Water and irrigation
"Think about what you're trying to achieve during plant propagation," says Dr. Will Healy of Ball Hort. The goal is to put roots on a plant and try to grow healthy, green leaves. It all comes down to plant moisture and nutrition. But don't water too much! According to Healy, a grower's number one job is to dry out the plants.
With so many other tasks requiring attention, modern greenhouses are beginning to integrate automated systems for crop moisture assessment.
What is plant empowerment? Typically, traditional plant production methods are based on a mixture of blueprints, best practices, common knowledge of plant physiology, as well as the ‘green fingers’ and ‘emotional perception’ of growers. This approach has been successful, but also has several limitations.
How wet is ‘wet’, and how dry is ‘dry’?

At the Green Industry Show in Edmonton last year, Dr. Will Healy, senior technical and research manager at Ball Horticultural Company, spoke about a method to describe soil wetness using Levels 1 through 5:
In this article, we will focus on how to plan and execute a structured irrigation strategy, thus optimizing the rootzone, and consequently decreasing plant stress and potentially increasing yields.
For plants to grow optimally, adequate nutrients and water uptake are necessary to maintain plant growth and development. There are two general methods in which water and nutrients move in and out of plants cells: passive and active.
When we talk about ‘water management’ in greenhouses, our thoughts typically consider irrigation scheduling, control equipment or maybe simply having enough. At this year’s Lower Mainland Horticulture Improvement Association (LMHIA) Growers Short Course (held simultaneously with the Pacific Agriculture Show in Abbotsford, B.C.), Olaf van Marrewijk of Hagelunie (Leiden, N.L.) gave a different ‘take’.
The horticultural industry is under constant pressure to improve environmental performance while remaining competitive.
It takes a lot of work – and a lot of water — to grow healthy trees and shrubs for Canada’s ornamental plant sector. The industry, which boasts approximately 3,500 nurseries across Canada, uses an estimated 190 million cubic metres of water every year.

But new research suggests this is two to three times more water than healthy trees need. And soon a new tool will be available to help nursery managers determine when to turn on–and turn off–the hose.

Jared Stoochnoff, a University of Guelph graduate student in the School of Environmental Sciences Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility, is pioneering a new irrigation management strategy designed to reduce water consumption and mitigate the environmental impact of ornamental nursery operations.

“Because many nursery irrigation managers lack reliable ways to quantitatively predict a plant’s actual water requirements, they tend to err on the side of caution and overwater,” Stoochnoff says. “This results in unnecessarily high water and fertilizer run-off that negatively impacts local watersheds.”

Stoochnoff’s team used high-tech sensor equipment to measure plant water status and quantify crop water stress tolerance thresholds. When they put those irrigation schedules based on actual requirements to the test, they reduced the nursery’s water use by 60 per cent without affecting the total growth or wholesale value of the crop.

“It’s not economically feasible to implement the equipment we were using at every nursery in Canada, but by characterizing the relationships between crop water stress levels, weather conditions and species-specific water stress tolerance thresholds, we’re now able to predict optimal irrigation frequency using onsite weather station data,” says Stoochnoff.

Stoochnoff wrote a prototype program that used onsite weather station data to predict plant water stress tolerance thresholds. Each time the threshold was reached, the program triggered irrigation and alerted Stoochnoff via text message. He was able to monitor the nursery’s current weather conditions and water use to date, and could even trigger irrigation directly from his cell phone if needed.

As a next step, Stoochnoff’s team will develop the program into an app that can be made available to a larger group of nurseries for testing. He says the program will be flexible depending on the nursery’s irrigation preferences.

“Once adopted by the nursery sector, this has the potential to conserve millions of litres of water each year and reduce the environmental footprint of ornamental nursery operations,” says Stoochnoff.

Financial support was received from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Canadian Nursery Landscape Association, Landscape Ontario, and The Gosling Research Institute for Plant Preservation. In-kind contributions of materials, labour and field site access were provided by Connon Nurseries, C.B. Vanderkruk Holdings, ICT International and Root Rescue Environmental.

This project was funded by Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. For more, visit AgInnovation Ontario
October 2017 – Preparation for painting my home office/study recently required a serious clearing out, and I undertook a somewhat enforced go-through of my filing cabinet. You know the feeling. (If you don’t, do it sometime, it’s pretty liberating. But be warned, it will take you much longer than you think!) Three drawers packed tight with technical crop information from the late ’80s onwards. (Now you see why it was liberating.)
July 26, 2017, Manitowoc, WI – For the last several years, Dramm has offered an online forum to allow customers to post questions and review prior questions and answers for any of our products.
June 12, 2017, St. Catharines, Ont. – Looking for the latest information on ornamental crop lighting, water treatment systems, labour management strategies and marketing to millenials?
July 28, 2016, Tel Aviv, Israel – Netafim, the global leader in smart irrigation solutions for a sustainable future, has released its 2015 Sustainability Report, which demonstrates how its 2020 Sustainability Strategy is aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)recently adopted by the UN.
August 2016 – It’s that time of year again already. Except it’s not! Level 1 water restrictions came into effect in Metro Vancouver on May 15, two weeks earlier than in previous years, the result of requiring Level 3 restrictions last summer for the first time since 2003.
March 23, 2016, Brampton, Ont. – Greenhouse growers may soon be tapping into new wastewater treatment systems.
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