Management of fertilizer and water use in greenhouse production




This research program is aimed at improving the sustainability of the floriculture industry by developing practices that allow producers to produce high-value crops while using fertilizers, water, and energy resources efficiently. For example, floriculture yield losses often result from poor irrigation water quality or improper fertilization practices. The improved efficiency of water and fertilizers has the potential to decrease fertilizer leaching which will help protect our state's water resources.


The most common irrigation method for greenhouse floriculture production is overhead watering. In this system half of the applied water and nutrients typically do not reach plants. The excess water carries nutrients and pesticides that may contaminate ground and surface waters. As water quality and pollution issues become important at federal, state, and county levels it is important that greenhouse producers adopt practices that reduce nutrient and pesticide runoff. Irrigation systems are available to capture and reuse water that is applied to crops. While these closed irrigation systems are advantageous because they limit water pollution, most producers have not adopted these systems, in part, because of problems with the systems such as the buildup of salts or other toxic compounds over time, and the ability for root borne diseases to spread quickly. Another issue faced by greenhouse producers is that the water they have available to use for their crops varies in quality. For example, many growers have water that has high levels of dissolved bicarbonates and do not how to manage pH and salt buildup that results when this water is used. Unless managed properly, plants grown with poor quality water may become unmarketable. The primary audience affected by my program is floriculture producers. The broader role of my program benefits the general public through reduced water contamination from fertilizers and pesticides.


In response to runoff of fertilizers to the environment my research program seeks to overcome barriers to water capture and reuse. Currently, I am researching the influence of fertilizer levels and salt buildup on the growth of many new annual plant varieties. The results will be used to develop guidelines to use fertilizer efficiently and mange salt buildup in the production of this group of plants. On a long-term basis I am interested in identifying ornamental plants that can grow well with poor quality water; and in learning what factors allow these plants to be salt tolerant. The addition of naturally occurring silicon to a greenhouse fertilizer program may improve plant growth and response to disease pressure. Commercial silicon products are currently available for growers to purchase. However, growers are reluctant to try these products because we lack research on their effectiveness for most economically important greenhouse plants. I am currently researching silicon effectiveness to produce healthier, stronger, plants that are more resistant to stresses from diseases or poor quality water. If silicon is effective in disease control, this research has the potential to reduce pesticide use by NYS and U.S. growers. I am also conducting a needs assessment survey of New York floriculture producers so that my applied research and extension programs address important challenges faced by the floriculture industry.


Although my research program is still in the early stages, the target audience is already being reached. Example impacts of my program include: working with a greenhouse producer to determine an appropriate fertilizer choice given the alkalinity of their water source, which has the potential to reduce losses from unmarketable plants; and responding to a county extension educator to determine if a zinc-orthophosphate product that a municipality is using a water additive is likely to cause plant injury. As my program grows, I will look for indicators that it is improving the profitability of the New York floriculture industry, while at the same time introducing production methods that are more environmentally friendly.

Submitted by: 

  • Mattson, Neil S

Organizations involved: 

  • NE1017 Multistate Project Members

International focus: 

  • United States of America

United States focus: 

  • New York