Substrate volumetric water content controls growth and development of containerized culinary herbs

There are no chemical plant growth retardants that may be used on containerized culinary herbs intended for consumption. The objective of the authors of a new study was to quantify the effect of substrate moisture content on the growth of four commonly produced culinary annual herbs grown in containers in the greenhouse.
 
Seedlings of basil (Ocimum basilicum L.), dill (Anethum graveolens L.), parsley (Petroselinum crispum (Mill.) Fuss), and sage (Salvia officinalis L.) were transplanted into 11.4 cm diameter containers filled with commercial soilless substrate comprising (by vol.) 75% sphagnum peat moss and 25% coarse perlite and amended with 3.0 kg·m−3 of controlled-release fertilizer.
 
After the containers were thoroughly irrigated to container capacity, plants were placed into a sensor-controlled irrigation system, which maintained substrate volumetric water content (VWC) at 0.15, 0.28, 0.30, 0.38, or 0.45 m3·m−3. Chlorophyll fluorescence, photosynthesis, stomatal conductance, and transpiration were measured 27 d after initiating treatments, and the results showed that chlorophyll fluorescence of parsley and photosynthesis of basil increased as substrate VWC increased from 0.15 to 0.45 m3·m−3; the remaining parameters for basil, parsley, and sage were unaffected. Additionally, height, width, leaf area, and shoot dry mass of basil, dill, parsley, and sage increased as substrate volumetric water content increased from 0.15 to 0.45 m3·m−3.
 
The results show that growth of basil, dill, parsley, and sage can be promoted or inhibited by providing or withholding water, respectively, with no signs of stress or visual damage resulting from reduced substrate volumetric water content. Therefore, restricting irrigation and substrate volumetric water content is an effective nonchemical growth control method for containerized culinary herbs grown in peat-based substrate.
 

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