Former graduate student Alem Peter’s research on the interactive effects of substrate water content and fertilization made the cover of HortScience! Here is the abstract:

Rising concerns over environmental impacts of excessive water and fertilizer use in the horticultural industry necessitate more efficient use of water and nutrients. Both substrate volumetric water content (θ) and fertilizer affect plant growth, but their interactive effect is poorly understood. The objective of this study was to determine the optimal fertilizer rates for petunia (Petunia×hybrida) ‘Dreams White’ grown at different θ levels. Petunia seedlings were grown at four levels of θ (0.10, 0.20, 0.30, and 0.40 m3·m−3) with eight different rates of controlled-release fertilizer (CRF) (Osmocote 14-14-14; 14N–6.1P–11.6K; rates of 0 to 2.5 g/plant, equivalent to 0 to 6.25 kg·m−3substrate). Shoot dry weight increased as the CRF rate increased from 0 to 1.67 g/plant but decreased again at even higher CRF rates. The effect of CRF rate on growth was more pronounced at higher θ. Leaf size doubled as the θ thresholds increased from 0.10 to 0.40 m3·m−3. Flowering was reduced by a combination of high CRF rates (greater than 0.63 g/plant) and high θ (0.30 and 0.40 m3·m−3), indicating that optimal conditions for vegetative growth are different from those for maximal flowering. These results suggest that without leaching, high-quality petunias can be grown with lower CRF rates than commercially recommended rates.

HortScience cover
Flowering of petunias can be stimulated by providing low fertilizer rates (bottom), while higher fertilizer rates stimulate vegetative growth (top). Photo: Peter Alem.
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