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Ursula K. Schuch, Jack J. Kelly, and Trent Teegerstrom

Capillary mats and overhead sprinkler irrigation were used in a simulated retail environment to maintain annual and perennial plants in containers for various time periods during summer and winter. Combining the results from both seasons, four species with dense canopies had larger canopy sizes when maintained on the capillary mats, three species requiring more drainage had larger canopies with overhead irrigation, and five species were unaffected by irrigation systems. Substrate electrical conductivity was higher for some species in winter for plants on capillary mats, conserving fertilizer compared with overhead irrigation. Most species tolerated either irrigation system well. Water application was 71% less in summer and 62% less in winter to maintain plants on capillary mats compared with overhead irrigation. An economic analysis compared the investment required for setup and maintenance of plants in a retail situation using hand watering, overhead sprinkler, or capillary mat irrigation. The partial budget indicates that capillary mats are a labor-saving alternative to hand watering in a retail nursery and will compensate for the higher initial investment within less than 1 year. The overhead sprinklers are the most cost-effective system of the three because of less costly initial set-up and maintenance than the capillary mats; however, they are not a true alternative to hand watering in a retail situation because they interfere with customer traffic and worker activities.