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Marc van Iersel

Mechanical conditioning can be used to control the height of vegetable and ornamental transplants. Previous research indicated that brushing plants increases cuticular water loss from detached leaves, which may be an indication of decreased drought resistance. This might decrease post-transplant survival of the plants. The objectives of this study were to determine the effect of brushing on growth and gas exchange by tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.) and quantify whole-plant water use during a slow dry-down period. Tomato plants were grown from seed in a greenhouse during Fall 1995. The brushing treatment started 11 days after seeding and consisted of 40 strokes, twice each day. After 39 days of treatment, brushing reduced height 32%, leaf area 34%, and shoot dry mass 29% compared to control plants. Brushing did not affect leaf gas exchange. Brushed plants had a higher stem water flux than control plants during the first 3 days of a 6-day dry-down period. Stem water flux was lower than that of control plants later in the cycle, presumably because brushed plants used more of the available water during the first 3 days. On the third day of the dry-down period, leaf conductance of brushed plants was 35% higher than that of control plants, resulting in a 10% higher transpiration rate per unit leaf area. Because brushed plants had less leaf area than controls, differences in whole-plant water use were small. Time to wilting was similar for the brushed and unbrushed plants (6 days after withholding water). It seems unlikely that brushing would have a major effect on drought tolerance of plants.

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Marc van Iersel

Transplanting can result in root damage, thereby limiting the uptake of water and nutrients by plants. This can slow growth and sometimes cause plant death. Antitranspirants have been used to minimize transplant shock of vegetables. The objective of this research was to determine if antitranspirants are useful to reduce transplant shock of impatiens (Impatiens wallerana Hook.f.) seedlings in the greenhouse. Seedling foliage was dipped in or sprayed with antitranspirant (Vapor Gard or WiltPruf) and shoot dry mass was determined at weekly intervals. Antitranspirants reduced posttransplant growth of impatiens as compared to untreated plants, possibly because of a decrease in stomatal conductance, leading to a decrease in photosynthesis. The two dip treatments also caused phytotoxic effects (necrotic spots) on the leaves. In a second study, leaf water, osmotic and pressure potential were determined at 2, 9, and 16 days after transplant. Application of antitranspirants (as a dip or spray) decreased water and osmotic potential compared to control plants. The results of this study indicate that antitranspirants are not useful for minimizing transplant shock of impatiens under greenhouse conditions.

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Marc van Iersel

Various growth stimulators have been reported to improve plant growth. Some of these are formulated to improve root growth, which would be particularly beneficial for reestablishing transplants. Three commercially available plant growth stimulators—PGR IV (MicroFlo, Lakeland, Fla.), Roots2 (Lisa Products Corp., Independence, Mo.), and Up-Start (The Solaris Group, San Ramon, Calif.)—were tested to quantify their effect on post-transplant growth of petunia (Petunia × hybrida Hort. Vilm.-Andr.) and impatiens (Impatiens wallerana Hook.f.) seedlings and to assess their value for the greenhouse industry. Seedlings were transplanted from plug flats into larger 5.6-fl oz (166-cm3) containers and treated with 1.1 fl oz (31 mL) of growth stimulator per plant (22 fl oz/ft2). Applications were made immediately after transplant. None of the treatments affected root mass at any time. Up-Start (2 fl oz/gal) increased final shoot dry mass by ≈20% compared to the control plants. The increase in shoot growth by Up-Start most likely is caused by the fertilizer it contains. Up-Start also increased flowering of petunia from 34 to 40 days after transplant. PGR IV (0.5 fl oz/gal) and Roots2 (1.28 fl oz/gal) did not affect dry mass of the plants. PGR IV increased the number of flowers of petunia and impatiens, but this effect occurred well after the plants were marketable. Roots2 caused a small delay in early flowering and an increase in late flowering of petunia but had no effect on flowering of impatiens. Since the effects of the growth stimulators was either due their fertilizer content (Up-Start) or occurred after the plants would have been sold (PGR IV, Roots2), none of the growth stimulators appears to be beneficial for bedding plant producers.

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Krishna Nemali* and Marc van Iersel

Monitoring moisture status of the growing medium is essential as growth and quality of greenhouse crops largely depend on the amount of available water. Recently, two new types of moisture sensors have been developed (ECH2 O, Decagon devices, Inc., Pullman, Wash.; Theta probe ML2X, Delta -T devices Ltd., Burwell, Cambridge, U.K.). We studied the performance of these sensors for measuring the volumetric water content (VWC) of a soilless growing medium. We also tested the sensitivity of these sensors to temperature and electrical conductivity (EC) of the growing medium. Our results indicate that these sensors can be calibrated and used effectively for measuring a wide range of moisture contents in the growing medium; however media specific calibration may be required. Regression analysis indicated that the output of ECH2 O probes was affected by changes in the EC and temperature of the growing medium. Effects of EC were too small to be of practical significance, while the measured VWC increased by 0.003 m3/m3 for each °C increase in temperature. The output from the Theta Probe was not affected by changes in the EC or temperature of the growing medium. In a comparison study, both probes were found to give similar estimates of the VWC of the growing medium within the common range seen under greenhouse production.

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Krishna Nemali* and Marc van Iersel

Subjecting bedding plants to non-lethal moisture stress is an established irrigation practice for bedding plants; however information on physiological responses of bedding plants to moisture stress is limited. We examined the CO2 exchange rates (CER) and water relations of salvia (Salvia splendens) and vinca (Catharanthus roseus) during moisture stress. Seedlings of both species were grown from seed in 7-L trays containing a soilless growing medium. After plants completely covered the trays, they were irrigated and shifted into whole-plant gas exchange chambers (27 °C and daily light integral of 7.5 mol/m2) arranged inside a growth chamber. Inside the gas exchange chambers, the growing medium was allowed to dry and plants were re-watered after wilting. Results from this study indicate that the growth rate (moles of CO2 gained by plants in a day) of salvia was higher than vinca before experiencing moisture stress; however the volumetric moisture content of the growing medium at which plant growth decreased was higher for salvia than for vinca. During moisture stress, the decrease in growth rate of salvia was gradual and that of vinca was rapid. After re-watering the plants, leaf water potential (ΨL) and growth rate of vinca revived completely, and ΨL of salvia remained low (more negative), whereas its growth rate revived completely. This study shows that bedding plant species respond differently to moisture stress, particularly with respect to the critical substrate moisture level for initiating moisture stress and the rate of development of moisture stress.

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Erin James and Marc van Iersel

Water conservation is increasingly important for growers in the United States, but there is little information on the use of alternative irrigation systems, such as ebb and flow, for the production of bedding plants. The objective of this study was to quantify the growth of Petunia ×hybrida Hort. Vilm.-Andr. `Blue Frost' and Begonia ×semperflorens-cultorum Hort. `Ambassador Scarlet' grown in an ebb and flow system in three soilless media and fertilized with P at 0, 50, or 100 mg·L-1 in the fertigation solution. After 5 weeks, plants grown with 50 or 100 mg·L-1 P had greater dry weight, height, and width than plants grown with 0 mg·L-1 P. Begonias grown with 50 or 100 mg·L-1 P had 38% more flowers than did those grown without P. Petunias flowered 4 to 7 days earlier when no P included in the fertilizer. Growing media had little effect on the plants. Begonias grown in Metro-Mix 220 had more inflorescences than those grown in Metro-Mix 366Coir. Changes in electrical conductivity (EC) and pH of all three media were similar over the course of the experiment. The EC dropped during the third and fourth week and rose again in the fifth week. The pH of the leachate from all three media dropped by an average of 1 unit during the experiment. The results indicate that petunias and begonias may be grown successfully with ebb and flow irrigation, using a variety of fertilizers and growing media. However, P must be included in the fertigation solution for optimal plant quality.

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Marc van Iersel and Ron Oetting

Ebb-and-flow systems can be used to apply systemic pesticides to greenhouse crops without worker exposure or runoff. However, there is little information on the efficacy of pesticides applied with ebb-and-flow systems. We are using silverleaf whitefly (Bemisia argentifolii) control on poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) with imidacloprid as a model system to study pesticide efficacy in ebb-and-flow systems. The objective of this study was to determine the effect of the amount of insecticide taken up by the pot on the efficacy of whitefly control. Different amounts of imidacloprid uptake were obtained by not watering the plants for 0, 1, 2, or 4 days before the imidacloprid application. The imidacloprid (132 g·L–1) was applied once when the roots of the cuttings had reached the side of the pots. These treatments were compared to an untreated control on ebb-and-flow and a standard drench application (100 mL) to hand-watered plants. Pots in the different subirrigation treatments absorbed 12 to 175 mL of imidacloprid solution. Four days after the application, leaf tissue of the hand-watered plants contained 8 to 20 times more imidacloprid than the subirrigated plants. Efficacy was determined from the percentage of surviving mature whiteflies after 2 days on the plants and by counting the number of immatures after 2 weeks. Surprisingly, imidacloprid efficacy was better in the subirrigated imidacloprid treatments than in the hand-watered treatment. Whitefly control in all subirrigated imidacloprid treatments was excellent, irrespective of the amount of imidacloprid solution taken up by the pots.

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Erin James and Marc van Iersel

The negative effects of nutrient runoff on the environment has come more to the forefront of greenhouse issues in the past few years. Alternative irrigation systems that reduce or eliminate runoff that are widely used in Europe have not yet gained much popularity in the southeastern United States, in part due to a lack of available information on their use. One such system is ebb-and-fl ow, which is a completely closed recirculating system, having no runoff whatsoever. In order to learn more about optimum growing practices using the ebb-and-fl ow system for bedding plants, marigolds and sunflowers were grown under a variety of conditions. After a 6-week period, pH of growing media of both marigolds and sunflowers decreased by 1, while EC increased by ≈1 dS/m. There were also significant differences in EC due to the different media types. The soilless medium with the highest percentage of vermiculite and lowest percentage of pine bark had the highest EC. Different types of fertilizer and fertilizer rates will be discussed, as well as interactions between fertilizer and media.

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M. Kate Lee and Marc W. van Iersel

As a result of the decreasing availability of high-quality irrigation water, salinity tolerance of greenhouse crops is of increasing importance. Saline irrigation water can have many negative effects on plants, but also has the potential to act as a growth regulator because of its ability to reduce plant height. To determine the effects of NaCl in the irrigation water on the growth, physiology, and nutrient uptake of chrysanthemums (Chrysanthemum ×morifolium Ramat.), plants were watered with solutions with different NaCl concentrations (0, 1, 3, 6, or 9 g·L−1). Plants receiving 9 g·L−1 NaCl had a 76% reduction in shoot dry weight, a 90% reduction in stomatal conductance (g S), and a 4-day delay in flowering compared with control plants. Chrysanthemums receiving 1 g·L−1 NaCl had a 4-cm reduction in height with only a small reduction in shoot dry weight. Stomatal conductance and transpiration were reduced by more than 60% by NaCl concentrations of 1 g·L−1 as compared with control plants. The combination of a small reduction in dry weight and a large decrease in transpiration resulted in increased water use efficiency when plants received 1 g·L−1 NaCl. Concentrations of 3 g·L−1 NaCl or higher resulted in poor-quality plants either as a result of wilting of the leaves (3 g·L−1) or severely stunted plants (6 and 9 g·L−1). Our findings indicate that chrysanthemums can be grown successfully with 1 g·L−1 NaCl in the irrigation water without negative impacts on plant quality. This has important implications for the greenhouse industry as the availability of nonsaline water decreases. Saline water may be more readily available and can have the added benefit of reduced plant height, which is an important quality characteristic for floriculture crops.

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Stephanie E. Burnett and Marc W. van Iersel

Gaura lindheimeri Engelm. & Gray ‘Siskiyou Pink’ (gaura) and Phlox paniculata L. ‘David’ (garden phlox) were grown for 5 weeks in substrates irrigated at volumetric water contents (Θ) of 0.10, 0.15, 0.20, 0.25, 0.30, 0.35, 0.40, or 0.45 m3·m−3 using a capacitance sensor-controlled irrigation system. Volumetric water contents of the substrate measured by the capacitance sensors controlling irrigation were correlated with measurements with a separate handheld meter (r 2 = 0.83) and with volumetric water content set points throughout the study (r 2 > 0.98). Only 3.8 (at an irrigation set point of 0.10 m3·m−3) to 53 L (0.45 m3·m−3) of water was used to irrigate gaura and phlox and 0 to 7.74 L of this water leached out of the substrates. Significant leaching occurred only at Θ set points of 0.40, or 0.45 m3·m−3. Gaura had shorter and fewer branches and reduced dry weight when grown at lower volumetric water contents, but plants irrigated at set points above 0.25 m3·m−3 were large enough to be marketable. Gaura may be grown with capacitance sensor-automated irrigation using water efficiently and minimizing or eliminating leachate and thus nonpoint source pollution.