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Krishna S. Nemali and M.W. van Iersel

The effect of increasing daily light integral (DLI; 5.3, 9.5, 14.4, and 19.4 mol·m-2·d-1) on photosynthesis and respiration of wax begonia (Begonia semperflorens-cultorum Hort.) was examined by measuring CO2 exchange rates (CER) for a period of 25 d in a whole-plant gas exchange system. Although plant growth rate (GR, increase in dry weight per day) increased linearly with increasing DLI, plants grown at low DLI (5.3 or 9.5 mol·m-2·d-1) respired more carbohydrates than were fixed in photosynthesis during the early growth period (13 and 4 d, respectively), resulting in a negative daily carbon gain (DCG) and GR. Carbon use efficiency [CUE, the ratio of carbon incorporated into the plant to C fixed in gross photosynthesis (Pg)] of plants grown at low DLI was low, since these plants used most of the C fixed in Pg for maintenance respiration (Rm), leaving few, if any, C for growth and growth respiration (Rg). Maintenance respiration accounted for a smaller fraction of the total respiration with increasing DLI. In addition, the importance of Rm in the carbon balance of the plants decreased over time, resulting in an increase in CUE. At harvest, crop dry weight (DWCROP) increased linearly with increasing DLI, due to the increased photosynthesis and CUE at high PPF.

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Krishna S. Nemali and Marc W. van Iersel

Physiological acclimation of plants to light has been studied mostly at the leaf level; however whole-plant responses are more relevant in relation to crop growth. To examine the physiological changes associated with different daily light integrals (DLI) during growth of wax begonia (Begonia semperflorens-cultorum Hort.), we grew plants under DLI of 5.3, 9.5, 14.4, and 19.4 mol·m-2·d-1 in a whole-plant gas exchange system. Photosynthesis-light response curves of groups of 12 plants were determined after 25 d of growth. Physiological parameters were estimated per m2 ground area and per m2 leaf area. On a ground area basis, significant increases in dark respiration (Rd), quantum yield (α), the light compensation point (LCP), and maximum gross photosynthesis (Pg,max) were seen with increasing DLI. Variations in physiological parameters among different treatments were small when corrected for differences in leaf area. On a leaf area basis, α, LCP, and the light saturation point (LSP) did not change significantly, whereas significant increases in Rd and Pg,max were seen with increasing DLI. There was a small decrease in leaf chlorophyll concentration (6.3%, measured in SPAD units) with increasing DLI. This study indicates that wax begonias acclimate to low DLI by increasing their leaf chlorophyll concentration, presumably to more efficiently capture the available light, and to high DLI by increasing Pg,max to efficiently utilize the available light, thereby maximizing carbon gain under both situations.

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Krishna S. Nemali and Marc W van Iersel

Efficient use of irrigation water is increasingly important in the production of bedding plants. Two approaches to efficient water use include reducing irrigation water wastage during production by growing plants at the optimal substrate water content (θ) and growing species with high water-use efficiency (WUE). However, there is little information on the effects of different θ levels on leaf physiology of bedding plants and variation in WUE among different species of bedding plants. The objectives of this study were to determine the effects of θ on leaf water relations, gas exchange, chlorophyll fluorescence, and WUE of bedding plants and to identify the physiological basis for differences in WUE between two bedding plant species. We grew salvia ‘Bonfire Red’ (Salvia splendens Sellow ex Roemer & J.A. Schultes), vinca ‘Cooler Peppermint’ [Catharanthus roseus (L.) G. Don.], petunia ‘Lavender White’ (Petunia × hybrida Hort ex. Vilm.), and impatiens ‘Cherry’ (Impatiens walleriana Hook F.) at four constant levels of θ (0.09, 0.15, 0.22, and 0.32 m3·m−3) using an automated irrigation controller. Regardless of species, leaf water potential (Ψw) and leaf photosynthesis (A) of all four species were lower at a θ of 0.09 m3·m−3 and were not different among the other θ levels, but stomatal conductance to H2O (g S) was lower at 0.09 than at 0.15 and 0.22 m3·m−3 and highest at 0.32 m3·m−3. WUE of bedding plants at different θ levels depended on species. The WUE of petunia was unaffected by θ, whereas for the other three species, WUE was higher at a θ of 0.09 m3·m−3 than at 0.32 m3·m−3. Differences in WUE between petunia and salvia were partly from differences in photosynthetic capacity between the two species. Based on the response of A to leaf internal CO2 concentration (Ci), mesophyll conductance to CO2 [gm (a measure of photosynthetic capacity)] was higher in petunia than salvia, whereas gas phase conductance to CO2 (gCO2) was similar for these two species, which resulted in higher WUE in petunia than salvia.

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Krishna S. Nemali and Marc W. van Iersel

Environmental conditions and incorporation of nutrients into the growing medium can affect the fertilizer needs of bedding plants. To evaluate the effects of photosynthetic photon flux (PPF) and starter fertilizer on the fertilizer requirements of subirrigated plants, we grew wax begonias (Begonia semperflorens-cultorum Hort.) under three PPF levels (averaging 4.4, 6.2, and 9.9 mol·m-2·d-1) and four fertilizer concentrations [electrical conductivity (EC) of 0.15, 0.33, 0.86, and 1.4 dS·m-1] in a normal (with starter fertilizer, EC = 2.1 dS·m-1) and heavily leached (with little starter fertilizer, EC = 0.9 dS·m-1) growing medium. Except for shoot dry mass, we did not find any significant interactions between PPF and fertilizer concentration on any of the growth parameters. There was an interactive effect of fertilizer concentration and starter fertilizer on all growth parameters (shoot dry mass, leaf area, plant height, and number of flowers). When the growing medium contained a starter fertilizer, fertilizer concentration had little effect on growth. When the growing medium was leached before transplanting, growth was best with a fertilizer EC of 0.86 or 1.4 dS·m-1. Water-use efficiency (WUE) was calculated from 24-hour carbon exchange and evapotranspiration measurements, and used to estimate the required [N] in the fertilizer solution to achieve a target tissue N concentration of 45 mg·g-1. Increasing PPF increased WUE and the required [N] (from 157 to 203 mg·L-1 at PPF levels of 4.4 and 9.9 mol·m-2·d-1, respectively). The PPF effect on the required [N] appeared to be too small to be of practical significance, since dry mass data did not confirm that plants grown at high light needed higher fertilizer concentrations. Thus, fertilizer concentrations need not be adjusted based on PPF.

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Krishna S. Nemali and Marc W. van Iersel

To evaluate the effects of increasing photosynthetic photon flux (PPF) on optimal fertilizer concentrations, we grew wax begonia (Begonia semperflorens-cultorum Hort.) and petunia (Petunia ×hybrida Hort. Vilm-Andr.) seedlings in a soilless growing medium without starter fertilizer under three PPF treatments (high, medium, and low corresponding to an average daily PPF of 23.2, 15.6, and 9.8 mol·m-2.d-1, respectively) and subirrigated with six fertilizer concentrations [electrical conductivity (EC) of 0.12, 0.65, 1.18, 1.71, 2.24, and 2.77 dS·m-1]. Compared to low PPF, shoot dry mass of wax begonia and petunia seedlings increased 2- and 3-fold, respectively, at high PPF. Fertilizer EC resulting in maximum shoot dry mass was the same (1.28 and 1.87 dS·m-1 for wax begonia and petunia, respectively) in the three PPF treatments. Shoot dry mass and leaf area of petunias decreased little at higher than optimal fertilizer EC in the three PPF treatments, while growth of begonia was inhibited at high fertilizer EC. The optimal fertilizer range, calculated as the lower and upper limits of fertilizer EC within which plant growth was not reduced by >10% as compared to the optimum EC was 0.65 to 1.71 dS·m-1 in wax begonia and 1.18 to >2.77 dS·m-1 for petunia. Compared to those grown at 1.18 dS·m-1, wax begonias grown at 1.71 dS·m-1 had similar dry mass, but were shorter in all three PPF treatments (average height reduction of 6.5%). In general, EC of the top layer of the growing medium was higher than that of the bottom layer of the growing medium, and this difference increased with increasing EC.

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Marc W. van Iersel and Krishna S. Nemali

We examined the effectiveness of an elevated capillary mat system to maintain constant and different moisture levels in the growing medium and verify the potential of drought stress conditioning in producing small and compact bedding plants. To differentiate between plant height and compactness, we determined compactness as the leaf area or dry mass per unit stem length. Marigold `Queen Sophia' (Tagetes erecta L.) seedlings were grown in square, 9-cm-wide, 10-cm-high containers filled with a soilless growing medium. A capillary mat was laid on top of a greenhouse bench which was raised by 15 cm on one side compared to the other side to create an elevation effect. Seedlings were subirrigated by immersing the low end of the capillary mat in a reservoir of water. The amount of water moving to the higher end of the mat progressively decreased with elevation. The moisture content in the growing medium averaged from 26 to 294 mL/pot at different elevations. Regression analysis indicated that growth parameters including, shoot dry mass, leaf area, leaf number, and plant height decreased linearly with decreasing soil moisture content in the growing medium. Of all the measured growth parameters, plant height was found to be least sensitive to decreasing moisture content in the growing medium. Plants in high moisture treatments had more dry mass and leaf area per unit length of the stem compared to those in low moisture treatments. Our results indicate that drought stress can produce small, but not truly compact bedding plants.

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Krishna S. Nemali and Marc W. van Iersel

We have developed a completely automated irrigation system that measures and maintains substrate volumetric water content (θ) at a target level for any length of time. Advantages of this system include complete automation of irrigation and simulation of precise levels of drought stress for potted plants. This system uses ECH2O moisture sensors interfaced with a CR10X datalogger and solenoid valves connected to the datalogger by a SDM CD16 AC/DC controller. The datalogger measures the θ of the substrate hourly. When the θ of the substrate drops below the set point, the datalogger opens the solenoid valves, which results in irrigation. Substrate θ is maintained at a constant level as the datalogger is programmed to increase θ by 2% to 3% during each irrigation. When the system was validated for its accuracy, we determined that the θ measured in the substrate within the range of 0.15 to 0.35 m3·m-3 was close (2% to 3%) to the θ determined by the conventional volumetric analysis. The daily average θ maintained in the substrate was slightly higher (within 3%) than the target level. Using this system, we were able to maintain four distinct levels of substrate θ for a prolonged period (40 days), regardless of differences in plant size and environmental conditions. Significant increases in number of irrigations, total water-use, and transpiration rate of impatiens, salvia, vinca, and petunia were noticed with increasing target θ of the substrate. For all species, highest and lowest water-use efficiency (WUE) were seen at 0.09 and 0.32 m3·m-3, respectively, while WUE was not different between 0.15 and 0.22 m3·m-3.

Free access

Krishna S. Nemali and Marc W. van Iersel

Optimal substrate volumetric water content (θ) and drought tolerance of impatiens, petunia, salvia, and vinca were investigated by growing plants under four constant levels of θ (0.09, 0.15, 0.22, and 0.32 m3·m-3). Gas exchange, quantum efficiency (ΦPSII), electron transport rate (ETR), non-photochemical quenching (NPQ), and leaf water potential (ϒ) were measured for all species, and response of photosynthesis (Pn) to internal CO2 concentration (Ci) was studied in petunia and salvia. Leaf photosynthesis (Pmax) was highest at a θ of 0.22 m3·m-3 for all species and did not differ between a θ of 0.15 and 0.22 m3·m-3 for vinca and petunia. The Pn-Ci response curves for petunia were almost identical at a θ of 0.22 and 0.15 m3·m-3. Regardless of species, ETR and ΦPSII were highest and NPQ was lowest at a θ of 0.22 m3·m-3. Based on these results, a θ of 0.22 m3·m-3 for salvia and impatiens and a slightly lower θ of 0.15 m3·m-3 for vinca and petunia, is optimal. Mean osmotic potential in all treatments was lower in vinca and salvia and resulted in higher turgor potential in these species than other species. Analysis of Pn-Ci response curves indicated that Pn at a θ of 0.09 m3·m-3 was limited by both gas phase (stomatal and boundary layer) and non-gas phase (mesophyll) resistance to CO2 transfer in salvia. At the lowest θ level, Pn in petunia was only limited by gas phase resistance, indicating that absence of mesophyll resistance during drought may play a role in the drought tolerance of petunia.

Open access

Joshua K. Craver, Krishna S. Nemali and Roberto G. Lopez

Indoor production of bedding plant seedlings using sole-source radiation may present value in increasing uniformity and consistency compared with greenhouse production. However, information on physiological acclimation related to growth and photosynthesis in seedlings exposed to high-intensity blue radiation and elevated CO2 is limited. Seedlings of petunia (Petunia ×hybrida) ‘Dreams Midnight’ were exposed to red (peak = 660 nm):blue (peak = 451 nm) radiation ratios of 50:50 (R50:B50) or 90:10 (R90:B10) and radiation intensities of 150 or 300 µmol·m−2·s–1 under two CO2 regimes of 450 or 900 µmol·mol–1. Shoot dry mass (SDM), leaf area index (LAI), internode length, and whole-plant photosynthesis and light-use efficiency (LUE) responses to increasing radiation intensity were measured. In addition, leaf photosynthetic rate (A) was measured at ambient and supra-optimal CO2 concentrations for plants grown under 450 µmol·mol–1 CO2. Our results indicated growth (based on SDM, LAI, and internode length) was lowered for seedlings produced under R50:B50 compared with R90:B10. However, we observed an increase in whole-plant light-saturated photosynthesis (Ag,max) and whole-plant light saturation point (LSP) under R50:B50 compared with R90:B10. In addition, we observed lower LUE below and higher LUE above a radiation intensity of 500 µmol·m−2·s–1 in seedlings grown under R50:B50 compared with R90:B10. Based on our results, seedling growth was lowered under a high proportion of blue radiation mainly due to lower radiation interception (due to lower LAI and shorter internode length) and LUE of intercepted radiation at the intensities used. Higher Ag,max and LSP in R50:B50 compared with R90:B10 under higher radiation intensities was likely in part due to higher LUE. Further investigation revealed A was higher at both optimal and supra-optimal CO2 concentrations under R50:B50 compared with R90:B10, indicating a lack of stomatal effects of a higher proportion of blue radiation on carboxylation and LUE. We hypothesize that higher LUE in R50:B50 compared with R90:B10 under higher radiation intensities is due to improved photochemical quenching from increased biosynthesis of carotenoids and anthocyanins. The results from our study generated fundamental information on growth and photosynthetic responses to excess blue radiation, data that can be further used in optimizing plant production in controlled environments.