were observed in 2016. Leaf area was very similar among rootstocks in the ‘Extazy’ study, with minimal differences observed. Marketable yield included fruit weighing ≥9 and ≥3 lb for ‘Exclamation’ and ‘Extazy’, respectively. In the ‘Exclamation’ study, highest marketable yields were observed in nongrafted ‘Exclamation’, and ‘Exclamation’ grafted to ‘Pelops’, ‘TZ148’, and ‘Coloso’, and lowest marketable yields were observed when using ‘Marvel’ and ‘Kazako’ rootstocks, which produced 47% and 32% of nongrafted ‘Exclamation’ yield, respectively. In the ‘Extazy’ study, the highest marketable yield was observed in nongrafted ‘Extazy’, and ‘Kazako’ produced the lowest yields (48% of nongrafted ‘Extazy’). Fruit quality was determined by measuring fruit acidity (pH), soluble solids concentration (SSC), lycopene content, and flesh firmness from a sample of two fruit from each plot from the initial two harvests of each year. Across both studies, rootstock had no effect on SSC or lycopene content. As reported in previous studies, flesh firmness was increased as a result of grafting, and nongrafted ‘Exclamation’ and ‘Extazy’ had the lowest flesh firmness among standard and mini watermelons, respectively. The present study evaluated two scions with a selection of 20 cucurbit rootstocks and observed no benefits in early season growth, yield, or phytonutrient content. Only three of 20 rootstocks in each study produced marketable yields similar to the nongrafted treatments, and no grafted treatment produced higher yields than nongrafted ‘Exclamation’ or ‘Extazy’. Because grafted seedlings have an associated increase in cost and do not produce increased yields, grafting in these optimized farming systems and using fumigated soils does not offer an advantage in the absence of soilborne pathogens or other stressors that interfere with watermelon production.

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David H. Suchoff, Penelope Perkins-Veazie, Heike W. Sederoff, Jonathan R. Schultheis, Matthew D. Kleinhenz, Frank J. Louws, and Christopher C. Gunter

Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.) is a warm-season, cold-sensitive crop that shows slower growth and development at temperatures below 18 °C. Improving suboptimal temperature tolerance would allow earlier planting of field-grown tomato and a reduction in energy inputs for heating greenhouses. Grafting tomato onto high-altitude Solanum habrochaites (S. Knapp and D.M. Spooner) accessions has proven effective at improving scion suboptimal temperature tolerance in limited experiments. This study was conducted to determine whether commercially available tomato rootstocks with differing parental backgrounds and root system morphologies can improve the tolerance of scion plants to suboptimal temperature. Two controlled environment growth chambers were used and maintained at either optimal (25 °C day/20 °C night) or suboptimal (15 °C day/15 °C night) temperatures. The cold-sensitive tomato cultivar Moneymaker was used as the nongrafted and self-grafted control as well as scion grafted on ‘Multifort’ (S. lycopersicum × S. habrochaites), ‘Shield’ (S. lycopersicum), and S. habrochaites LA1777 rootstocks. Plants were grown for 10 days in 3.8 L plastic containers filled with a mixture of calcined clay and sand. ‘Multifort’ rootstock significantly reduced the amount of cold-induced stress as observed by larger leaf area and higher levels of CO2 assimilation and photosystem II quantum efficiency. ‘Multifort’ had significantly longer roots, having 42% to 56% more fine root (diameter less than 0.5 mm) length compared with the other nongrafted and grafted treatments. Leaf starch concentration was significantly lower in ‘Multifort’-grafted plants at suboptimal temperatures compared with the self-grafted and nongrafted controls and the ‘Shield’-grafted plants at the same temperature. The ability for ‘Multifort’ to maintain root growth at suboptimal temperatures may improve root system sink strength, thereby promoting movement of photosynthate from leaf to root even under cold conditions. This work demonstrates that a commercially available rootstock can be used to improve suboptimal temperature tolerance in cold-sensitive ‘Moneymaker’ scions.

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Edgar L. Vinson III, Elina D. Coneva, Joseph M. Kemble, Floyd M. Woods, Jeff L. Sibley, Esendugue G. Fonsah, Penelope M. Perkins-Veazie, and J. Raymond Kessler

The development of more cold-tolerant short-cycle banana cultivars has made subtropical production possible, but fruiting may be unreliable in colder margins, such as the coastal region of Alabama, as a result of cold winter temperatures and other suboptimal growing conditions. Thus, the objectives of this study were to determine plant growth parameters that predict flowering, and to evaluate vegetative and reproductive growth of Cavendish and non-Cavendish banana cultivars. Pseudostem circumference and the height-to-circumference ratio (HCR) for tall cultivars and HCR for medium cultivars exhibited linear or quadratic relationships when regressed to the number of days from planting to inflorescence emergence (DPE), and hence were the best predictors of inflorescence emergence. The banana cultivars Double, Grand Nain, Cardaba, Ice Cream, and Goldfinger demonstrated cropping potential by producing mature bunches in the cooler environment of the subtropics and currently offer the best possibilities for banana production in Alabama.