Evaluation of a Substrate­-Applied Humectant to Mitigate Drought Stress in Young, Container­-Grown Plants

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Journal of Environmental Horticulture

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The efficacy of treating soilless substrate with a commercial humectant was tested as a means of suppressing drought stress in 4-week-old container-grown Zinnia elegans Jacq. ‘Thumbelina’. The humectant was applied as a substrate amendment at concentrations of 0.0, 0.8, 1.6 and 3.2% by volume prior to withholding irrigation. An untreated, well-watered control was also included. The substrate of treated plants was allowed to dry until the foliage wilted, at which time the plants were harvested and the following measurements taken: number of days to wilt (DTW), xylem water potential (ψx), shoot growth (shoot dry weight, leaf area) and root growth (length, diameter, surface area, volume, dry weight). For drought-stressed plants grown in humectant-treated substrate at concentrations of 1.6 and 3.2%, DTW increased 25 and 33%, respectively. A linear decrease in ψx was observed as the concentration of humectant increased from 0.0 to 3.2%. Linear trends were also noted for both volumetric moisture content (positive) and evapotranspiration (negative) as the concentration of humectant increased. For non-irrigated, untreated plants, stress inhibited shoot growth more than root growth, resulting in a lower root:shoot ratio. For non-irrigated, humectant-treated plants, the length of fine, water-absorbing roots increased linearly as humectant concentration increased from 0.0 to 3.2%. Using humectant-amended substrates may be a management option for mitigating the symptoms of drought stress during the production of container-grown bedding plants such as Z. elegans.



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