Biostimulants have been found effective in enhancing plant resistance toward stressful conditions. The aim of the present study was to evaluate the efficacy of selected biostimulants to overcome the negative effects of nutrient limitation on the growth performances and on the fruit quality of soilless cultivated strawberry plants.
The condition of nutrient limitation was imposed by supplying the plants with only a single fertilization at transplantation and by excluding any further nutrient supply for the entire duration of the experiment (three months, from May to July).
Strawberry plants were treated seven times during the period from preflowering up to berry maturation with different classes of biostimulants (humic acids, alfalfa hydrolysate, macroseaweed extract and microalga hydrolysate, amino acids alone or in combination with zinc, B-group vitamins, chitosan, and a commercial product containing silicon) at commercial dosages.
The use of alfalfa hydrolysate, vitamins, chitosan, and silicon was able to promote biomass accumulation in roots (four to seven folds) and fruits (+20%) of treated plants, whereas the total leaf area increased by 15%–30%.
Nutrient concentrations in leaves and roots showed variations for microelements (e.g., Fe, B, Zn, and Si) in response to biostimulant applications, whereas no significant differences were observed for macronutrient contents among treatments.
Final berry yield was found around 20% higher in chitosan- and silicon-treated plants. Chitosan treatment significantly increased pulp firmness (by 20%), while a high nutritional value (e.g., phenolic compounds concentration) was observed in alfalfa- and seaweed-treated fruits (+18%–20% as compared to control).
The overall outcomes of the present experiment show that selected biostimulants can be considered as a valid agronomic tool able to contrast the negative consequence of growing crops under insufficient nutritional conditions.