The amount of fertilizer applied during the commercial production of bedding plants has decreased in recent years because of increasing concerns about environmental impacts and the need to minimize production costs. However, reduced fertilization affects plant growth and flowering during production and in the postproduction environment. Plants grown with lower nutrient levels may perform satisfactorily during greenhouse production, but they may possess insufficient nutrients to sustain further growth in the postproduction environment, where fertilizer application is frequently lacking. This study examined conventional and alternative fertilizer delivery strategies that produce high-quality petunia (Petunia ×hybrida) during greenhouse production and continue to support plant growth and flowering in the postproduction environment. The fertilizer treatments during production consisted of four constant liquid fertilization (CLF) treatments of 0, 50, 100, or 200 ppm nitrogen (N) and three controlled-release fertilization (CRF) treatments (0, 4, or 8 lb/yard3). Three pulse fertilization (PF) treatments (0, 300, or 600 ppm N) were applied immediately before moving the plants to the postproduction environment. During production, petunia growth and development increased as CLF increased from 0 to 200 ppm N, but the addition of CRF resulted in the increase occurring at a declining rate. During postproduction, the interactive effects of CLF and CRF continued in a similar pattern as that seen in the production environment. The additional PF treatments resulted in further increases in plant growth. Across all CLF and CRF treatments, the leaf area increased from 466 to 540 cm2 as PF increased from 0 to 300 ppm N, and the leaf area increased further to 631 cm2 as PF increased from 300 to 600 ppm N. Based on our findings, two alternative strategies are possible. First, 0 to 50 ppm N CLF can be combined with 4 lb/yard3 CRF. The second strategy maintains the standard commercial practice of applying 100 ppm N CLF treatment and then applying a 300- to 600-ppm N PF treatment. These results suggest that a relatively low CLF rate can be used to achieve the desired production characteristics while reducing the cost of plant growth regulation, and that additional plant nutrition can be provided with CRF and/or PF to enhance the postproduction performance.
This study examined the interaction between constant liquid fertilization (CLF) concentrations and plant growth regulator (PGR) application concentrations on petunia (Petunia ×hybrida) growth and flowering in the production and post-production environments. Paclobutrazol application is a common practice in bedding plant production to achieve a compact plant that increases greenhouse space-use efficiency, shipping density, and tolerance to physical handling stresses in the post-production environment. The objective of this research was to determine the best strategy for balancing CLF and PGR application concentration in the greenhouse environment so that growth and flowering can be maximized in the post-production environment. A two-factorial combination of four CLF concentrations [50, 100, 150, or 200 ppm nitrogen (N)] and four paclobutrazol drench concentrations (0, 5, 10, or 20 ppm) were provided to plants during the production phase, and plant growth and flowering were recorded in the production and post-production environments. From a sustainability perspective, the ideal PGR concentration was 5 ppm paclobutrazol, since this concentration resulted in the best combination of production and post-production characteristics and performance. At this PGR concentration, all plant growth and flowering measures increased as CLF increased from 50 to 200 ppm N; however, all CLF concentrations also produced commercially acceptable plants. Therefore, the ideal CLF concentration depends on the size of plant desired; that is, CLF concentrations as low as 50 to 100 ppm N can be provided depending on the market size requirements of the plants being grown. Based on our results, a combination of 50 ppm N CLF with 0 ppm paclobutrazol or 100 ppm N CLF with 5 ppm paclobutrazol both demonstrated adequate growth control during both production and post-production phases.