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Alison Bingham Jacobson, Terri W. Starman and Leonardo Lombardini

Wilting during shelf life is a major cause of postharvest shrink for bedding plants shipped long distances from production greenhouses to retail outlets. The objective of this research was to determine if irrigation at lower, constant substrate moisture content (SMC) during greenhouse production would be a feasible way to acclimate plants for reduced shrinkage during shelf life while potentially conserving irrigation water. In two separate experiments conducted in the fall and spring seasons, rooted plugs of Angelonia angustifolia ‘Angelface Blue’ (angelonia) were grown in greenhouse production until a marketable stage in substrates irrigated at SMC levels of 10%, 20%, 30%, and 40% using a controlled irrigation system. At the end of the greenhouse production stage, plants were irrigated to container capacity and subjected to a simulated shipping environment in shipping boxes in the dark for 2 days. After shipping, plants were placed back in the greenhouse and watered minimally to simulate a retail environment. Data were taken at the end of each stage, i.e., greenhouse production, simulated shipping, and simulated retail. Results indicated that as SMC decreased from 40% to 10%, plants were shorter in height but had proportional and more compact flowering sections. The volume of water received by the 40% SMC plants was three times greater (fall) and 12 times greater (spring) than the 20% SMC plants during greenhouse production and two times greater (fall) and nine time greater (spring) during simulated retail. During production, midday water potentials decreased as the SMC levels decreased, but at the end of the simulated retail, the midday water potentials were the same, suggesting that plants that were drought-stressed during production were acclimated to lower water levels experienced in retail settings. Overall, the 20% SMC treatment produced the best postharvest quality plant resulting from reduced plant height without detrimental effects on flowering. The results demonstrate that while conserving water, controlled irrigation at a lower SMC can produce high-quality plants that have equal shelf life to those that are irrigated at high levels.